'Cornerstone' of the International Space Station

Ten years ago today — July 12, 2000 — the Zvezda (“star”) service module was launched atop a Proton-K rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

(Zvezda module diagram. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The module docked with the nascent International Space Station (ISS) a few days later, and became “the early cornerstone” of the station.

If you want to know more about how the space station was built, this NASA page outlines the sequence of assembly for the ISS.

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ATLANTIS at the Space Station, a Decade Ago

Ten years ago today — May 19, 2000 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-101.

(Launch of STS-101. NASA image.)

Astronauts James D. Halsell, Jr., Scott J. Horowitz, Mary Ellen Weber, Jeffrey N. Williams, James S. Voss, and Susan J. Helms, along with cosmonaut Yuri V. Usachev, carried the SPACEHAB module into orbit and took part in International Space Station Assembly Flight ISS-2A.2a. They installed new equipment, delivered a ton of supplies, and made repairs to the station.

And today, of course, Atlantis is taking part in another space station mission at this very moment: installing equipment, delivering supplies, and making repairs. Its current mission also happens to be the last scheduled mission for Atlantis.

We look forward to a successful conclusion and a graceful retirement for shuttle Atlantis.

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Shuttles and Deltas and Thors, Oh, My!

Fifteen years ago today — February 3, 1995 — Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-63. Astronauts James D. Wetherbee, Eileen M. Collins, C. Michael Foale, Janice E. Voss, and Bernard A. Harris, Jr., along with cosmonaut Vladimir Titov, completed a close-up flyby of Russia’s MIR space station.

(MIR space station as seen from mission STS-63. NASA image.)

STS-63 was the first time a shuttle approached and flew around space station MIR, as part of the preliminary phase of the International Space Station program. Also on this mission, Eileen Collins became the first female shuttle pilot.

Thirty years earlier, on February 3, 1965, Orbiting Solar Observatory 2 (OSO-2) was launched on a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral. Finally, to complete today’s space history trifecta, in between the two — 40 years ago, in 1970 — a Thor-Agena rocket launched the second Space Electric Rocket Test (SERT-2) from Vandenberg AFB.*

*Some sources say SERT-2 launched on February 4th, but I believe those are noting UTC rather than local time.

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Space Radar Mission, 1994

Fifteen years ago today — September 30, 1994 — astronauts Michael A. Baker, Terrence W. Wilcutt, Thomas D. Jones, Steven L. Smith, Daniel W. Bursch, and Peter J. K. Wisoff launched from the Kennedy Space Center aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-68.

(STS-68 mission patch. NASA image.)

The mission carried the Space Radar Laboratory on its second flight, and imaged some of the same areas the SRL had imaged before.

Flying SRL during different seasons allowed comparison of changes between first and second flights. SRL-2 was activated on flight day one, and around-the-clock observations conducted by astronauts split into two teams. Besides repeating data takes over same locations as on first flight, unusual events also imaged, including erupting volcano in Russia and islands of Japan after earthquake there. Also tested was ability of SRL-2 imaging radars, Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C (SIR-C) and X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (X-SAR), to discern difference between such human-induced phenomena as an oil spill in the ocean and naturally occurring film.


Normally I’d wait until next year to include this item, since I usually deal only in 5-year-multiple anniversaries, but this one is work-related.

I’ve been putting together aerospace history pages that focus on North Carolinians or people with connections to the state. It just so happens that four years ago today — September 30, 2005 — North Carolina astronaut William “Bill” McArthur launched on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, en route to taking command of International Space Station Expedition 12.

If you know any North Carolina teachers, direct them to the NC Aerospace Initiative’s Aerospace Education section, where we will link information on NC aerospace history that they can use in their classes.

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Space History: First Flight of Shuttle Discovery

Twenty-five years ago today — August 30, 1984 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center on its maiden voyage.

(STS-41D launch. NASA image.)

Astronauts Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr., Michael L. Coats, Judith A. Resnik, Steven A. Hawley, Richard M. Mullane, and Charles D. Walker made up the crew of STS-41D, which was the first mission on which three separate satellites were deployed (SBS-D, Syncom IV-2, and Telstar 3-C).

(STS-41D mission patch. NASA image.)

