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Aeronautics and Space Report NASA

During FY 1997, NASA's Space Shuttle program met or exceeded its goals of safety, on-time performance, and cost reduction. NASA successfully launched eight Space Shuttle missions, including three flights that docked with the Russian space station Mir. The first mission of the year, STS-80, carried a crew of five, including veteran astronaut Dr. Story Musgrave, who accomplished two noteworthy milestones: tying John Young's record of six space flights for any astronaut or cosmonaut, and at age 61, becoming the oldest person to fly in space. On February 13, 1997, the Shuttle caught up with and retrieved the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) for its second scheduled servicing mission. On six other Shuttle flights, astronauts successfully deployed various space science and microgravity science experiments.


STS-82 Onboard View—Astronaut Mark C. Lee, on the end of the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) arm, photographs a bit of patchwork on the worn insulation material of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

During FY 1997, Shuttle personnel initiated technology upgrade studies on: more powerful and durable fuel cells, more robust thermal protection material; nontoxic fuels for orbital maneuvering and reaction control systems; electric or nontoxically fueled auxiliary power units; more efficient and higher capacity water cooling units; and more efficient processes and techniques for revitalizing the vehicle cabin atmosphere. These studies were all designed with the goals of improved safety and cost efficiency. Shuttle managers also made significant progress in the certification of the new Super Light Weight Tank during FY 1997.

Phase 1 of the International Space Station (ISS) program, the joint U.S. and Russian effort to expand cooperation in human space flight, continued with three successful Shuttle-Mir docked missions and two long-duration stays on Mir by U.S. astronauts. At the end of FY 1997, technicians had built more than 220,000 pounds of flight hardware, and the ISS program had passed the 60-percent completion milestone. Technicians also transferred major flight elements such as Node 1 and the first two pressurized mating adapters to the Kennedy Space Center for final test and integration in preparation for launch.

Regarding the international agreements governing ISS participation, the 15 participating nations reached ad referendum agreement on the Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement in December 1996, which provides the legal framework for international cooperation. Negotiators also finalized the four bilateral Memoranda of Agreement between NASA and each of the space agencies of Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. In addition, NASA personnel negotiated implementing arrangements with Europe and Japan to allow their space agencies to offset the cost of the launch of their ISS elements on the Shuttle through the provision of hardware and other services to NASA. Finally, NASA conducted negotiations with the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) for the provision of flight hardware by AEB in return for access to ISS utilization.

There were 23 successful U.S. Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV) launches in FY 1997. Of those, 4 were NASA-managed missions, 2 were NASA-funded/FAA-licensed missions, 5 were DoD-managed missions, and 12 were FAA-licensed commercial launches. There were two launch vehicle failures—a NASA-managed Pegasus mission and a U.S. Air Force-managed Delta mission. As a result of the Pegasus failure, NASA and the Orbital Sciences Corporation completed a detailed assessment of the Pegasus launch system and began seeking areas of mutual cooperation for improving the systems reliability for both Government and commercial use.

Crew Members of MIR and STS 84

STS-84 Onboard View—Crew members from Mir-23 and STS-84 assemble for a group portrait onboard the Spacehab Double Module, as they tie a record (10) for number of persons aboard a single orbiting spacecraft at one time. They are (from left front) Jerry M. Linenger, Vasili V. Tsibliyev, Charles J. Precourt, Aleksandr I. Lazutkin, and C. Michael Foale. In the back row (from left) are Edward T. Lu, Eileen M. Collins, Jean-François Clervoy, Elena V. Kondakova, and Carlos I. Noriega.

In the area of space communications, NASA networks provided support for numerous NASA flight missions. NASA's Mission Control and Data Systems team provided operation of 15 onorbit science missions, including launch and mission support for the Advanced Composition Explorer and the HST servicing mission. In FY 1997, NASA released a Request for Proposal for the consolidated space operations contract to outsource NASA's space operations under a single contract. NASA awarded Phase 1 contracts to develop competing architectures to two industry teams. NASA continued to work with DoD and other agencies to study advanced future communications systems. NASA personnel also made significant improvements to NASA's mission control and data systems as well as ground networks, which contributed to several successful launches as well as significantly reduced operations staff for several orbiting missions.

On July 4, 1997, NASA successfully landed the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft and its Sojourner rover on Mars, garnering worldwide interest, as attested to by the almost 1 billion "hits" at the Pathfinder site on the World Wide Web. Also related to Mars, the discovery by scientists on the Mars Global Surveyor team that Mars has a planetwide magnetic field added to our growing understanding.

Sojourner Rover

The Sojourner rover and undeployed ramps onboard the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft can be seen in this image taken by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder on July 4, 1997.

Other space science missions yielded fascinating data as well. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft made a flyby of Mathilde, which was the closest encounter with an asteroid. The Advanced Composition Explorer began its journey to understand the stream of accelerated particles that constantly bombard Earth. Galileo data indicated that Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, has a metallic core and layered internal structure similar to Earth's, while the heavily cratered moon, Callisto, is a mixture of metallic rock and ice with no identifiable central core. Scientists using the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft discovered jet streams of hot, electrically charged gas flowing beneath the surface of the Sun, which may help explain the famous sunspot cycle that can affect Earth with power and communications disruptions. After the second servicing mission of HST, the Hubble provided scientists with dramatic views of a group of baby Sun-like stars surrounding their "mother star," detected a titanic shock wave smashing into unseen gas around a supernova, and found a disk at the heart of a galactic collision.

