Frontier Status Report

Frontier Status Report #58

Frontier Status Report #58

August 16, 1997

Dale M. Gray

A slow week on the frontier despite having a Shuttle in orbit and the Mir 23 crew returning to earth. Highlights include:

  • Shuttle Discovery retrieval of CRISTAS-SPAS and testing Japanese robot arm.
  • Mir 23 crew return to earth and Mir exterior video taping by Mir 24 crew.
  • Small leak in upper stage of Cassini Titan IVB.
  • Short delay in LMLV-1 launch to August 22.
  • Control valves replaced in remaining Titan 4A rockets.


The free-flying CRISTAS-SPAS ozone-mapping satellite has been successfully retrieved by the Shuttle Discovery ending its nine-day mission. While trailing the Shuttle, the satellite passed within 1.5 miles of a 500-pound spent rocket from an unsuccessful communication satellite launched from a Shuttle in 1984. Much was made of their orbital speed of 17,500 mph relative to the earth, however their speed relative to each other was several orders of magnitude smaller--still enough to destroy the satellite. The satellite has revealed large amount of hydroxyl, and therefore water vapor, found forty to sixty miles above the high northern latitudes. This supports a previously controversial theory that the earth is constantly being bombarded by "snow balls" (NASA; Flatoday).

The astronauts and ground controllers each tested the new Japanese robot arm. Though there appeared to be some sort of problem communicating with the five-foot arm, it successfully underwent several manipulation tests. The Shuttle is set to land in Florida on Monday August 18 (NASA; Flatoday).

Examination of one of the recovered Solid Rocket Boosters has revealed seven to ten slight erosion channels in insulation lining the inside of the bell-shaped nozzle. The last time such channels were found after a flight, sixty more substantial channels were dug. NASA does not expect it to affect the September flight of Atlantis to Mir. Atlantis has been mated to the External Tank and is expected to be rolled out to the pad on Monday August 18. (NASA; Flatoday).


Mir 23 Commander Vasily Tsibliev and Flight Engineer Alexander Lazutkin left Mir station in their Soyuz capsule on Thursday August 14 after 185 days in space. After three hours of flight, the pair landed safely in Kazakstan. Although marred with technical, medical and other problems, history may well remember the Mir 23 mission as extending the envelope of space habitation and providing the foundation for future maintenance of space stations (NASA; Flatoday)..

The next day, Friday August 15, the Mir 24 crew of Commander Anatoly Solovyev, Flight Engineer Pavel Vinogradov and American Michael Foale climbed aboard the remaining Soyuz capsule and conducted a fly-around of the station as they moved the capsule to another port. Foale used the opportunity to videotape the external damage to the station for study prior to the external space walks (Flatoday).


The flight of the LMLV-1 carrying NASA's Lewis' advanced Earth imaging satellite has been delayed by a flight processor anomaly. The launch from Vandenberg AFB has been repeatedly delayed and was most recently slated for August 10. The launch is now scheduled for August 22 in order to give ground crews time to replace and test the component (SN; Flatoday).


Last week a leak was discovered on the Centaur upper stage of the Titan 4B rocket scheduled to launch the Cassini mission to Saturn. The problem was discovered during routine maintenance and is expected to be repaired in eight to ten days. It is not expected to affect the October 6 launch of the rocket. After launch, the craft is expected to reach Saturn in 6 1/2 years (Flatoday).


The August 5 flight of Titan 4A-17 has been delayed so that flow-control valves in the exhaust nozzles could be replaced. The action follows the discovery that nitrogen tetroxide from the thrust-vector system seeped through the valves of a sister Titan 4A-18 rocket, whose launch was delayed from last month. The control valves, unique to the rocket, are being replaced in all three Titan 4As remaining in the USAF inventory. No date has been set for the Titan 4A-17 and 4A-18 launches. The third Titan 4A-20 is expected to launch from Vandenberg sometime next spring. The Titan 4A system has successfully launched twelve rockets to date with no failures (Flatoday).


Orbital Sciences: Orbital Sciences has announced that they have been awarded a $5 million contract to design and develop the next generation of ozone monitoring sensor for the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Integrated Program Office (Flatoday) .


I was startled the other day when our office manager walked and announced that she was "tired of hearing about space on TV." Amazing revelation considering her daughter is likely to apply for the astronaut program at very first opportunity. She elaborated that every time she turned on the news there would be a talking head with charts and video to explain something happening off-planet. I hadn't realized it, but I too had started to tune out the constant space articles. Not because I don't like space, but because it was all stuff I had heard before, seen before or had dismissed as trivial. In other words, by definition, it wasn't news.

The media has, as usual, grabbed hold of events and reported them to the point of the absurd. Having missed the boat when the Pathfinder landing caught the public eye, they are now seeking to make up for it by lingering on every space event. Worse, as events take their natural course and the real news fades, the media has begun creating drama in space where none exists.

The worst offender was a recently published article on the water shortage on Mir. Shortage, if they can't use the air humidity reclamation device because it may contain traces of antifreeze from previously-leaking cooling loops. Shortage, if the Shuttle doesn't transfer several tons in September. Shortage if an October Progress launch is delayed. Shortage, if they can't reconnect the power and restart the urine reclamation device. Shortage, when they run out of water sometime in late October or November. There is enough wild news coming from Mir normally in a day's work; there is no need to invent wild "what if" scenarios.

Water samples returned with the Mir 23 crews will be tested. If there is antifreeze detected, then the station will have to depend on future launches and powering up other water reclamation systems. Believe me, if the Shuttle doesn't launch, the Progress is delayed, and they can't reconnect the power, water will be the least of their worries.

Further, the same article indicated that there was no way to save the crew of Mir if they had to bail and something happened to their Soyuz return capsule - the most evolved piece of man-rated space hardware in existence. Space, and emerging frontier, has risk and is dangerous, but the Soyuz is tried and true. This kind of postulating reveals more about the ignorance of the writer than about the real dangers of space.

Inane reporting does space no service and indeed is detrimental to the developing charisma of the frontier. Remember how rapidly the public interest turned after Apollo? Golfing on the moon made a great story, but it trivialized the achievement to the detriment of public support. Not long from now we are going to have great events in space again. Lets not bore the public into disinterest in the meantime.

Always leave them wanting more.


(Courtesy J. Ray, and R. Baalke)

  • Aug 17 - Long March 3B, Agila 2 comsat Xichang, China.
  • Aug 17 - Delta 2 flight 246, Iridium, Vandenberg AFB
  • Aug 18 - Landing of Discovery, Kennedy Space Center
  • Aug 20 - Internal space walk, Mir space station (Date may slip one
  • Aug 21 - PanAmSat-5, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan
  • Aug 22 - Lewis, Lockheed Martin Launch Vehicle-1, Vandenberg AFB
  • Aug 24 - Delta 2 flight 247, Advanced Composition Explorer, Cape Canaveral.
  • Aug 27 - Atlas 2AS, flight 247, GE-3 comsat, Cape Canaveral
  • Aug 28 - Proton, PanAmSat-5, ILS, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakstan
  • Aug 28 - Pegasus XL, FORTE satellite, Vandenberg, AFB
  • Sept 2 - Ariane 44LP, Flight 99, Hot Bird-3 & Meteosat-7, Kourou, French Guiana
  • Delayed - Classified missions K-18 and K-17, Titan 4A


As a result of the landing of the Mir 23 crew, the space population has decreased to Nine. There are two Russians and one American on Mir. On the shuttle are five Americans and one Icelandic-born Canadian. This is the 2798 day of continuous space occupation beginning with the reoccupation of Mir on September 8, 1989.

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