Space History Today: An Iranian-Born American's Flight to the Int'l Space Station

Five years ago today — September 18, 2006 — Soyuz TMA-9 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome toward its rendezvous with the International Space Station.

(Spaceflight participant Anousheh Ansari in the Zvezda module of the ISS, holding a plant that was grown there. NASA image.)

Soyuz TMA-9 was piloted by Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, and carried U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria to his new post as the ISS mission commander. It also carried Anousheh Ansari, who had come to the U.S. from Iran as a teenager, earned engineering degrees from George Mason and George Washington universities, and with her husband made a fortune in the telecommunications industry.

Ms. Ansari paid her way on the Soyuz flight, becoming the world’s first female “space tourist” — though she preferred the term “spaceflight participant.” Two years before, she had contributed a sizable portion of her family fortune to sponsor the spaceflight X-Prize, which was re-named the Ansari X-Prize. The $10 million prize was won in October 2004 by Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites with their second suborbital SpaceShipOne flight.

Ms. Ansari spent a little more than a week aboard the ISS, and landed safely in Kazakhstan on September 29, 2006.

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Astronaut Swap

Fifteen years ago today — September 16, 1996 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the Mir space station.

(Space Shuttle Atlantis on its 2nd rollout to the launch pad for STS-79. NASA image.)

Astronauts William F. Readdy, Terrence W. Wilcutt, Jerome Apt, Thomas D. Akers, Carl E. Walz, and John E. Blaha flew up to Mir as part of mission STS-79. Atlantis dropped off John Blaha and picked up Shannon Lucid for her return to earth after a record-setting 188 days in space (179 aboard the Russian station).

STS-79 marked the first time a shuttle was rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building twice because of hurricane warnings: first because of Hurricane Bertha, and again because of Hurricane Fran. Thus, the rollout picture above.

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A Brief Photo Gallery: International Space Station's P3/P4 Truss

Five years ago today — September 9, 2006 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.

(Joseph R. Tanner waves at Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper during their spacewalk. NASA image.)

Mission STS-115 was the latest ISS construction mission. U.S. astronauts Brent W. Jett, Jr., Christopher J. Ferguson, Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, Joseph R. (Joe) Tanner, and Daniel C. Burbank, along with Canadian astronaut Steven G. MacLean, installed the P3/P4 truss, a major structural element that included additional solar panel arrays.

Here’s the station before the P3/P4 truss was installed:

(ISS, taken by STS-115 prior to docking. NASA image.)

And here’s the station after:

(ISS, taken by STS-115 after undocking, showing the new P3/P4 truss and solar arrays. NASA image.)

And here’s a nice shot of one of the new solar panels being extended:

(Detail image of new ISS solar array. NASA image.)

For more photos, check out the STS-115 Shuttle Mission Imagery page.

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Double Dose of Space History: Lunar Photos Station Shuttle

Forty-five years ago today — August 10, 1966 — Lunar Orbiter 1 was launched atop an Atlas Agena rocket out of Cape Canaveral.

(Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. NASA image.)

Lunar Orbiter 1 was the first of five spacecraft that took photographs of predominantly smooth areas of the Moon so landing sites for Surveyor and Apollo missions could be selected. Mission controllers got the opportunity to deal with some real-time problems during the spacecraft’s flight to the Moon:

The spacecraft experienced a temporary failure of the Canopus star tracker (probably due to stray sunlight) and overheating during its cruise to the Moon. The star tracker problem was resolved by navigating using the Moon as a reference and the overheating was abated by orienting the spacecraft 36 degrees off-Sun to lower the temperature.

Although some of the first orbiter’s photographs were smeared, the mission was an overall success, including taking the first two images of the Earth from the vicinity of the moon.

And on this date 10 years ago, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-105. Astronauts Scott J. Horowitz, Frederick “Rick” W. Sturckow, Daniel T. Barry, and Patrick G. Forrester transported 7,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. They also ferried the ISS Expedition 3 crew — Frank L. Culbertson, Jr. (see below), Vladimir N. Dezhurov, and Mikhail Tyurin — to the station and returned the Expedition 2 crew — Yury V. Usachev, James S. Voss, and Susan J. Helms — to Earth.

Eight years after his return to earth, I sat next to Captain (USN, Retired) Culbertson at the NASA Industry-Education Forum in Washington, DC. He was a very nice fellow, despite having graduated from a rival high school down in Charleston.

Many years ago I gave up my dream of being an astronaut (I’d already worked Shuttle landings at Edwards AFB, but failed to be accepted as a Flight Test Engineer candidate), but it’s cool to have met and worked for some. Thankfully, I can still take imaginary voyages through my own and others’ fiction.

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Space History: Delivering a New Airlock to the Space Station

Ten years ago today — July 13, 2001 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station to deliver a new airlock.

(Mission Specialist James Reilly moving through the newly-installed airlock. NASA image.)

STS-104, also known as ISS Assembly Mission 7-A, had launched on July 12th* carrying astronauts Steven W. Lindsey, Charles O. Hobaugh, Michael L. Gernhardt, James F. Reilly, and Janet L. Kavandi. The crew spent a total of 12 days in space, completing three spacewalks to attach the joint airlock module — so named because it supports both U.S. and Russian spacesuits — to the Unity Node, attach high-pressure gas tanks to the airlock, and complete troubleshooting on the new system. Once in place, the airlock was named “Quest.”

