Kennedy Space Center, FL —The periods between NASA's first attempts back in April to launch the Space Shuttle Atlantis on a servicing mission to the International Space Station provided time at the launch site to interview former astronaut Sam Durrance about the mission and the space station effort in general. Durrance has flown as a payload specialist on several astronomy missions and now is director of the Florida Space Grant Consortium. He also teaches at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Design News: What role will the station play in astronomy?
Sam Durrance: The station is not a good platform for [observatory] astronomy. During early design development of the station it was decided to narrow the focus to life sciences and microgravity research. There will, however, be observations in astrophysics [such as particles and fields]. We hope the station will also make an impact in commercial uses [in materials processing]. Right now, the commercial SpaceHab module, such as [in the Shuttle cargo bay] for this mission, is used for logistics support. There is also development of commercial carrier modules for use on the station.
Q: Do you see the station being built fairly close to the current schedule?
A: The long pole in the tent is the Russian service module. We'll be ok if it is launched on schedule this July.
Q: With part of this STS-101 mission to replace components on the Russian control module, do you see any concerns with quality control of their hardware?
A: The Russians are extremely professional and have an excellent product, after all they have 13 years of station missions to Mir. They have their own, different mode of operation and I can see some conflicts in management style.
Q: What are the likely options in manned space flight after the station is completed?
A: In manned systems, I can see us moving on to exploration, specifically Mars. The key to Mars is long-duration capability. The Moon may be used to do astronomy, but going there is not a requirement for going to Mars.
Q: Will we ever approach "airline" type operations in launching to space?
A: We will move in some degree toward this in the next 20 years. Whether it will be a single-stage-to-orbit or an efficient two-stage design, we have to get away from operationally intensive vehicles such as the Shuttle.
The STS-101 mission included replacing four of six 800A batteries and associated current-regulating electronics in the Russian Zarya control module now joined to the U.S. Unity node, the first International Space Station (ISS) elements. Also accomplished: swapping out a problematic radio-frequency power distribution box on Unity; the crew transferred nearly 5,000 lbs of logistics and maintenance supplies to the station in preparation for the Expedition One crew later this year on a three-month station stay (once the Russian Zvezda service module/crew quarters are attached, hopefully this summer); completing assembly of a Russian crane on the station; and using Atlantis to boost the station's orbit.
Launch failures of the Russian Proton booster have delayed the arrival of Zvezda at the station from late last year, due to recertifying the launcher. Rather than any quality-control issues with the Russian systems on Zarya, NASA spokesman James Hartsfield says that it is because of the delay that the batteries and controllers on Zarya had been pushed to the limits of functioning in their current state—thus the need for replacement before the service module is joined to the ISS. The station should now be able to accommodate any further delays in Zvezda's launching out to year's end.