Heralding it as a new era in space exploration, officials of the sixteen-nation International Space Station (ISS) project applauded on Friday (November 20) as a Russian proton booster rocket carried the project’s first component–a forty-one foot module called “Zarya,” or “Sunrise”–into orbit above the earth. The launch came nearly fifteen years after the inception of the project, and followed a seemingly endless series of missteps and administrative delays that at times threatened to derail the space station effort altogether. Friday’s launch also came one year after originally scheduled, a delay due in large part to the Russian space program’s ongoing financial woes, but also to problems in developing software for the American components.
For all those reasons, Friday’s flawless launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was doubly sweet for the country’s participants, and was furthermore a vindication for Russia’s space establishment in particular. “The Russian space industry is alive and well and is perfectly able to fulfill of its commitments on the international space station,” Yuri Koptev, head of the Russian Space Agency, told reporters. Yuri Semenov, head of another of Russia’s major space concerns, the Energia Rocket Corporation, observed that the Baikonur cosmodrome “was originally established for Soviet ICBM missiles targeted at the United States.” But now, he said, “we have gone from confrontation to cooperation” in space (AP, Reuters, November 20).
The ISS project includes, along with the United States and Russia, some eleven European countries, as well as Japan, Canada and Brazil. Construction of the 460-ton station is expected to cost US$63 billion and to involve more than forty launches and nearly a thousand hours of space walks. If all goes according to plan, the station will be completed in the year 2004, when it will be able to house seven astronauts. The first crew, to consist of two Russians and one American, is expected to arrive on the partially completed station early in the year 2000. The United States is providing the bulk of the funding for the station–more than US$50 billion. Operating costs over the projected life of the station, some fifteen years, are estimated at close to US$100 billion (International agencies, November 20-21; Washington Post, November 18, 21).
RUSSIA REMAINS WILD CARD IN SPACE PROJECT.