In other space history, 5 years ago yesterday** Bigelow Aerospace‘s inflatable test unit Genesis-1 was launched from Russia’s ISC Kosmotras Space and Missile Complex atop a Dnepr rocket. Their inflatable space structures concept is very compelling, and I hope they’re able to make it work and turn a profit.

*I usually post these on the launch anniversary. What can I say? I’m a slacker.
**I already owned up to my slackitude once, in the previous footnote. What do you want from me?

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Independence Day Shuttle Mission

Five years ago today — July 4, 2006 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.

(STS-121 launch. NASA image.)

Mission STS-121 was the first ever to launch on Independence Day, though it did so after launch attempts on the 1st and 2nd were scrubbed.

U.S. astronauts Steven W. Lindsey, Mark E. Kelly, Stephanie D. Wilson, Michael E. Fossum, Piers J. Sellers, and Lisa M. Nowak brought German astronaut Thomas Reiter to the space station, where he joined ISS Expedition 13, and delivered 7400 pounds of supplies to the station. They also accomplished three spacewalks to work on the ISS structure and systems.

STS-121 was also the second shuttle return-to-flight mission after the loss of the Shuttle Columbia in February 2003. The mission flew an improved external tank and “the crew used the orbiter boom sensor system with a laser dynamic range imager, laser camera system and intensified television camera on the end, to examine the shuttle’s nose cap, port wing, leading edge of the starboard wing, and outside of the crew cabin.”

Of course, provided all systems remain “go,” the Shuttle era will come to a close at the end of this week. That will be a sad day.

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Launch of a Doomed Space Station Crew

Forty years ago today — June 6, 1971 — Soyuz-11 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying the first crew to the USSR’s Salyut-1 space station.

The Soyuz-11 crew, cosmonauts Georgi T. Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav N. Volkov and Viktor I. Patseyev, spent three weeks aboard Salyut. Their separation from Salyut-1 on June 30th was nominal, and before they entered the atmosphere the service module of the Soyuz vehicle detached from the descent module; however, as reported on this Wikipedia page, a pressure equalization valve failed and the crew asphyxiated before their vehicle reached the ground.

Here’s a link to a July 1971 Time Magazine article about the Soyuz-11 disaster: Triumph and Tragedy of Soyuz-11.

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Remembering ENDEAVOUR … plus, the First Martian Impact

While the Space Shuttle Endeavour is in orbit on its final flight, it seems fitting that we remember that 15 years ago today — May 19, 1996 — Endeavour launched from the Kennedy Space Center on another mission.

(The Inflatable Antenna Experiment, after deployment. NASA image.)

Mission STS-77 carried U.S. astronauts John H. Casper, Curtis L. Brown, Daniel W. Bursch, Mario Runco, Jr., and Andrew S. W. Thomas, and Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau. The astronauts conducted a variety of experiments, including deploying the free-flying Inflatable Antenna Experiment, which at its full size was as big as a tennis court.

Here’s wishing the best to the current crew of Endeavour as they carry out their mission to the International Space Station.

Also in today’s space history, 40 years ago the Mars-2 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. On its approach to Mars in November 1971, it released a lander that “entered the Martian atmosphere at roughly 6.0 km/s at a steeper angle than planned” and crashed: the first human-built article to reach the surface of Mars.

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First U.K. Citizen in Space

Twenty years ago today — May 18, 1991 — the first British astronaut flew into orbit aboard a Soyuz launch vehicle.

(Helen Sharman. NASA image from the UK Space Agency.)

Mission TM-12, crewed by cosmonauts Anatoli P. Artsebarsky and Sergei K. Krikalev and British astronaut Helen P. Sharman, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome en route to the Mir space station.

In addition to being the first Briton in space, Sharman was the first woman to visit Mir. She conducted biological experiments and contacted British schoolchildren via amateur radio during her week in space. She returned to earth with the crew of TM-11, the previous Mir occupants.

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Military Shuttle Mission, Space Tourist, and Two Satellites Join the 'A-Train'

First things first, the military mission: 20 years ago today — April 28, 1991 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched on a dedicated DoD mission.

(Auroral image taken during the STS-39 mission. NASA image.)

The STS-39 crew — Michael L. Coats, L. Blaine Hammond, Guion S. Bluford, Gregory S. Harbaugh, Richard J. Hieb, Donald R. McMonagle, and Charles Lacy Veach — completed a combination of classified and unclassified mission objectives during their week in space.

On this same date a decade later — April 28, 2001 — the first “space tourist,” U.S. businessman Dennis Tito, rode aboard the Soyuz-TM-32 mission with cosmonauts Talgat A. Musabayev and Yuri M. Baturin. Their mission launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and docked with the International Space Station. I love the description of Tito in the linked write-up as “not a professional astronaut.”

And just 5 years ago today, the CloudSat and CALIPSO* meteorological satellites launched from Vandenberg AFB on a Delta-II rocket. They launched into the same orbit as the Aqua, PARASOL, and Aura satellites to join the A-Train of observational craft that pass overhead one right after the other.

*CALIPSO = Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation, a U.S. and French collaborative spacecraft

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