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Choice morsels discovered and misplaced stories recalled about Russian, American and international space stations...

Salyut: The World's First Space Stations

A space station is a satellite like any other, except it can house people for long periods of time. Many unmanned satellites have been as large as a space station, have flown at the same altitudes and, in many ways, have been as complex. However, the significant difference is the life-support system built into the station to keep its human occupants alive and safe from the rigorous space environment. More than 100 men and women have lived and worked aboard space stations in Earth orbit.
    While the U.S. won the race to the Moon in 1969, the Soviet Union won the competition for first space station with the launch of its Salyut-1 in 1971.

    Salyut 1 was fired to a 200-mi.-high Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 19, 1971. Cosmonauts Nikolai Rukavishnikov, Vladimir Shatalov and Alexei Yeliseyev became the first men to go to a space station, leaving the USSR on April 22 in Soyuz 10. They docked at Salyut 1 on April 24, stayed in dock less six hours, then hurried home. A Soyuz 11 crew went to the space station in June and stayed 23 days. Salyut 1 then fell from orbit Oct. 11.

    The USSR space program advanced quickly with the launch of Salyut-2 in 1973, Salyut-3 in 1974, Salyut-4 in 1974 and Salyut-5 in 1976.
In fact, Russia's first two generations of space stations were known by the name Salyut. Salyuts 1 to 5 were considered the first generation of Russian space station technology. Salyuts 6 and 7 launched in 1977 and 1982 were a second generation. Mir, the eighth Russian space station, launched in 1986, was an improved version of Salyut 7. It had the same mass, outer contours and main dimensions as Salyut 7.

Mir: The First Permanent Residence in Space

Russia's Mir space station was the world's first permanent residence in space. It was occupied by cosmonauts almost continuously from 1986 to 1999.

Mir surpassed 15 years in orbit in February 2001 and then re-entered the atmosphere in a fiery descent in March 2001. Most of the 130-ton outpost burned up over the South Pacific between Australia and Chile, although 30 tons may have survived re-entry through Earth's atmosphere to splash into the ocean. MIR TIMELINE

Mir included an original core module plus five modules added on over the years. The oldest part of Mir was aloft more than 5,000 days. A small 19-ft. astronomy observatory module called Kvant-1 was sent up and attached to the station in 1987. A 19-ton expansion module as big as the Mir core itself, Kvant-2, was sent to the station in 1989, relieving overcrowding by doubling the size of the station. The Kristall module, launched in 1990, was the same size as Kvant-2 and the original Mir. Spektr was sent up in 1995 and Priroda in 1996.

Russia had planned originally to send up and link six 43-ft. Mir clones to form one 250,000-lb. six-pointed star, 85-90 feet in diameter. At its end, the Mir complex weighed a total of 130 tons. Mir's six modules orbiting 225 miles above Earth were arranged in a T shape creating a complete spacecraft about the size of railroad car. It was 98 feet wide and 85 feet long.
    The Mir core

      The original component of Russia's Mir space station weighed 42,000 lbs. and was 43 feet long with a diameter of 13 feet -- as big as a house trailer in orbit. Five modules were added to that core in orbit after the core was launched in 1986.

      Mir, the core module for the entire complex, was more like a home than the earlier Salyut space stations. It had a larger, more-palatable galley, several recreation facilities, bigger bathroom with nicer shower, and private compartments for crew members.

      Specifically, the Mir core contained an operations area and a living area. The living area had crew quarters, galley and personal hygiene area. Each crewmember had his or her own cabin with chair, sleeping bag and porthole. The personal hygiene area had a toilet, sink and shower. The galley had a table, cooking elements and trash storage. BR>
      Mir crews could adjust the temperature inside the space station for shirt-sleeve work from 64 degrees to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

      The operations area was the control area for the Mir complex. The crew could monitor and command core systems, science equipment and facilities, and piloting station.

      The habitable parts of the Mir complex all had distinct floor, walls and ceilings, including carpet on the floor, colored walls and a white ceiling with flourescent lighting. Although the concepts of up and down have no meaning in microgravity, having floors, walls and ceilings allowed the crew a semblance of normalcy.

      Kvant-1, 19 ft. long and 14 ft. diameter, was the astrophysics module attached to Mir's aft docking port. It provided information for research into the physics of active galaxies, quasars and neutron stars by measuring the electromagnetic spectrum and X-rays.

