The Big, The Small/Life in Space; Extreme Engineering; Scientific American Presents; by Beardsley; 2 Page(s)
As long as no last-minute problems intervene, the International Space Station will come to life in earnest sometime in the next few months. In December 1999 or January 2000 the long-delayed Russian Service Module, Zvezda ("Star"), will dock with the station components already flying-the U.S. Unity node and the Russian-built Zarya ("Sunrise"). Because it will provide power and living quarters during the station's early years, Zvezda is the most vital component of the whole huge program. Its successful docking will clear the way for the first station crew, a U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, who are scheduled to arrive in March 2000. By the time this pioneering party returns to Earth five months later, the station should have its initial complement of solar panels and other essentials for long-duration spaceflight, delivered by three U.S. shuttle missions.
A successful launch of Zvezda will be a triumph not only of technical engineering but also of political and financial engineering. Russia's poor record of broken promises and pleas of poverty have forced the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to modify its station plans so it can move forward whatever further delays occur on the Russian side. (Delays on the U.S. side are also possible: NASA recently postponed a nonstationrelated September flight of the shuttle Endeavour because of an electrical problem.) Should any obstacle prevent Zvezda from docking with the embryonic orbital outpost, a backup U.S. Interim Control Module-designed when it was unclear whether Russia would ever complete Zvezda-could be ready to fly just nine months later, according to station senior engineer W. Michael Hawes, Sr. And NASA will most likely launch the Interim Control Module at some point even if Zvezda does join the station, because the U.S. module will help preserve the project schedule in the event of future launch or technical problems.