Space Station

NASA’s Gary Kitmacher Speaks on Engineering the Space Station

July 30, 1999

Gary Kitmacher, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Chairman of the Mir Mission Integration and Operations Working Group, recently gave a multi-media presentation on the history, development, and current status of the International Space Station. Kitmacher’s presentation, entitled "Engineering the Space Station," was part of SDM students’ three-day Spring Business Trip.

Kitmacher’s holds a BS Cum Laude in geology from the University of Massachusetts, an MBA in management from the University of Houston, and several NASA titles. He has received 21 NASA awards, has authored 36 technical papers, and has written and produced over three dozen multi-media programs on space flight, astronomy, science, and other technical topics.

Kitmacher opened with a movie showing state-of-the-art NASA space flight capabilities. He illustrated his lecture with full-color NASA video and slides throughout.

He gave an overview of NASA’s history, beginning with President Reagan’s 1984 State of the Union Address. At that time, the President declared that one of America’s goals was to develop its next frontier. Reagan went on to say that he was directing NASA to build a permanently manned space station, and to do it within a decade. This announcement marked the formal beginning of the Space Station program.

The rationale for a Space Station was that it would permit quantum leaps in research in science, communications, metallurgy, and life-saving medicines that can only be manufactured in space. NASA would invite other countries to participate, strengthening peace, building prosperity, and expanding freedom.

Kitmacher explained that the concept of a space station goes back at least as far as Edward Everett Hale’s brick moon in 1869. It captured succeeding generations, until in the 1950s Wernher Von Braun, Chesley Bonestel, and Willy Ley designed a wheel-shaped station.

All did not move smoothly forward, however. "The Station would become the subject of the longest, most bitterly-fought fight for a new initiative in the history of the space program," said Kitmacher.

The vision statement of the Space Station program is nonetheless optimistic: "A gateway to permanent human presence in space for the expansion of knowledge benefiting all people and nations." The program’s mission is to "build and operate the International Space Station, a world-class orbital research facility that is safe, productive, affordable, and on schedule."

Von Braun recommended building a Space Shuttle before the Space Station for three reasons: a Shuttle would allow the Station to be built in space; a Space Shuttle is technically more difficult so would serve as an operations model; and Shuttle operations would attract considerable public attention providing a public relations impetus for the Space Station.

The U.S. Space Shuttle was built and operating by the early 1980s. In 1984, Reagan announced a new manned space program — Space Station Freedom — and a formal program office was established.

Almost at the same time that the US was establishing the Space Station Program, the Soviet Union was making the final preparations leading to launch of the Mir Orbital Station. It was launched in 1986.

The 1990s ushered in a new era in the evolution of manned space flight: a partnership between NASA and the Russian Space Agency (RSA). The NASA-Mir Program developed from 1992 agreements between U.S. and Russian governments for scientific cooperation in human space flight.

Six principal modules comprise the Mir Orbital Station: The Mir base block, Quant, Quant II, Kristall, Spektr, and Priroda. The U.S. worked in partnership with the Russians to develop and launch the last two of the modules, Spektr and Priroda. As they will do for the International Space Station, the NASA-Mir program made use of the capabilities of the Space Shuttle and Russian Progress and Soyuz transportation vehicles as l;ogistics transports, carrying equipment, supplies, and scientific data to and from the Station.

Ten Space Shuttle flights were made to the Mir Orbital Station between 1995 and 1998; 44 flights will be required to complete the assembly of the International Space Station. Sixteen nations are involved in the International Space Station Program, including member states of the European Space Agency, Russia, Canada, Japan, and Brazil. Scientific research and technology development will also be led by these nations.

Kitmacher described the Space Station as an enabling technology for later programs such as a return to the moon or a mission to Mars. He closed with this philosophical statement:

"The path of evolution is now in space as much as on earth. Man has shown that as a species, mankind is willing to commit itself to living in environments that are completely different from those in which the species evolved. Put a shield of life around ourselves to protect the life within, but the willingness to go out there is there. The space program has shown that. The curve of human evolution has been bent."