      Kvant-2, 40 ft. long and 14 ft. diameter, was the scientific and airlock module. It had Earth observation photographic equipment and provided EVA capability and biotechnology research data. The airlock allowed access to the outside of Mir, which allowed for experiments about the effects of space exposure on electronics and construction materials.

      The Kristall technology module was used for biological and materials processing technology development in space. It housed equipment that produced semiconductors and other high-tech materials that benefit from the low gravity environment of space. Its other apparatus included a greenhouse designed to cultivate plants in zero gravity. Kristall had a space shuttle docking port.

      The Spektr module, which arrived at the Mir complex in June, 1995, contained equipment for atmospheric research and surface studies.

      The Priroda remote sensing module, launched in Spring 1996, contained active, passive and infra-red radiometers, a synthetic aperture radar, and several types of spectrometers used for measuring ozone and aerosol concentrations in Earth's atmosphere.
Whizzing right along

Mir circled Earth about 16 times a day at a speed of 17,500 mph. The station was in a circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 250 mi. (400 km) above Earth. It took 92 minutes to complete a trip around Earth.
    It took two days for cosmonauts to fly in a Soyuz capsule from Russia to the Mir space station.
Tuning in the cosmonauts

When overhead, the cosmonauts aboard Mir space station could be heard talking by radio with mission control on the VHF frequencies of 143.625 and 143.825 MHz. Sometimes they were heard chatting with ham radio operators on Earth at 145.800 and 149.985 and 437.950 MHz. Listeners on the ground could monitor Mir communications with a typical scanner radio used to tune in police and fire calls -- if they happened to be in position under Mir's 2,800 mi. wide (4,400 km) footprint on Earth as the station passed overhead. Licensed amateur radio operators could contact the Mir crew and chat with them.

Visiting the space station

A total of about 100 cosmonauts and astronauts lived aboard Mir, including seven NASA astronauts, a Japanese journalist, a British candy maker and numerous visitors from other countries. Several were from countries that had no other access to space. Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov stayed the longest, 438 days in 1994-95.
    Some 16,500 experiments were conducted on board the station. Many of those dealt with one subject -- humans adapting to long-term space flight.
Fifteen newts and eighty snails lived aboard the Mir space station for a time in 1998, after being flown there aboard a Progress resupply ship. The animals were part of a long-term scientific experiment to see what effects weightlessness has on living organisms. The two-year-old Oriental newts, provided by a Moscow zoo, were said to be smaller than a batch of eight Spanish newts that died after a space flight earlier that year. Cosmonauts filmed the newts and snails as they crawled out of their containers and floated around the station. The newts and snails were returned to Earth.

Using the station to make money

A decade earlier, the USSR had spent $17 billion a year on space -- until the Soviet nation ran short of funds. The cash-strapped government then decided to turn the Mir space station into a manufacturing plant in the sky. The Russians wanted to make big profits as cosmonauts manufactured protein crystals for new medical drugs.

For example, a 25-million-ruble profit resulted from the sale of 220 lbs. of drugs for 105 million rubles. After all, it cost only 80 million rubles to manufacture the drugs in space. The cosmonauts also produced other organic and inorganic substances made better in weightlessness -- glass, metal alloys and semiconductor materials.

The Russians had a grand plan to earn profits by charging businesses for tests in Kristall and by charging nations for guest-cosmonaut trips to Mir. That tourist plan continued in the 21st century, after the end of the Mir era, with several space tourist flights aboard Russian Soyuz transports to the International Space Station.
    Today there is a Russian yogurt cultured from bacteria in the saliva and guts of cosmonauts aboard Mir station. Spaceflight stress upset their immunity, according to the Moscow Institute of Biomedical Problems. That allowed bad bacteria to attack good bacteria. Microbiologists developed the yogurt in the 1980s as a remedy. Cosmonauts ate yogurt before blast-off. Today, it comes as fruit-flavored yogurt, cottage cheese and traditional Russian cheeses studded with garlic and herbs.
The draft board sent its greetings

Someone at the draft board in Russia persisted in trying to summon Sergei Krikalev to Soviet military service. The bureaucrat on the ground didn't know space-hero Krikalev had been serving his country aboard the orbiting Mir space station for months in 1988-89, even though the cosmonaut's activities were reported in USSR newspapers and on TV every day. Several written orders from Krikalev's draft board, demanding his appearance at the conscription center, arrived at Krikalev's home on Earth, but the post office didn't forward them to him in space. Krikalev disappointed the draft board by not returning to Earth ahead of schedule.

