The Mystery of Salyut 2

Forty years ago today — April 3, 1973 — the USSR launched Salyut 2 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Proton K rocket.

(Line drawing of an Almaz space station. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

According to the National Space Science Data Center, Salyut 2 “was designed for scientific research and testing of onboard systems and units” and failed “11 days after launch [due to] an unexplainable accident.”

The Wikipedia entry tells a different story: that Salyut 2 was one of the Soviet Union’s Almaz modules — a space station designed for military use, in answer to the USAF’s proposed Manned Orbiting Laboratory — and the first of the Almaz units to reach orbit. The station’s true purpose was hidden in plain sight by its being designated as a Salyut module.

Wikipedia also includes an explanation for the Almaz/Salyut’s failure:

Three days after the launch of Salyut 2, the Proton’s spent third stage exploded. Thirteen days into its mission, Salyut 2 began to depressurise, and its attitude control system malfunctioned. An inquiry into the failure initially determined that a fuel line had burst, burning a hole in the station. It was later discovered that a piece of debris from the third stage had collided with the station, causing the damage.

The source for the additional Salyut 2 information is this Russian Space Web page, which also notes that

Soon after the accident, official Soviet sources announced that the Salyut-2 had completed its operations “after a series of tests.” For years, official Soviet sources continued to claim that “during entire flight (of Salyut-2) reliable radio-contact with the station had been maintained … and all onboard systems and science equipment of the station had functioned normally.”

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Making the ISS More International

Five years ago today — March 11, 2008 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.

(Astronaut Richard Linnehan on the first spacewalk of STS-123. NASA image.)

The STS-123 crew included U.S. astronauts Dominic L. Gorie, Gregory H. Johnson, Robert L. Behnken, Michael J.Foreman, and Richard M. Linnehan, and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi. The mission transported astronaut Garrett E. Reisman to the ISS and brought French astronaut Leopold Eyharts back to Earth.

The mission also delivered the first piece of Japan’s Kibo research laboratory, and a new Canadian robotic arm known as “Dextre,” both of which were successfully attached to the ISS. In all, STS-123 spent a little over 2 weeks in space before landing back at KSC on March 26th.

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‘Jules Verne’ Reaches Space

Five years ago today — March 9, 2008 — the European Space Agency launched an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou carrying the Jules Verne cargo vehicle to the International Space Station.

(ISS crewmembers pose for a portrait inside the Jules Verne ATV with an original Jules Verne manuscript and a 19th century Jules Verne book. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Jules Verne, also known as Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) 1,

remained a “free-flyer” until the undocking of STS 123 on 27 March. It successfully demonstrated the ability to reach ISS within 3.5 km with the help of GPS transmissions, and, in another attempt, to reach within 11 m with the help of laser ranging. These demonstrations earned the approval by the ISS managers to make an actual docking with the Zvezda module of the ISS on 03 April 2008.

The cargo vessel remained docked to the ISS for six months; then, filled with garbage from the station, it undocked and deorbited. It burned up in the atmosphere on September 29, 2008.

Of particular note to me (and presumably to my geeky and writerly friends), the ATV carried an original Jules Verne manuscript into space. That speaks highly of ESA’s confidence in the craft and the Ariane launch vehicle.

For more information, here’s a NASA fact sheet and the Wikipedia entry on the ATV program. And this ESA page has a video of the launch.

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Columbus Rides Atlantis to Orbit

Five years ago today — February 7, 2008 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.

A view of the Columbus laboratory (top right) from STS 122, after the shuttle undocked from the ISS. NASA image.

STS 122  astronauts Stanley G. Love, Stephen N. Frick, Alan G. Poindexter, Leland D. Melvin, and Rex J. Walheim, with European Space Agency astronauts Hans Schlegel and Leopold Eyharts, spent almost two weeks in space. They installed the ESA’s Columbus laboratory on the ISS, along with several other pieces of equipment.

When they departed the space station, Eyharts stayed behind as the Flight Engineer while US astronaut Daniel Tani returned to Earth on the shuttle.

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ISS Expansion, a Decade Ago

Ten years ago today — November 23, 2002 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center en route to the International Space Station.

(The shuttle’s cargo bay during STS-113, with the limb of the earth providing the main illumination. NASA image.)

Mission STS-113 astronauts Paul Lockhart, James B. Wetherbee, Michael E. Lopez-Alegria, John B. Herrington, Kenneth B. Bowersox, and Donald R. Pettit, along with cosmonaut Nikolai M. Budarin, delivered and installed the P1 truss on the space station. This mission also exchanged the ISS Expedition Five crew — cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev and astronaut Peggy Whitson — with the Expedition Six crew — Bowersox, Pettit and Budarin.

Also on this date, 35 years ago, the European Space Agency’s Meteosat 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral on a Delta rocket as part of the Global Atmospheric Research Program.

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Space Station Expansion … and Repairs

Five years ago today — October 23, 2007 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.

(Astronaut Parazynski approaching the damaged P6 solar array. NASA image.)

The mission STS-120 crew — Pamela A. Melroy, Daniel M. Tani,, George D. Zamka, Douglas H. Wheelock, Scott E. Parazynski, Stephanie D. Wilson, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli — spent a little over two weeks in space, and installed the connecting module called Harmony on the ISS. The new node, named by schoolchildren in a contest, would make it possible for the European Columbus and the Japanese Kibo laboratories to be connected to the ISS on future missions.

When STS-120 docked with the ISS, it marked the first time two women — Pamela Melroy on the shuttle, and Peggy Whitson of ISS Expedition 16 — commanded the two spacecraft at the same time. The mission also involved impromptu repair work: one of the solar arrays on the ISS’s P6 truss, which had been folded while the truss was moved to a new location, snagged on a guide wire when they were unfolded. Mission controllers and the crew were able to plan and execute the repair before the orbiter returned to Earth.

