November 20, 1998


Russians launch first International Space Station segment

A powerful Russian Proton rocket successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the remote steppes of Kazakstan today to begin a new era in space. The booster delivered the U.S.-financed, Russian-built Zarya control module into Earth orbit, the foundation upon which the International Space Station will be born. ISS will serve as an orbital research station and provide the next step in mankind's exploration of the last frontier.

The historic launch started on time today at 1:40:27 a.m. EST (0640:27 GMT). Zarya was released from the Proton's third stage 9 minutes, 49 seconds into flight. Within minutes, the module's communications antennas and power-generating solar arrays were deployed.


Paris, 20 November 1998


The first module for the new International Space Station was successfully launched this morning (20 November) aboard a Russian Proton rocket at 07:40 CET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The rocket blasted off under overcast skies and strong winds, and disappeared behind the clouds within 40 seconds.

The 12 metre Zarya module reached orbit less than 10 minutes after blastoff. It will serve as a space propulsion engine and power station in the early stages of the project, providing propulsion, power and communications. When completed in 2004, the complex will be the largest ever structure in space, stretching over 100 metres and sprawling across an area the size of a football field.

ESA Director-General Antonio Rodota, who watched the launch from about five km away, said: "This is the largest technological project to be undertaken jointly by the nations of the world in the history of mankind. For Europe it is the start of an exciting new era in space exploration."

The Space Station will serve as an orbital home for astronauts and cosmonauts for at least 15 years. As one of five international partners (together with the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada), ESA is contributing two major elements - the Columbus laboratory and an automatic transport spacecraft.

The first is a multi-purpose scientific and technological laboratory, to be added by the year 2003, and the second, known as the Automated Transfer Vehicle, is a transport vessel for launch by Europe's Ariane 5 on supply missions.

Europe will take part in 19 of the 45 flights planned during the five-year assembly phase and is also supplying scientific and technical equipment to NASA and the Russian Space Agency.Once in operation European astronauts will be regular visitors.

ESA also announced today that it is to begin soliciting microgravity research proposals in physical sciences and biotechnology to be conducted on the International Space Station.

"The foundation stone for this unique international research and test centre in space has been laid today. Now it is important that Europe's best scientists and engineers make good use of it" declared ESA Director of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity, Jorg Feustel-Buechl, and explained that, "besides fundamental research, scientists are encouraged to consider projects that have industrial applications perspectives, and researchers from European industry are particularly welcome to apply".

The new Announcement of Opportunity for Microgravity Research Programmes and related Applications in Physical Sciences and Biotechnology is available on the Internet at: http://www.estec.esa.int/spaceflight.



November 20, 1998


International Space Station assembly: A construction site in orbit

With precise grace, an overhead crane swings a 10-ton building block into position. Then, workers move in, climbing on to the structure and using hand and power tools to bolt the pieces together. It is a workaday scene that could be found on almost any city street corner, but this construction site is 250 miles up - in the airless reaches of space, where conditions alternate hourly between freezing and searing. The construction workers are astronauts, the cranes are a new generation of space robotics and the skyscraper taking shape is the International Space Station. To assemble the 1-million pound International Space Station, Earth orbit will become a day-to-day construction site for five years beginning in 1998. Humankind will begin a move off of the planet Earth of unprecedented scale. Astronauts will perform more spacewalks in those years than have been conducted since space flight began, more than twice as many. They will be assisted by an "inch-worming" robotic arm; a two-fingered "Canada hand;" and even a free-flying robotic "eye" that may be used to circle and inspect the station. Before the station's assembly is completed, more than 100 different components launched on about 45 space flights - using three different types of rockets - will have been bolted, latched, wired, plumbed and fastened together.