Tired old bucket of bolts

Mir space station suffered more than 1,600 breakdowns, including an onboard fire in 1997 and a near-fatal collision with a Progress cargo ship that same year.
    A Tokyo trader bought a back-up unflown Mir space station and unflown Kvant add-on module from the Russians for $10 million. Yutaka Horie outbid companies in Canada, France, South Korea and the U.S., then put the hardware on display in a museum in Japan.
Progress space freighter

Progress cargo freighters ferryed supplies up to Mir station in Earth orbit. Every eight weeks when Mir was occupied, an unmanned Progress freighter would carry 5,000 lbs. of goods to the station -- food, fuel, water, clothing and other necessities as well as scientific experiments to be conducted, replacement parts, and newspapers and mail from home. Progress freighters provide that same service today to the International Space Station.
    Progress is a single-use, unmanned version of the Soyuz human transport capsule used to ferry men and women to space. Life-support gear, parachutes, re-entry heat shields and solar panels are removed from the Soyuz capsule to create a Progress.

    A docking collar with radar homing transmitter and TV cameras mounted on the outside of Progress is used to guide the unmanned freighter to a space station dock. A round cargo hold behind the docking collar has a special frame with quick-release tie-downs holding 3,000 lbs. of packages. Behind that freight module is a fuel module with 2,000 lbs. of compressed air and nitrogen, hydrazine fuel and oxidizer.
Oxygen has to be added to a space station from time to time as some is lost when airlocks are opened for spacewalks. Pumps move fuel, air and nitrogen from tanks aboard Progress to tanks inside a space station. Refueling can even be done without a crew at a space station.
    Like all Earth satellites, a space station slowly slips down toward the atmosphere. It needs to be lifted back to its original altitude from time to time. Over the years, as Mir station fell lower, the Russians used empty Progress cargo freighters as space tugs to push the station back up to a slightly higher orbit.
Cosmonauts aboard Mir station generated a ton of trash each month. They would load it into an empty Progress cargo freighter, undock the Progress from Mir, and command it to fall into Earth's upper atmosphere where it would burn up over the South Pacific Ocean.

America's Space Station: Skylab

America was the sole proprietor of only one space station in the 20th century -- Skylab. Leftover Apollo Moon-mission capsules ferried three men to the station in each of three flights in 1973-1974.

    NASA had enjoyed large budgets during the 1960s space race and wanted to continue into the 1970s. The agency planned to expand Project Apollo into an Apollo Applications Program (AAP), which would have been a space station in Earth orbit as a pit stop for astronauts on their way to the Moon and Mars.

    However, after six spectacular manned Apollo landings on the Moon, much of NASA's money dried up. Many politicians said space spectaculars were unnecessary since the U.S. had won the race. Forced to choose, NASA canceled three Moon landing flights and built one space station. The name AAP was changed to Skylab. NASA outfitted what it called an orbital workshop on the ground and launched it to Earth orbit in 1973.
At 77.5 tons and 118 feet long, Skylab was one of the largest satellites ever sent to orbit. Astronauts were shipped to the station three at a time in left-over Apollo Moon capsules, in flights from May 1973 through February 1974.

The three groups stayed a total of 172 days at Skylab in 1973-74. The longest stay by one group was 84 days.
    NASA drew up plans for a larger space station, but sharply-reduced budgets again forced tough decisions. Skylab went unused after just three visits. Plans for a second station were dumped. NASA preferred a reusable space transportation system to carry men and equipment to orbit, so the limited money available was switched to designing and building space shuttles. Skylab was allowed to fall from orbit in 1979.
The International Space Station

The first element of the International Space Station (ISS) sent to orbit was Russia's Zarya (FGB) module launched in 1998 by Russia on a Proton booster from the Baiknour Cosmodrome in Kazakstan. Later, the United States' Unity module was carried to space in a shuttle flight STS-88. A crane was delivered by shuttle flight STS-96. The next element was the Russian-built Service Module, with life support, sleeping quarters, toilet and galley, as well as the primary docking port for Russian Progress resupply vehicles, and attitude control and orbital reboost thrusters.
    Astronauts aboard space shuttles have to keep track of 5,000 loose items such as photo equipment, supplies, food, tools, hygiene materials, payload parts and spares. By comparison, astronauts aboard the International Space Station have to track more than 50,000 items. NASA attaches a tiny electronic tag one-fourth the size of a postage stamp to each item, then uses a solar-powered infrared transmitter to read 15,000 tags per second quickly up to 40 feet away across a room.



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