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SPACE FLIGHT 2006 - The Year in Review

International Space Station

During 2006, the International Space Station (ISS) marked the sixth anniversary of continuous crewed operations (November), during which NASA and ISS partner scientists have gathered vital information on the station that will help with future long-duration missions of the new exploration program, as the station has a unique microgravity environment that cannot be duplicated on Earth.

ISS goals are to establish a permanent habitable residence and laboratory for science and research, and to maintain and support a human crew at this facility. To those purposes. the ISS expands our experience in living and working in space, encourages and enables commercial development of space, and provides the capability for humans to perform unique long duration space-based research in cell and developmental biology, plant biology, human physiology, fluid physics, combustion science, materials science and fundamental physics. The ISS, part way in its construction, is already providing a unique platform for making observations of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, the sun, and other astronomical objects. The experience and results obtained from using the ISS will guide the future direction of human exploration of space, back to the Moon and on to Mars and beyond.

The station is the largest and most complex international scientific project in history. The completed ISS by about 2010 will have a mass of about 1,040,000 lbs. (470 metric tons), measuring 356 ft (109 m) across and 290 ft (88 m) long, with almost an acre of solar panels to provide up to 110 kilowatts power to six state-of-the-art laboratories. Led by the United States, the ISS draws upon the scientific and technological resources of 16 nations: Canada, Japan, Russia, 11 nations of the European Space Agency (ESA), and Brazil.

One of the International Partnership issues in 2006 was the continuing debate about the provision of assured crew return capability after the Russian obligation to supply Soyuz lifeboats to the station expired in April 2006. In NASA's space transportation planning, currently in transition planning after the unveiling of the long-range space exploration strategy by President Bush on January 14 (which includes decommissioning of the space shuttle by 2010), a U.S. crew rescue capability would only be available by 2014 at the earliest. Efforts continue by the Partnership to work out a solution for dealing with the gap using non-U.S. transport systems. Of great significance to the continuation of ISS assembly and operation proved to be Russia's shouldering the burden of providing crew rotation and consumables resupply flights to the station, after the loss of Columbia in 2003 brought shuttle operations to a standstill that lasted until the RTF mission of STS-114/Discovery in July 2005 and the subsequent one-year delay until the second shuttle RTF flight, performed by STS-121/Discovery in July 2006.

Following the initial major milestones for the ISS program since begin of orbital assembly in 1998 (which included the first crewed logistics/supply flight of a space shuttle in May/June 1999, the arrival of the first long-duration station crew of U.S. Commander (CDR) William Shepherd and Russian Pilot/Flight Engineers (FE) Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev in November 2000 and the installation of the first set of U.S. solar array wings in December 2000), build-up and early operations of the permanently crewed station continued through 2001 in rapid pace. During 2001, astronauts and cosmonauts added U.S. Laboratory module Destiny, the Canada-supplied Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) Canadarm2, the U.S. Airlock module Quest and the Russian Docking Compartment (DC-1) Pirs. In April 2002, the first of several truss elements, S0 (S-Zero) was attached on top of Destiny, becoming the centerpiece of the 109 m (356 ft) long truss for carrying the solar cell arrays of the station. In June 2002, the Expedition 4 crew of Russian CDR Yuri Onufrienko and U.S. FEs Carl Walz and Dan Bursch was "rotated" with the new station crew of Expedition 5 (Russian CDR Valery Korzun, U.S. FE/SO Peggy Whitson, Russian FE Sergey Treschev) and delivered cargo including the Mobile Service System (to provide mobility for the SSRMS on a rail track) and the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Leonardo for cargo and equipment transport.

The second truss segment, S1, arrived in October 2002 and was attached to S0 on the starboard side. Its counterpart on port, P1, followed in November and was also successfully mounted. The same shuttle mission brought the replacement crew of U.S. CDR Kenneth Bowersox, Russian FE Nikolai Budarin and U.S. FE/SO Donald Pettit (Expedition 6), and returned the Expedition 5 crew to Earth.

Early in 2003, further progress in ISS assembly was brought to a halt by the standdown of the space shuttles after the Columbia loss. As an immediate consequence of the unavoidable reduction in resupply mission to the station, which now could only be supported by Russian uncrewed automated Progress cargo ships, station crew size was reduced from three to a two-person caretaker crew per expedition (also known as Increment), except for brief 10-day stays by visiting cosmonaut/researchers or commercial tourists arriving and departing on the third seat of Soyuz spacecraft. Operations procedures had to be revised accordingly, and such vital areas as onboard systems maintenance and spares provision had to be replanned carefully to continue crewed occupancy and a viable science research program on board despite the sudden constriction in logistics.

In 2005, three crews of two persons each lived successively on the station, each one working with ground teams to do their part to keep the station safely operating while accumulating knowledge ("lessons learned") for future deep-space missions of the new Vision for Space Exploration. Crews performed in-flight outfitting, preventive maintenance, replacements and repairs on station equipment and conducted on-going science/research activities. They also conducted four spacewalks (EVA, extravehicular activity) spacewalk to install external components such as an antenna, make electrical and data connections, remove and replace payloads and experiment containers, and launched a nanosatellite.

After appropriate training for the temporary two-man situation in the U.S. and Russia, Expedition 11 was launched to the ISS in April with the two-man station crew of Russian CDR Sergei Krikalev and American FE John Phillips and plus Italian VC8 (Visiting Crewmember 8) cosmonaut/researcher Roberto Vittori on a Soyuz TMA spacecraft. The two members of Expedition 10, Leroy Chiao and Salizhan Sharipov, plus Vittori returned on the previous Soyuz that had served as a contingency crew return vehicle (CRV) for almost the duration of its certified lifetime of 200 days. The replacement crew, Expedition 12, came six months later in a fresh Soyuz TMA, consisting of American CDR William McArthur and Russian FE Valery Tokarev to continue station operations into 2006, plus U.S. businessman Gregory Olsen as VC9 for about a week.