Because of the unprecedented complexity, NASA expects to encounter surprises during the orbital construction work. But to prepare for the challenges, engineers and astronauts have been methodically practicing procedures, preparing tools, testing equipment and building experience during more than a decade of spacewalking flight tests. A total of 34 Space Shuttle missions are scheduled to assemble, outfit and begin research use of the station from 1998 to 2004. Approximately 850 clock hours of spacewalks will be performed during that time to assemble and maintain the station. Since astronaut Ed White stepped out of an orbiting U.S. Gemini spacecraft in 1964 to become the first American to walk in space, NASA has conducted about 377 hours of spacewalks.

A cooperative effort among 16 nations, the International Space Station will provide living quarters and science labs for long-term stays by up to seven astronauts. In building, operating, and performing research on the station, humanity will garner essential experience for future travels beyond Earth orbit.

Preparing for Hands-On Construction in Space

Recognizing the challenge and complexity of building the International Space Station, NASA has made a concerted effort for more than a decade to develop and flight test the spacewalk equipment needed; refine spacewalk training procedures; and build spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), experience among astronauts, engineers and flight controllers. Since 1991, more than a dozen "practice" spacewalks have been conducted during Space Shuttle flights as part of NASA's preparations. In addition, two servicing missions for the Hubble Space Telescope have helped prepare for the intricate work needed to build the station. Many of the astronauts who gained experience during these "practice" spacewalks will bring that knowledge to bear during future spacewalks as the station's orbital assembly begins. The flight-testing of EVA equipment designed for use aboard the International Space Station began on the first spacewalk NASA conducted after the Space Shuttle's return to flight following the Challenger accident. On Shuttle mission STS-37 in April 1991, astronauts Jerry Ross and Jay Apt performed a spacewalk to test a Crew and Equipment Translation Aid (CETA) cart designed for use in assisting astronauts to move about the football field-long truss of the completed station. Two such carts are now planned for launch to the station during its assembly, and Ross is in training to be the lead spacewalker on the first station assembly mission, Shuttle mission STS-88. Since 1991, other spacewalks have evaluated new tethers, tools, foot restraints, handling large masses, a jet pack "life jacket," spacesuit enhancements and even the planned station lettering and toolboxes.

To prepare for International Space Station assembly in earnest, NASA announced the first International Space Station EVA assembly crew, Ross and Jim Newman on STS-88, in August 1996. In June 1997, five more crews of station assembly spacewalkers were named to complete the first six Shuttle assembly missions, some of them more than two years ahead of their scheduled mission, much earlier than is traditional. The early naming of crew members has allowed the astronauts additional time to train for their complex and crucial missions.

Taking a Walk: Working Outside the International Space Station During the first nine Shuttle assembly missions, there is no U.S. capability for spacewalks to be conducted from the station without the Space Shuttle present. The Russian Service Module provides a capability for station-based Russian spacewalks using only Russian spacesuits, but the U.S. capability will not be available until the Joint Airlock Module is attached to the station during the ninth Space Shuttle assembly mission, STS-104. The Joint Airlock Module, which has the capability to be used by both Russian and U.S. spacesuit designs, consists of two sections, a "crew lock" that is used to exit the station and begin a spacewalk and an "equipment lock" used for storing gear. The equipment lock also will be used for overnight "campouts" by the crew, during which the pressure in the Joint Airlock Module is lowered to 10.2 pounds per square inch (psi), while the rest of the station remains at the normal sea level atmospheric pressure of 14.7 psi. The night spent at 10.2 psi in the Airlock purges nitrogen from the spacewalkers' bodies and prevents decompression sickness, commonly called "the bends," when they go to the 4.3 psi pure oxygen atmosphere of a spacesuit. Station crew members could perform a spacewalk directly from the 14.7 psi cabin atmosphere, but they would have to go through a several hours-long prebreathe of pure oxygen first. The Airlock "campout" shortens the pure oxygen prebreathe time to only minutes for the crew. The protocol is similar to a procedure commonly used in advance of Space Shuttle spacewalks in which the Shuttle's cabin pressure is lowered to 10.2 psi at least a day ahead of the EVA.