Several significant Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) science accomplishments also took place during FY 1997. In land-use/land-cover change, MTPE personnel produced the first global land-cover maps from satellite data. In seasonal-to-interannual climate prediction, MTPE personnel made breakthroughs in observing and understanding the processes that control the initiation of El Niño. In the natural hazards area, MTPE scientists learned to use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data to distinguish human-induced changes in surface topography, such as subsidence caused by aquifer depletion, from natural tectonic deformation. In long-term climate, MTPE researchers detected a lengthening of the growing season by a week over a 10-year period in some northern latitude regions. MTPE personnel continued to monitor vigilantly atmospheric ozone.

In flight and ground systems, MTPE technicians completed instrument integration for the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and delivered the satellite to Japan prior to launch on November 27, 1997. MTPE managers selected the first two Earth System Science Pathfinder missions to infuse new science elements into MTPE: the Vegetation Canopy Lidar for launch in 2000 and the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) in 2001. MTPE also flew several successful experiments, including the Shuttle Laser Altimeter and the German CRISTA-SPAS suite of experiments, on STS-85 in August 1997.

In programmatic terms, MTPE's greatest accomplishment during FY 1997 was the first MTPE Biennial Review, which helped define a new paradigm for missions following the Earth Observing System (EOS) first series with reduced costs and development times. Another major accomplishment was the integration of the Stennis Space Center's Commercial Remote Sensing Program into MTPE.

In FY 1997, the Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications (OLMSA) conducted research on the Space Shuttle, Mir, and ground-based and suborbital facilities. Through three Mir missions and the stays of astronauts John Blaha, Jerry Linenger, and Michael Foale, OLMSA continued preparation for living and working on the ISS. OLMSA's Advanced Human Support Technology program conducted several closed-chamber life support tests at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Phase III tests initiated in FY 1997 represented the American record for longest duration closed-chamber tests with human beings. The Microgravity Science Laboratory mission (STS-94 in July 1997) supported several research disciplines, including biotechnology, fluid physics, and materials science, such as combustion research in laminar soot processes. The combustion flight hardware performed flawlessly and gave scientists important new data toward developing methods of controlling pollutant soot emissions. In the field of commercial research, protein crystal growth on STS-86 yielded high-quality crystals; research in agriculture, forest products, and plant-based pharmaceuticals was conducted on STS-94; a commercial research bioprocessing apparatus was tested on Mir; and technicians prepared a commercial research plant unit for a Mir mission in FY 1998. These last two efforts are precursors to commercial research hardware development for the ISS.

Programmatically, OLMSA realigned its activities into five research programs and three operational functions to reflect streamlined operations at Headquarters and a shift of responsibilities to designated NASA Lead Centers. OLMSA managers also helped form several new research centers: the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, three NASA Centers of Research and Training, and a Commercial Research Center in Informatics at Yale University School of Medicine.

NASA's Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology Enterprise established three pillars for success: Global Civil Aviation, Revolutionary Technology Leaps, and Access to Space. Within these three pillars, managers defined 10 goals to improve safety, reduce pollution, increase efficiency, and promote new technologies.

During FY 1997, the aeronautics program achieved several major technical milestones. In the High Speed Research program, personnel successfully fabricated advanced bonding panels and, on the propulsion side, selected and completed testing on an advanced inlet concept. In the Advanced Subsonic Technology program, NASA researchers developed the Taxi Navigation and Situational Awareness tool, improving aircraft taxi time and safety in low visibility and night time. In the research and technology base, NASA personnel successfully flew a solar-powered, remotely piloted experimental aircraft to a record 71,300-foot altitude.

During FY 1997, the space transportation technology program achieved several major technical milestones. In the X-33 flight demonstrator effort, researchers completed the hotfire ground test phase of the Linear Aerospace SR-71 Experiment and completed the first piece of X-33 flight hardware, the liquid oxygen tank. The X-34 flight demonstrator program completed wind tunnel testing of a scale model of the vehicle for low-speed flight characteristics. The Bantam Low Cost Booster Technologies program successfully demonstrated a new low-cost engine thrust chamber assembly at flight pressure.

NASA continued to emphasize safety as its number one priority. NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance continued to provide safety oversight and risk analysis for Space Shuttle launches, spacecraft launches, the Shuttle-Mir program, and the phase-in of the Shuttle flight operations contract. NASA's ISS Independent Assessment Activity investigated technical and managerial issues and provided practical recommendations to the ISS program to improve safety and performance. NASA instituted a new top-level management policy, providing a functional overview of all safety and mission success policy expectations. NASA also developed assurance guidelines for common spacecraft devices and ELV's and streamlined mission assurance guidelines specifically for the New Millennium program. Finally, NASA made progress in its efforts to implement ISO 9001 as its baseline quality management standard, continuing training and establishing an Agencywide contract for ISO 9001 third-party certification.

NASA's programs continued their trend toward increasing international participation with spacefaring nations around the world. During the past year, NASA signed new agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia. Agreements concluded during this period included arrangements for the flight of NASA instruments on foreign spacecraft, the flight of foreign instruments on NASA missions, provisions for a new airborne observatory, and operations support agreements for such activities as overseas Shuttle emergency landing sites and spacecraft tracking, aeronautics cooperation, and data exchange.

NASA supported United Nations activities, including the annual meeting of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its subcommittees, the Third Conference of the Americas, and the U.N. Second Regional Conference on Space Technology and Development in Africa. Finally, NASA cosponsored a U.S.-Argentina Joint Conference on Space, Science, and Technology for Society in September 1997 to review past and ongoing cooperation as well as identify opportunities for future cooperation.

Internationally, NASA and NOAA officials signed a Memorandum of Agreement permitting the use of NASA's Russia-to-U.S.-communications circuits in support of the U.S.-Russia Commission on Economics and Technological Cooperation, known more widely as the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. NASA representatives also held meetings with colleagues from Japan, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Brazil to foster joint development and use of communications networks.

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