The mission also carried an experimental solar wing with different types of solar cells that deployed to its full size (102 feet x 13 feet) several times to demonstrate large lightweight solar arrays — not unlike those currently on the International Space Station.

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When a Space Station Fell From the Sky

Thirty years ago today — July 11, 1979 — the nascent U.S. space station Skylab re-entered the atmosphere from its low orbit. It broke up and burned, but parts of it made it to the surface. The debris field began in the Indian Ocean and extended into Western Australia.

(Skylab in orbit, as seen by the Skylab-2 crew upon their departure. NASA photo.)

Three different crews had lived aboard Skylab while it operated, as detailed on NASA web pages here and here. I doubt that Skylab had much potential to be expanded into anything bigger, but it still seems as if falling from the sky was an ignominious end.

I wish I had a piece of Skylab, to go along with the piece of Titan-IV on my desk. Then I’d have some space hardware that fell from orbit, as well as some hardware fished up from the bottom of the ocean. That would be cool.


Related-but-still-shameless plug: Skylab is mentioned in my short story, “The Rocket Seamstress,” which is available at Anthology Builder.

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First Shuttle to Dock with ISS — A Decade Ago

Ten years ago today — May 27, 1999 — Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-96, a logistics and resupply mission for the International Space Station. It was the first shuttle flight to dock with the ISS.

(STS-96 launch. Image KSC-99PP-0591 from the STS-96 KSC Electronic Photo File.)

U.S. astronauts Kent V. Rominger, Rick D. Husband, Ellen Ochoa, Tamara E. Jernigan, and Daniel T. Barry, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, and Russian cosmonaut Valery I. Tokarev spent the next nine days in space. They delivered cargo from the SPACEHAB module and the Integrated Cargo Carrier, including the Russian STRELA cargo crane, the SPACEHAB Oceaneering Space System box, and a U.S.-built crane called the ORU (Orbital Replacement Unit) Transfer Device.

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Space Station Node Honors Lunar Landing

NASA accepted a write-in suggestion for the name of the new Space Station node, but not the one that earned the most votes. Instead of being named “Colbert” after comedian Stephen Colbert, the node will be named “Tranquility” after the Apollo-11 landing site. And a creative NASA acronym-meister figured out a way to name the station’s new treadmill the COLBERT. (Here’s the Spaceflight Now story.)

I think it’s fitting, even though I voted for “Serenity.”

And it’s appropriate to honor Apollo-11 this year, since this summer will be the 40th anniversary of that landing.

Of course, this would also be the perfect year to publish my novel of lunar survival, tentatively titled WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS, except for one small detail: I didn’t get it written in time. And the revision I was supposed to have done today? Ha! Maybe by the end of the month, though I’m going to try to finish it sooner.

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Why does the Chinese military need a space station?

Back in the early days of space launch, the U.S. conceived the idea of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, or MOL (pronounced “mole”), and built Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg AFB from which it would be launched. But when unmanned satellites proved both capable and robust, DoD dropped the idea of a manned military outpost as both unnecessary and cost-prohibitive. The MOL program was cancelled, and SLC-6 mothballed until the next program came along.

I have to wonder, then, why the Chinese have apparently decided that they want to orbit a military space station as early as next year.

As I wrote yesterday in the Space Warfare Forum,

That’s right, folks: a Chinese MILITARY space station. Not a Chinese module on the International Space Station, not a Chinese civilian, scientific space station, but a Chinese MILITARY space station.

Here’s the story, complete with images of the model unveiled during Chinese New Year celebrations.

And here’s what we have in the works: .

Looks as if we’re giving up the high ground.

I haven’t seen much other discussion about this, and that bothers me. I can only hope that my old Air Force compadres are on the case, but keeping mum about it.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll dust off the nonfiction space superiority book I wrote a few years ago and see if I can update it and interest someone in publishing it.

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Today's Space Anniversary: the Last Skylab Launch

Thirty-five years ago today, the last manned flight of the Skylab program — Skylab-4 — launched from the Kennedy Space Center. The three crewmembers were Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson, and William Pogue, who would spend 84 days in space.

This NASA page has links to more information about the Skylab program; this Wikipedia page has details about Skylab-4.

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