JSC Annual Report FY97







Research and

Aerospace and the
Business Communities

JSC and the





Hubble Space Telescope repair
FY 1997 saw eight successful Space Shuttle launches. They included the fifth, sixth and seventh missions to dock with the Russian space station Mir in preparation for assembly and operation of the International Space Station.

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.

Space Shuttle

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:

  • STS-80 included the third flight of the Wake Shield Facility that flew on STS-60 and STS-69. The Wake Shield Facility is a 12-foot diameter, free-flying stainless steel disk designed to generate an "ultra-vacuum" environment in space in which to grow semiconductor thin films for use in advanced electronics. It was designed, built and operated by the Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center at the University of Houston (a NASA Commercial Space Center) with its industrial partner, Space Industries Inc. of Houston. Also aboard, for its third flight, was the German-built Orbiting and Retrievable Far and Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrograph-Shuttle Pallet Satellite II. The program is a cooperative endeavor between NASA and the German Space Agency.
  • STS-81, a 10-day flight launched January 12, 1997 was the fifth Space Shuttle mission to Mir and the second one involving an exchange of U.S. astronauts. Crewmember Jerry Linenger transferred over to the station, becoming a member of the Mir 22 crew. Linenger replaced astronaut John Blaha, who had been aboard the orbiting facility for 118 days.
  • STS-82, launched on its 10-day mission February 11, 1997 successfully serviced the Hubble Space Telescope and installed two new astronomy instruments in a series of space walks. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer replaced two older instruments. The astronauts also upgraded other components.
  • STS-83, the first Microgravity Sciences Laboratory mission, was launched April 4, 1997 and was scheduled to remain in orbit for 16 days. However, instruments indicated one of the orbiter Columbia's three fuel cells was performing in a degraded fashion, causing the spacecraft to return for landing at Kennedy Space Center just under four days after launch. Management immediately began planning a reflight of the laboratory. The situation was viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate the program's ability to respond to such challenges, and the mission was successfully reflown less than three months later.
  • STS-84 was the sixth Shuttle docking mission with Mir. Atlantis returned astronaut Jerry Linenger to the Kennedy Space Center after 132 days in space. The Shuttle left astronaut Mike Foale aboard the Russian space station for his four-month stay. The nine-day flight was launched May 15, 1997.

Experiments in microgravity
  • STS-94, launched July 1, 1997 was a successful 16-day reflight of the Microgravity Sciences Laboratory that had been aboard the shortened STS-83 flight. On this mission, the orbiter Columbia performed nearly flawlessly. The laboratory is a bridge between the relatively short-duration work of the Shuttle Spacelab flights and the long-duration research that will be performed on the International Space Station. It tested some of the hardware and procedures to be used on the International Space Station.
  • STS-85 was a 12-day flight of Discovery launched August 7, 1997. Its main payload, the Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere-Shuttle Pallet Satellite-2 making its second flight on the Space Shuttle, was the fourth mission in a cooperative venture between the German Space Agency and NASA. The STS-85 crew also tested a mechanical arm for possible use on the Japanese Experiment Module of the future International Space Station. Two other payloads in Discovery's cargo bay were the seven-experiment Technology Applications and Science-01 and the International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker-02. In the crew cabin was the Bioreactor Demonstration System, a cell culture incubator that could lead to the use of microgravity to engineer tissues from individual cells.
  • STS-86 was the seventh Shuttle mission to dock with Russia's Mir space station. It delivered supplies, returned astronaut Mike Foale from the outpost following his 145-day stay in space, and dropped off astronaut Dave Wolf for his stay aboard the Mir. The STS-86 mission lasted 11 days in late September and early October, including six days docked with Mir.

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.


Exchange of shuttle/Mir crew members
The three Shuttle missions to Mir during FY 1997 were part of a program called International Space Station Phase 1. Begun in March 1995, Mir hosts a series of NASA astronauts as crewmembers. During all of FY 1997, one of the crewmembers aboard Mir was a NASA astronaut.

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.

Astronaut Training

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.