International Space Station
Backdropped against a
blanket of heavy cloud cover, the Russian-built FGB,
also called Zarya, approaches the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the
U.S.-built Node 1,
also called Unity (foreground). Inside Endeavour's cabin, the STS-88 crew
readies the remote
manipulator system for Zarya capture as they awaited the rendezvous,
December 6, 1988.
concept of an international space station can be traced back to the
mid-1800s when U.S. clergyman Edward Everett Hale wrote of a
polar-orbiting satellite, built from 12 million bricks, to serve as a
navigation aid for ships at sea. Written in 1869 for The Atlantic Monthly,
the appropriately titled “The Brick Moon,” was a short novel about a group
of determined young New Englanders who constructed a 200-foot
(61-meter)-diameter brick sphere, capable of carrying 37 passengers,
catapulted into a 4,000-mile (6,437-kilometer)-high orbit by a pair of
Transylvanian mathematics teacher Hermann Oberth's revolutionary 1923
treatise, The Rocket into Interplanetary Space, was filled with
calculations on rocketry and even a design for a 115-foot (35-meter)-tall
bullet-shaped rocket with four large fins. Oberth conceptualized a human
expedition to Mars with an orbiting refuelling station (or weltraumstation)
to be used as a staging point for the voyage.
engineer Hermann Noordung wrote in 1929 of an orbiting space station,
shaped like a giant wheel that slowly rotated to produce artificial
gravity. Noordung's concept used solar mirrors to direct sunlight to power
a steam turbine that generated electrical power for the station.
Oberth's students, Wernher von Braun, was placed in charge of developing
rockets into military weapons for use by the German army in 1932. Von
Braun viewed the development of a large ballistic missile as simply an
intermediate step for his grander vision of a human Mars expedition.
Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler had more sinister plans for von Braun's
rocket, named the V-2, turning it into a terror weapon fired against
civilian populations in London and other European cities, inflicting many
thousands of casualties.
the final days of World War II, von Braun and about 120 members of his
rocket team surrendered to the advancing American army and were relocated
to the United States. While continuing his work on rockets, von Braun
became a vocal and visible advocate for space travel.
read series of von Braun-authored articles on space projects such as large
rockets, lunar missions, and an orbiting space station appeared in the
popular Colliers magazine beginning in March 1952, accompanied by fanciful
illustrations by space artist Chesley Bonestall. Von Braun appeared on the
cover of Time magazine and served as technical advisor on a 1955 Walt
Disney television program, Man and the Moon, which featured the evocative
images of a wheel-like space station serving as the launching point for a
mission to the Moon.
Space Station Freedom Option A
showing two Soyuz Assured Crew Return Vehicle (ACRV) capsules docked at
Braun's vision of an orbital space station was generally acknowledged as
the best “building block” to support a wide range of space activities, but
President John Kennedy's bold (and unexpected) decision to land American
astronauts on the Moon before 1970 required a total commitment from the
government/industry team. The Moon landing project did not exclude the
construction of a space station; however; there simply was not enough time
or money to build one in the short term.
early 1960s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
continued to investigate a variety of post-Apollo space station concepts,
though they remained low on the agency's priority list for funding and
resources. In 1964, contracts were awarded for the design of a Manned
Orbital Research Laboratory (MORL), an approximately 30,000-pound
(13,608-kilogram) space station to be lifted by a Saturn 1B rocket with
crews launched in either a Gemini or Apollo spacecraft.
lost in the shadow of the Gemini program and the upcoming Apollo Moon
landings, a Saturn-Apollo Applications Program Office was established on
August 6, 1965. Two potential projects were carefully considered. The
first, the Orbital Workshop (OWS) concept of a space station, would be
created by using the spent upper stage of a Saturn 1B rocket. The second,
the Apollo Telescope Mount, would integrate a solar telescope into the
frame of a free-flying Apollo Lunar Module.
Air Force, not directly involved in Project Apollo, envisioned a crewed
space station as a valuable military asset for orbital reconnaissance
missions. After the 1963 cancellation of its winged space plane, the X-20
Dyna-Soar, the Air Force shifted its focus to the development of the
Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL)-a house-trailer-size laboratory to be
launched into orbit atop a Titan 3 booster along with a modified Gemini
spacecraft carrying two military astronauts for missions lasting up to 30
Originally targeted for a 1968 launch, the MOL program experienced
significant cost overruns and schedule delays with the first mission
slipping into 1969, and then to 1972. Remarkable advances in un-crewed
reconnaissance satellite systems soon rendered MOL's primary mission
obsolete and, on June 10, 1969, President Richard Nixon cancelled the
Apollo Applications Program continued to quietly evolve. The Orbital
Workshop and Apollo Telescope Mount projects were combined into a design
for a house-sized orbiting space station outfitted into the third stage of
a Saturn 5 moon rocket (originally built for the cancelled Apollo 20
mission) and officially renamed “Skylab.”
