Science Officers on ISS

"America has always been greatest when we dared to be great. We can reach for greatness again. We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic and scientific gain. Tonight I am directing NASA to develop a permanently-manned space station, and to do it within a decade." - US President Ronald Reagan's State of the Union Address to Congress, 25 January 1984.

The desire for a permanently-manned space station had existed for decades. Indeed, the idea had featured in the concepts of pioneering space theorists Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Hermann Oberth at the beginning of the twentieth century. Both Sergey Korolyov and Wernher von Braun had always placed a space station at the focal point of sustained manned space exploration, and so too had the military, whose plans had included bases on the Moon. The race for space was diverted into a race to the Moon in the 1960s before the age of space stations began in the early 1970s with the launch of Soviet Salyut stations and the American Skylab. While the Soviets continued with their quest for space via an expanding space station programme, the Americans switched their attention to the Space Shuttle reusable multi-launch system. The Shuttle was originally intended as part of a large infrastructure that included space stations and extended exploration of the Moon, but was the only part of this grand scheme to actually receive any funding. Thus, with nowhere to fly to, Shuttle was instead marketed as a versatile launching system capable of a multitude of tasks, including its potential use as a science platform for a variety of research fields. It was not until 1998 that President Reagan's space station plan finally saw its first hardware reach orbit.1

The concept of the "permanently manned space station'' had constantly evolved during the two decades before Reagan directed NASA to actually begin building one. Budget limitations were always a major factor in the design and in selling the idea to Congress and the American public. The heady days of seemingly limitless funding that Apollo had enjoyed prior to the first manned lunar landing were long gone. Even after

Reagan committed NASA to the station, its development over the next decade saw the concept, called Freedom, grow in size, complexity and cost. A change of US administration came at a time when NASA was divided about the direction of manned space flight in the 1990s and beyond. The desire to push the boundaries of exploration further to the Moon and Mars was still floundering, but there was a hope that, with international cooperation from ESA, Canada and Japan, a truly international space station, rather than just an American one, could be developed. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Russia began to look for external cooperation to support its struggling finances, the idea of joining the space station programme seemed ideal. Russian experience, hardware and facilities added to the mix would enable construction of the station to begin in 1998. In fact the first element launched was Russian, and it would be mainly Russian components that formed the nucleus of the early station until the Shuttle could deliver the American-developed hardware to allow a permanent crew to reside on the station. At least that was the plan.

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