During 2006, as ISS entered its seventh year of operations as a staffed facility, three-person operation of the station was resumed with mission STS-121/Discovery, the first shuttle flight test of new inspection and protection techniques and systems, which also delivered the first European long-duration crewmember, Germany's Thomas Reiter, to join the Expedition 13 crew of Russian CDR Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. FE Jeff Williams, who had arrived in March 2006 on Soyuz TMA-8/12S. With FE-2 Reiter remaining on the ISS well into 2007, Vinogradov and Williams were replaced in September by Expedition 14, consisting of American CDR Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian FE-1 Mikhail Tyurin, arriving on Soyuz TMA-9/13S. Each of the two Soyuz flights also carried a visiting crewmember (VC), officially known as Space Flight Participant (SFP),- VC10 Carlos Pontes and VC11 Anousheh Ansari. STS-115/Atlantis arrived in September to resume station assembly with the P3/P4 (Port 3/Port 4) integrated truss element and two new photovoltaic array wings, adding ~66 kW of power. An additional truss, P5, was delivered in December by STS-116/Discovery. By end-2006, ISS assembly, about 52% complete, had grown to a total orbital mass of 470,000 lbs (213 metric tons), length of 171 ft (52 m), height of 90 ft (27.4 m), width of 240 ft (73 m), and a habitable volume of about 15,000 ft3 (425 m3). Its solar arrays now had a surface area of 19,200 ft2 (1784 m2). Thirteen expeditionary crews had consumed more than 13,000 meals and over 10,000 snacks. 83 crewmembers of several nations had conducted a total of 81 spacewalks (EVAs, Extravehicular Activities) dedicated to assembly and servicing (53 from the station, 28 from a docked shuttle), for a total of 498 hrs 3 min.

Following the recommendations of an independent advisory panel of biological and physical research scientists called Remap (for "Research Maximization and Prioritization"), NASA in 2002 had established the formal position of a "Science Officer" for one crewmember aboard the ISS, responsible for expanding scientific endeavors on the station. After FE Dr. Peggy Whitson of Expedition 5 became NASA's first Science Officer (SO), Expedition 8 CDR Michael Foale, Expedition 9 FE Michael Fincke, and Expedition 10 CDR Leroy Chiao were the fourth, fifth and sixth Science Officers in 2004. They were joined in 2005 by John Phillips (Expedition 11) and William McArthur (Expedition 12) as seventh and eighth SO. In 2006, Jeff Williams and Mike L-A Lopez Alegria served as SOs.

By end-2006, 59 carriers had been launched to the ISS: 20 shuttles, two heavy Protons (FGB Zarya, SM Zvezda), and 37 Soyuz rockets (23 uncrewed Progress cargo ships, the DC-1 docking module, and 13 crewed Soyuz spaceships).

Soyuz TMA-8 (No. 218)

Soyuz TMA-8/ISS-12S (March 29 - September 28) lifted off on time at Baikonur at 9:30pm EST, carrying Expedition 13 crewmembers Pavel V. Vinogradov and Jeffrey Williams plus Brazilian taxi cosmonaut Marcos Cezar Pontes, Visiting Crewmember 10 (VC10), after another flawless countdown of the Soyuz-FG. The seventh ISS crew rotation flight by a Soyuz, it arrived at the station on 3/31, docking smoothly at the FGB nadir port at 11:19pm EST. Hatch opening and crew transfer were nominal. Eight days later (4/8), the previous CRV, Soyuz TMA-7/11S, undocked from the SM aft port at 4:31pm EST for a safe landing in Kazakhstan at 7:47pm with McArthur, Tokarev and Pontes. Expedition 12's total mission elapsed time (MET), from launch to landing, was 189 days 19 minutes in space (~187 days on board the station).

Progress M-56 (No. 356)

Designated ISS-21P, the first of three uncrewed cargo ships to the ISS in 2006 lifted off on a Soyuz-U rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 24 (12:03pm EDT) and docked at the station on April 26 (1:41pm). As all Progress transports, it carried about 2 tons of resupply for the station, including maneuver propellants, water, food, science payloads, equipment and spares.

Progress M-57 (No. 357)

ISS-22P was the next uncrewed cargo ship, launched in Baikonur on a Soyuz-U on June 24 (11:08am EDT) and arriving at the station with fresh supplies two days later at 12:25pm EDT.

Soyuz TMA-9 (No. 219)

Soyuz TMA-9/ISS-13S (September 18, 2006 - April 21, 2007), was launched in Kazakhstan on time at 12:08am EDT. The eighth crew rotation flight by a Soyuz, it carried Expedition 14 crewmembers CDR Michael Lopez-Alegria and FE-1 Mikhail Tyurin plus Iranian-American space tourist Anousheh Ansari, the first female SFP to visit the space station, flying under contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency. TMA-9 docked to the ISS on 9/20 at 1:21am EDT, replacing the previous CRV, Soyuz TMA-8/12S, which undocked on 9/28 at 5:53pm with the Expedition 13 crew of Pavel Vinogradov and Jeff Williams (182d 22h 43m in space) and Anousheh Ansari (10d 21h 4m 17s). FE-2 Thomas Reiter remained on ISS.

Progress M-58 (No. 358)

ISS-23P, the third automated logistics transport in 2006, lifted off on its Soyuz-U on October 23 (9:41am EDT), docking at the ISS on October 26 (10:29am EDT) with 2 tons of resupply cargo.