Space Station Makeover

Five years ago today — November 15, 2008 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from Kennedy Space Center carrying equipment and materials for the International Space Station.

(View from inside Endeavour of part of an ISS truss solar panel against the backdrop of Earth. Thanksgiving eve, 2008. NASA image.)

The STS-126 crew — Christopher J. Ferguson, Eric A. Boe, Sandra H. Magnus, Stephen G. Bowen, Donald R. Pettit, Robert S. (Shane) Kimbrough and Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper — spent over 2 weeks in space making modifications to the ISS. By the time they undocked to head back to Earth, leaving Magnus on the ISS and bringing Gregory E. Chamitoff home with them, they had installed an additional bathroom and waste processing system in order for the station to support six residents at a time. They also took part in four spacewalks, primarily to repair joints on the ISS solar arrays.

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Gov’t Shutdown Doesn’t Stop Space History …

Someone will need to explain to me why NASA’s websites have to be shut down — did they shut down the power to the server rooms? — but the fact is that the National Space Science Data Center site came up empty today. But this space history item will not be denied!

Five years ago today — October 12, 2008 — a Soyuz-FG rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying mission Soyuz TMA-13 to the International Space Station. Its crew consisted of U.S. astronaut Michael Fincke, U.S. space tourist Richard A. Garriott, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri V. Lonchakov.

(The Soyuz rocket carrying TMA-13 being erected on the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad. Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The Soyuz docked with the Zarya module two days after launch. Garriott spent nine days aboard the ISS and returned to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-12, along with cosmonauts and ISS residents Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, while the other two TMA-13 passengers stayed aboard the ISS.

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On My Way Out the Door: First Afghani Cosmonaut, and Five German Satellites

I’m headed to Dragon Con in just a little while! But first …

Twenty-five years ago today — August 29, 1988 — a Soyuz rocket out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome carried the first Afghani citizen to fly in space.

(Soyuz TM-6 insignia from Wikimedia Commons.)

The Soyuz TM-6 crew consisted of Russian cosmonauts Vladimir A. Lyakhov and Valeriy V. Polyakov, plus Afghani cosmonaut Abdul Ahad Mohmand. They spent a little over a week on the Mir space station before returning to earth.

In other space history, on this date 5 years ago another mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carried five German remote sensing satellites known as RapidEye-A through -E.

And speaking of remote sensing, congratulations to the Delta 4 launch team for successfully launching a National Reconnaissance Office satellite yesterday from my old stomping grounds, Vandenberg AFB!

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Skylab 3

Forty years ago today — July 28, 1973 — the second manned mission to the Skylab station was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a Saturn 1B rocket.

(Skylab in its low Earth orbit. NASA image.)

The Skylab 3 crew — Alan L. Bean, Owen K. Garriott, and Jack R. Lousma — spent 59 days aboard the station. They installed a solar shield and did other station maintenance, and performed many solar and Earth observation experiments.

Skylab 3 is sometimes referred to as Skylab II, due to miscommunication about the mission numbering. The first Skylab mission, Skylab 1, was actually the mission that placed the station itself in orbit.


Ten years later, on this date in 1983, the Telstar 3A communications satellite was launched on a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral. This was the first operational Telstar owned by AT&T; previously, AT&T had leased satellites.

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Last Shuttle-Mir Flight, and Two Planetary Missions

Fifteen years ago today — June 2, 1988 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center on the final Shuttle/Mir mission.

(STS-91 rolling out to the launch complex. NASA image.)

STS-91 astronauts Charles J. Precourt, Dominic L. Pudwill Gorie, Wendy B. Lawrence, Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, and Janet L. Kavandi, along with Russian cosmonaut Valery Victorovitch Ryumin, docked with the Mir space station on June 4th, marking the ninth time a shuttle had docked with the Russian station (but the first for Discovery). They transferred water and other supplies to the station, conducted a series of experiments, and returned astronaut Andrew Thomas to Earth after he spent 130 days on Mir.

In other space history …

On this date 30 years ago, the Venera 15 radar mapping spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Proton K rocket. Its sister ship, Venera 16, launched a few days later. Venera 15 entered orbit around Venus on October 10, 1983, and operated until July 1984.

And 10 years ago today, the European Space Agency launched the Mars Express mission on a Soyuz-Fregat rocket out of Baikonur. The spacecraft arrived at Mars in December 2003 and released the “Beagle 2” lander, which unfortunately was lost. Mars Express itself continues to study the red planet from orbit.

For anyone who cares, today’s space history post was delayed because the National Space Science Data Center’s catalog of spacecraft data has been balky lately.

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Construction and Plumbing, in Space

Five years ago today — June 1, 2008 — the Space Shuttle Discovery was in orbit on a mission to the International Space Station, having launched from the Kennedy Space Center 5 years ago yesterday.*

(The Kibo module, adjacent to one of the ISS trusses. NASA image.)

