Facing the Future
In July 1987, Kennedy Space Center celebrated 25 years as the nation's gateway to space. It was an occasion to reflect proudly on past achievements, but also to look ahead. KSC will continue to play a dominant role in realizing America's future in space as the United States heads toward the end of the millennium in the year 2000.
One of the foundations for that future will be Space Station Freedom. In January 1984 President Ronald Reagan directed NASA to develop a permanently manned space station. Canada, Japan and nine of the 13 members of the European Space Agency (ESA) have joined with the United States to design and develop this multipurpose facility, scheduled to be fully operational in the late 1990s.
"Let us keep in focus the concept that underlies the space station endeavor, providing a sense of urgency and direction," said James Odom, NASA associate administrator for space station, 1988-89. "The concept is leadership. The space station is about leadership in space. Not leadership in the 1980s or early 1990s, but leadership later on, in the late 1990s and well into the next century. The space station is about a time when NASA's recovery from the loss of Challenger is complete, when the Soviets will have had years of operational experience aboard the Mir space station, when the Hubble Space Telescope and the other Great Observatories will be in need of upgrading and refurbishment, when Europe will be close to its stated goal of independent capabilities in space, when the technical talents of Japan will have focused upon launch vehicles and spacecraft, and when the time for planning exploration beyond Earth orbit will have arrived. The space station is about the
Space Station Freedom will be a laboratory, an observatory, a servicing and repair facility, and a staging area for future manned and unmanned exploration. The station will have four pressurized modules affixed to a horizontal boom. Two of these are research laboratories provided by ESA and Japan. The United States will provide another, plus a fourth module that will be living quarters for a crew of four.
NASA plans a phased approach toward construction of the space station. Six Shuttle flights in the mid-1990s will be required to achieve a man-tended capability, where a Shuttle crew can remain in space 16 to 28 days with the orbiter attached to the station. After another 11 Shuttle flights, enough additional equipment will be delivered and assembled to achieve a permanently manned capability. Astronauts will be able to live and work in the station year-round, visited periodically by a Space Shuttle orbiter delivering supplies.
KSC will make a major contribution to the space station program. Space station hardware will be processed and checked out at the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) that NASA is building in the KSC Industrial Area, and Shuttles launched by the KSC team will deliver the elements of Freedom into space.
The SSPF is the largest single new construction project undertaken at the space center since the Apollo era. Scheduled for completion in 1994, the 457,000-square-foot facility is designed to make use of existing KSC systems whenever possible to keep costs down. The three-story facility will become a regular stop for KSC public tours, and its design features a viewing gallery for visitors.
In addition to the scientific activity which Space Station Freedom will allow, NASA also plans a number of other exploratory endeavors aimed at increasing human knowledge of the universe. The Great Observatories program was inaugurated with the launch into orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO). The Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) and the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) will be launched later in the decade.
The Great Observatories program will yield a more complete picture of the world beyond Earth's atmosphere. Each Great Observatory will examine the universe through different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. Visible light shows us sizes, shapes and textures. Other wavelengths, not visible to the naked eye, reveal chemical and physical forces at work: gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet, infrared, microwave and radio wavelengths. Each observatory will yield data on the types of bodies and phenomena which emanate a particular type of wavelength, such as the X-rays which black holes emit and which AXAF will detect. Like pieces from a puzzle, scientists will use the individual pictures of the universe, revealed through the Great Observatories, to fill in many of the gaps in our knowledge.
The Great Observatories will fulfill their missions from positions in Earth orbit. NASA also plans to send probes and orbiters into space that will come much closer to their physical targets. Starting with the Magellan mission launched in May 1989 to map the surface of Venus, three planetary explorers have been carried aloft by Space Shuffles. These low-cost spacecraft, utilizing spare parts and existing technology, will add to the foundation of knowledge accrued from earlier missions. Magellan was followed by Galileo in October 1989, on a long journey to Jupiter. Then Ulysses, formerly known as the International Solar Polar Mission, was launched in October 1990. It will reconnoiter the poles of the Sun and the space around them.
The Space Transportation System which will send these high-technology emissaries their respective odysseys will itself continue to evolve. NASA has already initiated an acquisition plan for an advanced solid rocket motor (ASRM) to increase the Shuttle's lift ability by 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms). Incorporating state-of-the-art solid rocket motor design technology and extensive automated building techniques, the ASRM will be on hand in the mid-1990s to launch elements of the space station.
A project still on the drawing board is an unmanned version of the Shuttle. Known as Shuttle-C, this partially reusable cargo vehicle would capitalize on the existing Space Transportation System infrastructure at KSC and elsewhere to keep costs down. With its heavy lift capability -- anywhere from 100,000 to 170,000 pounds (45,360 to 77,112 kilograms) -- Shuttle-C could reduce by 50 percent the number of launches and length of assembly time for space station elements. It also could be used to carry into orbit scientific spacecraft. Among the candidate missions under study are two of the Great Observatories, AXAF and SIRTF. Finally, a cargo Shuttle could serve as a test bed for new Shuttle elements like the ASRM.
The Space Station, Great Observatories and interplanetary missions are only some of the activities NASA is planning in the decade ahead. Like the pioneering missions upon which they will build, they too are merely preludes to explorations still to come in the next century. The United States space program will always be open-ended, a continuing scientific exploration of the unknown, with benefits that are sometimes predictable, but very often completely seen.
"Some call space the endless frontier," James Beggs, NASA administrator from 1981 to 1986, said in an address to agency workers, "and it is, indeed, endless, because no matter how far you go, there is always further to go. This frontier offers countless new opportunities to exploit. These opportunities, too, are literally endless. And we have just begun to grasp them."
The nation's spaceport will play a major role in the expansion of humanity beyond its native planet. The story of Kennedy Space Center, too, is open-ended. The future lies waiting.