STS-107 Caramba log 4 - About the Space Program

The space program can be viewed several different ways:

  1. Cold War competition between the USA and Soviet Union.
  2. Technology incubator.
  3. Manifestation of man's innate drive and curiosity.

The Cold War certainly spurred the space program in its early years. Well-deserved credit goes to the Soviet scientists, engineers, pilots, and others that made possible the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961. Today this date is celebrated worldwide at "Yuri's Night" parties. On the heels of Gagarin's flight, a US Mercury launched Alan Shepard into space on 5 May 1961. The competing US/Soviet space programs, realized as a race to the moon, culminated with the successful landing of the US Apollo 11 on the moon on 20 July 1969. Further Apollo missions returned to the moon, followed by Earth orbit docking with a Soviet Soyuz, and launching of Skylab, the first US space station. Kalpana related that she was attending Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh, India, when the latter fell from orbit and there were a rash of babies named in its honour: Skylab Singh, please stand up and be counted. The Space Shuttle program started orbital operations with the first flight of Columbia on 12 April 1981. The Mir space station survived the dissolution of the Soviet Union and ended its career hosting Russian crews augmented by NASA and European Space Agency astronauts in preparation for the International Space Station. Though Mir had outlived its usefulness -and far outlived its intended life in orbit- its passing was a sad event for many involved in the space program, regardless of nationality. Just as Gagarin's first flight, the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Mars Lander and Rover, the Space Shuttle, Mir represented human aspirations as much as it did the achievements of the Soviet/Russian space program.

The International Space Station currently under construction in orbit is more than a technical exercise. One of its primary purposes is promoting international cooperation. The most visible presences on the Space Station are the US and Russia; however other participating nations include Brazil, Canada, Japan, France, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. There is constant exchange of personnel among the programs of the various nations, often with significant periods of time spent working at each other's facilities. For example NASA built a residence facility at Star City outside Moscow to cater for the ongoing presence of US astronauts and engineers working with the Russian space program. Conversely, Russian cosmonauts have been known to get into the spirit of things in Houston, e.g. cowboy hats and country music blaring from pickup trucks.

Kalpana's first mission, STS-87, included crewmembers from the Japanese and Ukrainian space agencies which resulted in public relations trips for the crew and spouses to both those countries following the flight. During the Ukrainian trip I was particularly struck by the reception given the crew by ordinary people. As we approached the home village of STS-87 crewmember Leonid Kadenyuk outside Chernivtsi in western Ukraine, people lined the roads, policemen saluted and a great welcome awaited us as we left the bus. At various events in both Ukraine and Japan, often with high school and university-age students in attendance, language was often a minor barrier to understanding since the enthusiasm for space flight was palpable. It is worth considering that the first human to set foot on Mars is almost certainly in the same age group as the aforementioned students; whoever comes up with an engine (warp drive anyone?) that enables man to travel farther and faster in space may be that first Mars explorer's classmate.

The International Space School Foundation in Houston each summer sponsors high school-age students from around the world for two weeks immersion in the space program at Johnson Space Center. So far, students from all countries represented in the International Space Station have attended the summer camp. Two of the most impressive participants so far were from South Africa, selected with the assistance of Winston Scott, an STS-87 crewmember African-American astronaut who visited that country twice in connection with his space flights. Two high school students from a small township won places for the 2001 summer session. This prompted a township-wide celebration, complete with Zulu dances. The two students, despite being from less than affluent backgrounds, are brilliant and enthusiastic young people who, in making the best of their circumstances, exemplify humanity's drive to achieve and explore.

J P Harrison

The foregoing are the personal observations of Jean-Pierre Harrison and do not constitute an official statement or endorsement by NASA or any NASA employee or contractor.

Commander Husband
Commander
Rick D Husband
Pilot
William C McCool
Payload Commander
Michael P Anderson
Mission Specialist
Kalpana Chawla
Mission Specialist
Laurel B Clark
Payload Specialist
Ilan Ramon
Mission Specialist
David M Brown

Links:
Yuri's Night
International Space Station
ESA: International Space Station
Russian Space Agency
NASA
European Space Agency
International Space School Foundation
South African Participation at International Space School 2001


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