Launch lifts officials' spirits

Thursday, July 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Russian craft due to dock in 2 weeks

HOUSTON – Encouraged by the successful launch of a key Russian addition to the International Space Station, officials looked forward Wednesday to resuming construction of the massive 16-nation project and putting the first crew aboard this fall.
The long-stalled liftoff of the service module, dubbed Zvezda, or "Star," came at 11:56 p.m. Dallas time Tuesday from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan.

The 43-foot-long, 42,000-pound Zvezda, the third of 100 pieces to be assembled 200 miles above the Earth, was said to be in good shape and headed for linkup in two weeks with the first two modules, launched in late 1998.

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, Russian Space Agency Director Yuri Koptev and others in Kazakstan for the launch exchanged congratulations at a post-launch news briefing and pledged to keep working together until the $95 billion project is finished as planned in 2005.

"This is one of the happiest, proudest days of my life," said Mr. Goldin, who in 1993 added the Russians as partners and weathered severe criticism when upheaval in Russia raised costs and caused more than two years of delays. "You did what you said you were going to do in spite of all the problems you had."

Mr. Koptev expressed relief at having "covered a very long road [despite] detours, bumps and holes," and he thanked Mr. Goldin, who he said "was always out there during those premature funerals of the International Space Station and Russians' participation in it to tell us to never lose hope."

It was an especially happy day at Johnson Space Center in Houston, American headquarters for the project. Johnson shares primary mission control responsibilities with the Russian command center outside Moscow, and most of the 18,000 space workers in Houston are involved one way or another in designing and building the space station.

The launch "was really a key milestone," said Ed Campion, a NASA spokesman in Houston. "This really gives everybody a renewed sense of purpose, preparing crews for the station as well as the flight control team here that will be watching over them while they're in orbit."

At the briefing half a world away in Kazakstan, Mr. Goldin said it was too early to relax. Zvezda will spend two weeks moving into proper orbit for a July 26 automated linkup with the Zarya ("Sunrise") and Unity modules.

The Zvezda service module was key because it will provide command and control facilities, living quarters and propulsion to keep the station in its proper orbit.

The launch also breaks a logjam that has resulted in 250 tons of hardware, including nearly all of the American segments, accumulating at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., awaiting assembly flights. More than 40 more flights over five years will be required to complete the station.

The first crew – American William Shepherd and Russians Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev – are set to ride a Russian rocket to the station in October to begin a four-month stay.

The launch came within days of the 25th anniversary of the first joint U.S.-Russian space mission. In July 1975, three Americans aboard an Apollo spacecraft launched from Florida and two Russians aboard a Soyuz launched from Baikonur linked up in space and worked together for two days with millions around the world watching on television.