After the Joint Airlock Module is operational, the philosophy of spacewalk training will shift due to the increasing complexity of the station and the ability of the station crew to perform spacewalks. Rather than attempting to train station crew members for every EVA task they may be called upon to perform during a mission, training will increasingly aim toward providing crew members with a general suite of EVA skills. The station's growing size and complexity will make it virtually impossible for astronauts to train for every possible contingency and maintenance EVA, as is the case in training for Shuttle missions.

Workclothes for Orbit: Spacesuit Enhancements for the International Space Station

In addition to new spacewalking tools and philosophies for assembly of the International Space Station, spacewalkers will have an enhanced spacesuit. The Shuttle spacesuit, or Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) as it is technically called, is designed for sizing and maintenance between flights by skilled specialists on Earth, a difficult if not impossible requirement for astronauts aboard the station. The International Space Station spacesuit will be stored in orbit and be certified for up to 25 spacewalks before it must be returned to Earth for refurbishment. It will be able to be adjusted in flight to fit different astronauts and be easily cleaned and refurbished between spacewalks onboard the station. In addition, assembly work on the station will be done in much colder temperatures than most Space Shuttle spacewalks. Unlike the Shuttle, the station cannot be turned to provide the most optimum sunlight to moderate temperatures during an EVA. Enhancements to the suit to better prepare it for assembly and use aboard the station include: easily replaceable internal parts; reusable carbon dioxide removal cartridges; metal sizing rings that allow in-flight suit adjustments to fit different crew members; new gloves with enhanced dexterity; a new radio with more channels to allow up to five people to talk at one time; warmth enhancements such as fingertip heaters and a cooling system shutoff; new helmet-mounted flood and spot lights; and a jet-pack "life jacket" called SAFER to allow an accidentally untethered astronaut to fly back to the station in an emergency.

A New Generation of Space Robotics

To build and maintain the International Space Station, spacewalking astronauts will work in partnership with a new generation of space robotics. The Space Shuttle's mechanical arm and a new Space Station arm will operate both as "space cranes" to precisely maneuver large modules and components and also as space "cherry pickers" to maneuver astronauts to work areas. The Shuttle's Canadian-built mechanical arm has been enhanced with a new "Space Vision System" (SVS) that will help the operator literally see around corners. Tested on past Space Shuttle missions STS-74, STS-80 and STS-85, the SVS uses video image processing and a series of markings on the objects being maneuvered to develop a graphical laptop computer display to assist the arm operator. It allows the Shuttle arm to be operated with great precision even when visibility is obstructed, and the system will be used operationally during the first assembly mission as astronaut Nancy Currie, with her view partially obstructed, attaches the first station component, the Zarya control module, to the second component, the Unity connecting module.

Canada also is building the new station mechanical arm. Called the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), the 55-foot-long arm will be launched in 1999, early in the station's assembly sequence. The station arm will have the new capability to move around the station's exterior like an inchworm, locking its free end on one of many special fixtures, called Power and Data Grapple Fixtures (PDGF), placed strategically around the station, and then detaching its other end and pivoting it forward. In addition, the station arm eventually will be able to ride on a Mobile Servicing System (MSS) platform that will move on tracks along the length of the station's 360-foot truss, putting much of the station within grasp of the arm.

Canada also is providing a new robotic "Canada Hand" for the station, called the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM), scheduled to be launched in 2002. The "hand" consists of two small robotic arms that can be attached to the end of the main station arm to conduct more intricate maintenance tasks.

Two other robotic arms will be on the International Space Station. A European Robotic Arm (ERA) built by the European Space Agency will be used for maintenance on the Russian segment of the station and the Japanese laboratory module will include a Japanese robotic arm that will tend exterior experiments mounted on a "back porch" of the lab.

In addition to mechanical arms, other robotics that may be used aboard the station include a free-flying robotic camera, a prototype of which was tested during a 1997 Space Shuttle mission, may be used to inspect the exterior of the station, including the acre of solar panels. Called the AERCam, more flight tests may be planned on future Shuttle missions.

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