The STS-124 crew — US astronauts Mark E. Kelly, Kenneth T. Ham, Karen L. Nyberg, Ronald J. Garan, Michael E. Fossum, Gregory E. Chamitoff, and Garrett E. Reisman, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide — spent almost two weeks in space, primarily installing the second segment of Japan’s “Kibo” laboratory module. In addition, they also repaired the toilet in the Zvezda module … for which, I’m sure, the ISS crew was grateful.

*Sorry, I was traveling and busy at the convention yesterday.

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First Manned Skylab Mission, and Magellan Aerobraking

Forty years ago today — May 25, 1973 — a Saturn 1B rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying the first crew to inhabit the Skylab space station.

(Artist’s cutaway illustration of Skylab, from 1972. NASA image.)

The Skylab 2 mission placed astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr., Paul J. Weitz, and Dr. Joseph P. Kerwin aboard the station for just under a month.

The astronauts had to make substantial repairs of launch damage to make the station habitable, beginning with deploying and attaching a sunshade — which they dubbed a “parasol” — to keep the interior cool. They also had to release one solar array that had become stuck during deployment. Once the repair work was done, “the crew conducted solar astronomy and Earth resources experiments, medical studies, and five student experiments” over the course of their 28-day stay.

The crew returned to Earth on June 22, 1973. You can read more on this Skylab mission page or this Skylab 2 page.

In other space history, on this date 20 years ago, the Magellan radar-mapping spacecraft began a 70-day aerobraking maneuver to circularize its orbit around Venus. Magellan was the first spacecraft to use aerobraking, and by doing so saved fuel for future maneuvers.


Editor’s Note: While I’m on holiday over the next week, Space history items may be late, combined in odd ways, or even nonexistent. Sorry for any inconvenience. (Sort-of sorry, that is.)

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Forty years ago today — May 14, 1973 — the last operational Saturn V rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center and carried the Skylab space station to orbit.

(Skylab. NASA image.)

Skylab was “composed of five parts, the Apollo telescope mount (ATM), the multiple docking adapter (MDA), the airlock module (AM), the instrument unit (IU), and the orbital workshop (OWS).”

The “telescope mount” — positioned at a right angle to the main body, as seen in the image — pointed at the sun, and provided some spectacular images of solar activity in addition to being the primary reference point for the station’s attitude control subsystem. Technology being what it was at the time, astronauts had to retrieve film from the ATM’s cameras by taking spacewalks to it.

The “workshop”

was a modified Saturn 4B stage suitable for long duration manned habitation in orbit. It contained provisions and crew quarters necessary to support three-person crews for periods of up to 84 days each.

The first crew to inhabit the station launched eleven days after the station itself went into orbit.

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Shuttle, Soyuz, and Space-Based Navigation

Twenty years ago today — April 26, 1993 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center on an international Spacelab mission.

(Spacelab D-2 in the shuttle payload bay. Note the lightning flashes in the clouds below. NASA image.)

The STS-55 crew consisted of U.S. astronauts Steven R. Nagel, Terence T. Henricks, Jerry L. Ross, Charles J. Precourt, Bernard A. Harris Jr., and Ulrich Walter, plus German astronaut Hans W. Schlegel. The shuttle carried the second of the German-built reusable Spacelab modules, and the crew spent 9 days in space conducting a variety of experiments in the laboratory. One highlight of the mission was the first IV established in orbit, in which Dr. Harris “inject[ed] Schlegel with saline as part of study to replace body fluids lost during adaptation to weightlessness.”

Then, on this date 10 years ago, astronaut Edward T. Lu launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on mission Soyuz TMA-2, making him the first U.S. astronaut to serve as the Flight Engineer of a Soyuz spacecraft. The spacecraft commander was cosmonaut Yuri I. Malenchenko, and their destination was the International Space Station where they became the Expedition 7 crew.

Finally, 5 years ago today — April 26, 2008 — a Soyuz-Fregat rocket launched from Baikonur carrying GIOVE-B (Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element-B), the second of two test spacecraft for the European Union’s own fleet of navigational satellites.

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Atmospheric Science and Two Space Firsts

On this date, 15 years apart, two trailblazing (so to speak) female astronauts made historic space flights.

(Charlotte, North Carolina, photographed at night from STS-56. NASA image.)

Twenty years ago today — April 8, 1993 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center carrying two science payloads. The STS-56 crew consisted of astronauts Kenneth D. Cameron, Stephen S. Oswald, C. Michael Foale, Kenneth D. Cockrell, and the first Hispanic woman to fly in space, Ellen Ochoa. The primary payload was the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science (ATLAS, in its second iteration, ATLAS-2), which was “designed to collect data on [the] relationship between [the] sun’s energy output and Earth’s middle atmosphere and how these factors affect ozone layer.” The crew also deployed and recovered the SPARTAN-201 free-flying science package, which examined the sun’s corona and the solar wind.

Also on this date, in 2008, Soyuz TMA-12 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying cosmonauts Sergei A Volokov and Oleg D. Kononenko, plus South Korean Yi So-Yeon, to the International Space Station. Yi was South Korea’s first astronaut, having been selected from 36,000 applicants. Volokov and Kononenko stayed aboard the ISS when Yi and the former ISS crew returned to Earth on April 19th.

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