Read more details of this mission in this comprehensive mission overview.

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A Week's Worth of Space History

I’ll be on the road for a few days, and I’m not sure how the connectivity will be, and I wasn’t forward-thinking enough to front-load a bunch of space history items for automatic posting, so … here are a few different space history items that you can enjoy* all at once.

One hundred thirty years ago today — October 5, 1882 — Robert H. Goddard, the father of modern liquid-fueled rocketry, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Twenty years ago tomorrow — October 6, 1992 — the joint Swedish-German Freja mission to study the aurora was launched on a Chinese Long March rocket out of Jiuquan. (It was launched along with the PRC 36 mission.)

Ten years ago Sunday — October 7, 2002 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew of STS-112 consisted of U.S. astronauts Sandra H. Magnus, David A. Wolf, Pamela A. Melroy, Jeffrey S. Ashby, and Piers J. Sellers, along with cosmonaut Fyodor N. Yurchikhin. They delivered and installed a new truss as part of the station’s structural support system.

(The International Space Station, taken from STS-112. NASA image.)

And finally, let’s note two other space station-related launches in this compendium:

  • On October 9, 1977 — 35 years ago — the Soviet Union launched Soyuz-25 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying Vladimir V.Kovalyonok and Valeri V.Ryumin to their Salyut-6 station. The docking maneuver failed, however, and the cosmonauts returned early. Cosmonauts:.
  • On October 10, 2007 — 5 years ago — Soyuz TMA-11 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying a Russian,Yuri I. Malenchenko; American Peggy A. Whitson; and a Malaysian, Shukor A. Muszaphar, to the ISS.

Have a great week!

*Or ignore.

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My Nephew's Jazz Album … + This Date in Space History

If you like jazz, check out my nephew Ben Rolston’s album, Fables.

(Cover art for Ben Rolston’s FABLES. From the associated Bandcamp page.)

Ben is a bassist and composed all the songs in the collection. I am not particularly an aficionado of jazz, so don’t take my opinion as authoritative, but my favorite selection is “Branches and Bark,” which has some nice horns in it.

On the Bandcamp page, Fables, you can listen to each track, which is a pretty cool feature. The whole album has ten tracks, and sells for $10.

Now, as for this date in space history, so …

Thirty-five years ago today — September 29, 1977 — the Soviet Union launched their Salyut-6 space station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome atop a Proton K booster. Aboard Salyut-6, cosmonauts were able to stay in space for longer durations than ever. What that has to do with jazz, I don’t know … but there it is.

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Space History Double Shot: a Lost Observer and a Space Station Transfer

Twenty years ago today — September 25, 1992 — a Titan-III rocket out of Cape Canaveral launched the Mars Observer. The launch was uneventful and the spacecraft’s journey to Mars was nominal until three days before it was scheduled to enter orbit — August 21, 1993 — when controllers lost contact with the spacecraft.

(Mars Observer conceptual painting. NASA image.)

Mars Observer was primarily designed to study the Martian atmosphere, but it never got the chance, and unless we find the spacecraft someday and examine it we only have educated guesses:

It is not known whether the spacecraft was able to follow its automatic programming and go into Mars orbit or if it flew by Mars and is now in a heliocentric orbit. Later investigation concluded the most probable cause of the mishap was a fuel line rupture during fuel tank pressurization which would have caused the spacecraft to spin uncontrollably.

On a much more successful note, on this date 15 years ago — September 25, 1997 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the Mir space station.

STS-86 was the seventh Shuttle-Mir docking mission. Its crew consisted of U.S. astronauts James D. Wetherbee, Michael J. Bloomfield, Scott E. Parazynski, Wendy B. Lawrence, and David A. Wolf; French astronaut Jean-Loup J.M. Chrétien; and Russian cosmonaut Vladimir G. Titov. Wolf replaced Michael Foale aboard Mir, and Foale returned to Earth on Atlantis.

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A Shuttle Flight More Than Two Decades in the Making

Five years ago today — August 8, 2007 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from Kennedy Space Center on an International Space Station construction mission.

(Mission specialist Barbara Morgan on the shuttle’s middeck during STS-118. NASA image.)

On mission STS-118, U.S. astronauts Scott J. Kelly, Charles O. Hobaugh, Richard A. Mastracchio, Barbara R. Morgan, Tracy E. Caldwell, and Benjamin Alvin Drew, along with Canadian astronaut Dafydd (Dave) Williams, delivered and installed a new truss segment to the ISS. They also replaced a failed control moment gyro — part of the attitude control system that keeps the station in the correct orientation — and transferred supplies for the station residents.

Astronaut Morgan was originally Christa McAuliffe’s back-up for the STS-51L mission that ended when the Challenger was destroyed. The June 2007 mission overview for STS-118 explained,

Morgan trained side by side with McAuliffe and witnessed the 1986 Challenger accident in which McAuliffe and her six fellow crew members died. The Teacher in Space Project was suspended then, but Morgan held on to her NASA ties. In the months following that tragedy, she went on the visits McAuliffe would have made, talking to children and teachers all over the country. Then, when she was selected in 1998 to become a full-fledged astronaut, she jumped at the opportunity.

In 2002, Morgan was chosen as the first educator to become a mission specialist astronaut. The Educator Astronaut Project evolved from the Teacher in Space Project. Both aimed to engage and attract students to explore the excitement and wonder of spaceflight and to inspire and support educators. Morgan’s primary duty is the same as it is for the entire crew — accomplish the planned objectives of the station assembly mission.

She had been selected as the Teacher in Space backup candidate in July 1985, and so waited 22 years for her space mission. No wonder she looks happy, though it must have been somewhat bittersweet.

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