Aerospace and the
JSC and the
Representatives of the nations collaborating on the International Space Station met in Houston to finalize the station's assembly sequence. The first two U.S. components of the space station were successfully pressure tested, and the first scheduled for launch, a connecting module called Node 1, was shipped to the Kennedy Space Center to begin launch preparations.
Training facilities at the Johnson Space Center continued to be upgraded, and the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, an underwater, zero-gravity training facility, was formally dedicated.
STS-80, the first flight of the fiscal year, was launched November 19, 1996. The eighth launch of FY 1997, STS-86, left the pad September 25, 1997. Mission overviews:
International Space Station
The International Space Station began moving from the factory floor to the launch site in FY 1997. The first U.S.-built element of the station, a connecting module called Node 1, was shipped from a manufacturing facility at the Marshall Space Flight Center to the Kennedy Space Center to begin launch preparations.
Node 1, scheduled to be launched aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on flight STS-88 in 1998, is connected with the Functional Cargo Block, a U.S.-funded control module being built by Russia to be launched a few weeks before Node 1.
Those launches will begin a 45-flight, five-year orbital assembly sequence for the Space Station. Many other station elements passed major construction and development milestones in FY 1997.
In March, milestone critical design reviews were completed for the Functional Cargo Block (or Control Module); Node 1; the Service Module, the first fully Russian contribution to the station, which will serve as the initial crew living quarters; the Z1 truss, an early exterior framework that will hold communications equipment and gyroscopes; the first solar array module; the Japanese laboratory; and the U.S. laboratory.
Preliminary design reviews were conducted for the U.S. airlock, also under construction at the Marshall Space Flight Center, and several other truss sections. In addition, the capabilities of the Station were increased as a third connecting module, or node, was added to the Station. This node was provided to the U.S. through a barter agreement with the European Space Agency in return for an agreement to launch the European laboratory on the Space Shuttle.
NASA began work on a new Interim Control Module. The module can provide fuel and propulsion for the early station for up to a year. NASA also inserted important additional testing of Station components at the Kennedy Space Center prior to launch, testing that will allow several modules and components to be linked together and checked out prior to launch -- a test scenario previously not possible.
In May, Canada announced additional capabilities for the Station by committing to provide a new "Canada Hand" for the second-generation Canada Arm under construction. In July, Brazil joined the 15 other nations cooperating in the Station through an agreement with NASA to provide a variety of experiment equipment to the Station.
Astronauts who will build and fly on the Station began training for their missions. The Shuttle crew for Endeavour's STS-88 flight was named early in the year. To allow for much longer than normal training time required to fully prepare for the unprecedented spacewalking work for the Station's assembly, NASA named 12 astronauts who will perform that work on the first six assembly missions. In Star City, Russia, and in Houston, the international crew that will first occupy the Station began training.
Mir serves as a test site for major areas of scientific investigation and operations experience. It provides experience in the cooperation that will be required in the design, construction and operation of the International Space Station. It also offers a unique platform to test space station materials, construction methods and look at human factors in long-duration space flight.
Scientific experiments aboard Mir seek to answer vital questions about how humans, animals and plants function in space; how our solar system originated and developed; how we can improve space technology; and how we can build future space stations.
NASA and Russian engineers, designers, technicians, and flight crews work together to achieve a common goal by making many practical decisions on a daily basis, melding their different work styles into a unified plan. Shuttle-Mir is a complicated interlocking program incorporating the very different working styles and philosophies of the U.S. and Russian space agencies and their international partners.
FY 1997 saw a number of challenges associated with Mir -- including a fire aboard the station, a collision of the station with a supply vehicle during docking practice, frequent hardware failures, and repeated computer difficulties. Through cooperation, innovation, dedication and hard work, Russian and U.S. astronauts and ground support personnel worked through those challenges, setting new precedents in international space cooperation.
As FY 1997 ended, the selection process for 12 astronauts to begin intensive training in preparation for construction of the International Space Station was in its final stages. Their assignments will be for assembly flights from STS-88 in July 1998 through STS-100 in August 1999.
Much of their training, as well as that of other Shuttle crews, will be in the new Sonny Carter Training Facility/Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. The facility, near Ellington Field in Houston, was formally dedicated in May.
Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory holds a 6.2 million gallon water tank that is 202 feet long, 120 feet wide and 40 feet deep. It provides controlled neutral buoyancy operations under water to simulate the weightlessness of space flight. It is an essential tool for the design, testing and development of the Space Station. For the astronaut, the facility provides important pre-flight training to become familiar with planned crew activities and with the dynamics of body motion under weightless conditions.
Elements of the Integrated Training Facility, which include the Shuttle Mission Training Facility and the Space Station Training Facility, were continually upgraded and modified during the course of the year. The facility includes some of the world's most sophisticated spacecraft simulators.