Science stories for 
 wondering people.                                                    By P. Gomez-Romero 
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News that will make History
The International Space Station
A great project to begin collaborating on a global scale
  • Connected the first 2 modules of the Int. Space Station (Dec 1, 1998)
  • Space Station Warranty To Expire   12:03 PM ET 03/26/00
  • An Improvement In Vital Signs  (Science, 4 Aug. 2000)

  • Artistic preview of what will be

    Dec.1, 1998 

    Connected the first 2 modules of the International Space Station
        The International Space Station (ISS)  is one of those headlines which will be around for a good while.  And will certainly make history. The first seed has been planted by coupling one Russian module (Zarya) and one American module (Unity) that orbit right now the Earth at 28000 Km/h, 400Km above our heads. It is just the beginning of a long process that should culminate in the year 2005. But the opening of the first room of this 'station with no definitive name' was certainly a celebrated event. 
        Not everything is to celebrate though. The critical economic situation of Russia has been a continuous burden and has caused repeated delays. Some critical voices even proposed the cancellation of the project or the dropping of Russian contributions. Nevertheless the Russian experience in space has proven to be most valuable and the own strategic and corporate interests from the USA have finally prevailed in going ahead with this expensive but profitable enterprise. 
        Once completed, the ISS will be the base campground for a wealth of new scientific experiments and discoveries which will boost our knowledge and achievements in materials science, biology, medicine and engineering, to name a few. 
       On the other hand, this is not the first orbiting space station. The Russians Salyut 1 and Mir are important precedents. So, what is so special about it?. Well, this is the first one involving from the beginning a cooperation between the USA, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. It is a global project.

    Space Station Warranty To Expire   12:03 PM ET 03/26/00

    AP Aerospace Writer=
               CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ NASA's space station warranty runs
    out this week, and the agency is no closer to finishing the project
    than it was when the first two pieces rocketed into orbit in 1998.
               After almost 500 days aloft, the international space station has
    no occupants, no experiments, no firm assembly plans. Instead, it's
    a barren two-roomer with bad batteries, noisy equipment and poor
               Blame the Russians: They were supposed to launch a service
    module that would assume control of the station and provide living
    quarters just five months after the initial components soared, but
    they have been stymied by insufficient funds and malfunctioning
               As a result, the all-important third component, the Zvezda
    service module, will not fly before July and astronauts and
    cosmonauts will not move in until October _ at the earliest.
               In the meantime, the warranty for what's in orbit is expiring.
    And that has space shuttle astronauts flying to the rescue next
               The 496-day guarantee for Russian-built electronic equipment
    runs out Thursday, according to figures provided last year by
    then-station manager Frank Culbertson, an astronaut who will
    command a future station crew.
               NASA expects the space station to keep running normally until
    astronauts arrive in mid- to late April with new batteries, fans,
    air filters, fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. The astronauts
    were supposed to wait until the service module was in place, but
    with the warranty expiring and batteries failing, NASA moved up the
               ``Would you like it to fall out of the sky?'' asks NASA
    Administrator Daniel Goldin. ``I mean, we're going to go up and
    keep it in good repair and we'll be ready for the service module
    when it comes.''
               Space station chief Michael Hawes expects the upcoming repairs
    by astronauts to extend the certified lifetime of the orbiting
    Zarya control module to the end of this year.
               Neither Hawes nor program manager Tommy Holloway is overly
               The design lifetime of parts is ``mostly paper analysis kind of
    stuff,'' Holloway says. ``As you know with your automobile, it may
    break a day after you drive it out of the showroom and it may run
    for 100,000 miles.''
               Built by Russians with U.S. funds, Zarya was launched from
    Kazakstan on Nov. 20, 1998. That's when the 496-day warranty began.
    NASA sent up a connecting chamber called Unity two weeks later.
               Since then, the space station has circled Earth nearly 8,000
    times. Shuttle crews have been inside twice to drop off supplies
    and make repairs.
               The main trouble has been the batteries. Six are on board to
    provide power and have been faltering one by one.
               In addition, a crane attached to the outside of the station by
    spacewalking astronauts last spring is not locked down properly.
    The next shuttle crew will go out to secure it. The crew also will
    take numerous air samples; the last visitors suffered headaches and
    nausea, supposedly because the air ventilation was disturbed by
    maintenance work.
               Zarya, Russian for Sunrise, was not designed to fly so long by
    itself, says Hawes. It was modeled after Russian lab modules that
    were self-sustaining units until they docked with space station
    Mir's nerve center.
               ``We've always known that Zarya was a less capable module from a
    lifetime standpoint,'' Hawes says. ``But we have done quite a bit
    of work ... to try to understand where the issues are component by
    component, and that is what's really defined our mission for this
    upcoming flight.''
               The problem is that for years, the Russians lacked the money to
    complete Zvezda, Russian for Star. Now that it's done, the module
    fails to meet NASA safety standards for noise, self-sustaining
    equipment and shielding against space junk.
               Then Russia's Proton rockets began failing. That's the type of
    rocket needed to launch the heavy Zvezda.
               ``Right now, as I see it, the only thing standing in the way of
    launching the service module is a demonstration flight from the
    Proton,'' says NASA's boss, Goldin.
               He'd like to see four or five successful Proton launches before
    the Zvezda service module flies. Just in case, NASA is building its
    own control module, which could be ready to go by December.
               Goldin and others are quick to point out that NASA has had its
    share of space station problems, most notably in computer software.
    Boeing, the prime contractor, projects cost overruns of close to $1
    billion, according to NASA's latest inspector general report.
               The most embarrassing debacle occurred last month. With so many
    stockpiled parts, workers accidentally threw out two oxygen and
    nitrogen tanks at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville,
    Ala. The tanks were worth $750,000.
               Russian delays, meanwhile, have cost NASA as much as $3 billion.
    Ironically, NASA and its foreign partners had invited Russia into
    the international space station program in 1993 in hopes of saving
    time and money.
               Given all this, should NASA have waited to launch the first two
    space station components when it was obvious the service module was
    in deep trouble?
               NASA officials are loath to second-guess that decision. But
    former astronaut Jerry Linenger, who spent nearly five months on
    Mir in 1997, says it was a political maneuver.
               ``Kind of you do it, then everyone has to come up with more
    money or you've got things floating up there doing nothing,''
    Linenger says.
               NASA clearly anticipated delays, especially as Russia's
    political and economic problems worsened. But no one guessed the
    Russians would take this long to launch the service module. A
    496-day warranty seemed plenty.
               ``That's a long way off,'' Culbertson said with a shrug last
               He's no longer shrugging.