on May 14, 1973, Skylab became the United States' first orbiting space
station. Weighing almost 200,000 pounds (90,718 kilograms), Skylab
contained a two-level workshop (including crew living quarters), a docking
adapter and airlock, and the Apollo Telescope Mount. Three separate teams
of astronauts lived and worked on Skylab for a total of 171 days in 1973
for a reusable “space shuttle” to affordably transport crews and supplies
to a permanent orbiting space station were NASA's immediate post-Apollo
priority; however, Congress was unwilling to fund such an ambitious effort
and approved only the construction of a Space Shuttle in 1972. Following
the first successful Shuttle missions in 1981 and 1982, NASA again revived
the notion of an orbiting laboratory and created the Space Station Task
Force in May 1982 to define mission requirements and a preliminary design
President Ronald Reagan, anxious to project American dominance in space
technology, announced the construction, within a decade, of an $8-billion
permanently crewed space station in his 1984 State of the Union Address,
stressing that NASA would invite international participation in the
endeavour. Eleven nations (Japan, Canada, and nine nations of the European
Space Agency) signed a formal agreement with NASA on September 28, 1988,
to participate in the program, renamed by President Reagan as “Space
Unfortunately, Freedom's escalating costs combined with congressional
budget cuts slipped the Station's first launch date to March 1995, a year
later than planned. The international partners were unhappy because they
had not been consulted about the schedule delays as well as a one-third
reduction in the amount of electrical power available for all Station
users. Freedom's weight continued to grow, forcing NASA to start
developing new Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters to lift the heavier
components, while the Station's price tag more than doubled to $19
October 1990, Space Station Freedom found itself in the same untenable
position as the ill-fated Manned Orbiting Laboratory-overweight, over
budget and behind schedule. Congress slashed funding and demanded a
complete redesign of the space station project, with the emphasis on
Following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, NASA was again directed
in 1993 to cut Freedom's cost and complexity, maximize the Station's
scientific capabilities and leverage Russia's considerable experience in
space station operations, exemplified by Salyut and Mir, by inviting its
participation in the project. A series of nine joint U.S.-Russian missions
involving the Space Shuttle and the Mir Space Station from 1994 to 1998
provided valuable experience in docking, orbital operations and the
ability to manage a multinational program.
redesigned orbital laboratory is now known as the International Space
Station (ISS). Sixteen nations are participating in its design,
construction and operations.
design consists of a bridge-like linear truss framework, with
laboratories, living quarters, water and power generating systems, and
multiple docking ports with an airlock for spacewalks. Planned major
components of the ISS will include: United States Laboratory
Joint Airlock and Solar Power Array; European Space Agency Columbus
Orbital Facility; Japanese Experiment Module with Centrifuge Facility;
Russian Service and Research Modules; and a Canadian Mobile Servicing
System (Canadarm 2).
construction will require more than 40 launches involving United States'
Space Shuttles and Russian Soyuz and Proton rockets to deliver the more
than 100 ISS components to orbit, followed by thousands of hours of
spacewalks by astronauts and the use of robotic technology to assemble
these components. Seventeen flights, including 13 Space Shuttle missions,
have already occurred in the ISS construction sequence.
first ISS flight occurred in November 1998 when a Russian Proton rocket
lifted off, placing the Russian built/U.S. financed Zarya (Sunrise)
control module in orbit, followed a month later by the Shuttle Endeavour
on mission STS-88 carrying the Unity connecting module. The Unity and
Zarya segments were attached using the Shuttle's robotic arm, then
spacewalking astronauts made the required connections between the two.
Russian Zvezda Service Module, providing the Station with life support
equipment and docking ports, was launched into orbit by an un-crewed
Russian Proton rocket on July 25, 1999. Ground controllers remotely docked
Zvezda to the orbiting Unity/Zarya combination.
Discovery on the STS-92 mission in October 2000 carried the Z1 Truss,
Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 and four Control Moment Gyros to the ISS,
followed two months later by Shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-97 which
installed the first set of U.S. solar power arrays.
Atlantis on mission STS-98 in February 2001 transported the U.S. Destiny
Laboratory Module to the orbiting outpost and its astronauts relocated the
Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 from the end of Unity to the end of Destiny
to set the stage for future Shuttle missions.
2001, Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-102 carried Leonardo, the first
reusable cargo container or Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, built by the
Italian Space Agency, to the Station complex. The following month, Shuttle
Endeavour on mission on STS-100 delivered the Canadian robotic arm (Canadarm
2), also known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System, and the
second Italian Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, named Raffaello.
Space Station's joint airlock, named Quest, was installed by the crew of
Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-104 in July 2001, followed in September
2001 by the launch of an un-crewed Russian Soyuz rocket with the Russian
Pirs Docking Compartment 1 and the Strela boom. The crew of Shuttle
Atlantis on mission STS-110 in April 2002, carried the Station's
“backbone”, known as the S-0 Truss, the first segment of a nine-piece
Integrated Truss Structure, and the Mobile Transporter, a movable
“railway” to transport the Station's Canadian robotic arm.
ISS is fully assembled (projected for 2004), the orbital complex will
weigh almost a million pounds (453,592 kilograms), stretch 356 feet wide
and 290 feet long (109 by 88 meters), wider and almost as long as an
American football field, and support up to seven astronauts in a
shirtsleeve environment encompassing 46,000 cubic feet (1,303 cubic
meters)-roughly the equivalent of two Boeing 747 jetliners.
the Earth at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour (28,164 kilometres per
hour), the International Space Station will eventually become the
brightest star in the heavens, visible to almost the entire population of
the planet. Humankind's dream of ages has now become reality.