    On the Net: NASA's human spaceflight:

    August 4, 2000

    An Improvement In Vital Signs  (Science, Vol. 289, p. 707, 4 Aug. 2000)
    Life scientists hoping to conduct research in space finally have some good news. Last week a hefty Russian module with living and working quarters for astronauts docked with the pieces of the international space station already in orbit, a critical step in creating a full-time orbiting laboratory. Meanwhile, NASA bureaucrats put the finishing touches on a realignment of the agency's struggling biology effort that should bolster fundamental research and allow scientists to make better use of the facility, scheduled to be completed in 2005. The two events raise the hopes of U.S. academic space life scientists that their discipline is at last on the ascent at NASA (Science, 12 May, p. 938).
      On 25 July Russian controllers at a mission control center outside Moscow guided the 20-ton Zvezda module into the U.S.-funded and Russian-built Zarya module. The maneuver formed a single spacecraft the length of an 11-story building. Although researchers must wait for the U.S. laboratory to arrive in late January, Vice President Al Gore praised the docking as a sign of the station's pending payoff for scientists, and NASA officials savored the opportunity to move beyond short, sporadic experiments on the space shuttle to more substantive projects. "We finally see the carrot at the end of that stick, says Julie Swain, deputy chief of NASA's life and microgravity sciences office, referring to the long and painful process of getting the station into orbit.
    While engineers are putting the station through its paces, NASA managers are overhauling Swain's office in a way that will raise the profile of biological research. The new organization, due to be announced this week, will divide the current life sciences division into biomedical activity and fundamental biological research. The former, which will be run by NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, will focus on such
     human health problems as excessive bone loss from long-duration space travel. The latter, led by NASA'S Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, will include more fundamental research in such areas as cell biology. The two pieces, plus work in microgravity and other fields, will make up an office of fundamental space research.
    The new arrangement reflects a shift in emphasis from a program centered on keeping astronauts healthy to one that will foster the exploration of fundamental biological processes. "This change is really necessary and long overdue", says Esther Chang, a genetics researcher at Georgetown University and a member of NASA's life and microgravity sciences advisory panel. "It has been very difficult to keep these two areas together and give each the attention it deserves." NASA now spends $57 million on biomedical research and countermeasures, not including health research and other related areas, and $39 million on fundamental biology.
    Whether the new arrangement will translate into a bigger budget won't be clear until next year "All of the professional societies involved have endorsed significantly increased funding for biological programs," says Norman Lewis, a biologist at Washington State University in Pullman and a former president of the American Society for Gravitational Space Biology. He would like to see a greater investment in Earth-based experiments to complement space-based missions, a view endorsed by agency officials.
    NASA officials are looking for a prominent researcher with significant management experience to head the new office. Arnauld Nicogossian, the longtime head of the life and microgravity office, was to remain head until his replacement was named, but in mid-July he was relieved of that duty.(Nicogossian is now the chief health and safety officer for NASA.) NASA Chief Scientist Kathie Olsen, a biologist who was instrumental in the reorganization, has been named acting chief while a search is begun for a permanent boss. But sources say she will not apply for the job. Swain, trained as a physician, is said to be a candidate.
    As for what kind of research will be done once the station is complete, Swain says that "we're not even sure what questions we will be answering in terrestrial laboratories. But I think we're going to have a dynamite research program to help find some fundamental answers"           -ANDREW LAWLER

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