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Russians ready to launch 'cornerstone' of space station

module
A NASA simulation of the Zvezda module in orbit deploying its solar panels  

In this story:

Clearing the way for future missions

Flaws, malfunctions plague Zvezda

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



MOSCOW (CNN) -- After more than two years of technical and financial delays, the Russian space agency said Friday it will launch the "cornerstone" of the International Space Station on July 12.

The Zvezda (Star) service module will lift off Wednesday morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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The module was to be rolled out to the launch pad Saturday from the hangar where it was mated earlier to a Proton rocket launch vehicle.

"We are extremely delighted that we are on the eve of a launch that will mark the start of the cornerstone of the space station," said astronaut Mike Baker, NASA's liaison in Russia.

The 42,000-pound Zvezda will serve as the space station's nerve center during the first manned missions to the $60 billion outpost. It will keep the station in its desired orbit and provide living quarters for the vanguard crews.

Barring a launch delay, Zvezda is scheduled to dock automatically on July 26 with the space station, which orbits Earth at an altitude of 240 miles.

Clearing the way for future missions

The deployment of the service module will clear the way for 15 missions scheduled for the station over the next year, according to officials of the 16 nations building the space outpost.

The planned flights include eight by space shuttles, five by unmanned Russian Progress freighters and two by manned Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

train
The Zvezda module being transported via train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome  

The first Soyuz flight is set for early November and will carry the first station residents, Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev and NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd, who will command the mission.

The space station partners -- which include the United States, Russia, European nations, Japan, and Canada -- hope the flight will begin 15 years of continuous multinational manned presence on ISS.

The class of Proton rockets carrying Zvezda had been considered among the most reliable in the world, but a series of failures last year shattered their air of invincibility.

The Russians redesigned the Proton second stage and the improved rocket has flown successfully twice, including most recently on July 5.

Flaws, malfunctions plague Zvezda

Engineering troubles have plagued Zvezda as well. Russian space agency officials said they corrected at least 368 malfunctions in the service module in the past six months. In addition, they said they made 70 design improvements based on input from astronauts and cosmonauts.

But Zvezda will lift off with serious flaws that require repair in space. For example, NASA said the service module does not meet its specifications for noise abatement and micrometeoroid shielding.

The early crews will be provided earplugs, as engineers ponder muffler designs. And spacewalking astronauts in a few years will install shielding against space debris and meteor fragments.

The early three-person crews will have to deal with another odd design characteristic on Zvezda. It only has two small sleeping berths, leaving one station-keeper the odd person out.

Despite the hectic, complicated, expensive schedule that lies before them, Russian space agency officials said they will keep the aging Mir space station in orbit as long as they have investors and at least until February 2001, the station's 15th anniversary in orbit.

Backed by U.S. investors, the Dutch-based MirCorp has leased the station in an attempt to make a profit.

As part of that effort, U.S. mutual fund manager Dennis Tito has agreed to pay $20 million to become the first space tourist. He hopes to spend 10 days aboard Mir next year.



RELATED STORIES:
Future of Mir in doubt after cosmonauts return home
June 16, 2000
Atlantis returns after successful mission
May 30, 2000
Shuttle returns to Earth after space station tuneup
May 29, 2000

RELATED SITE:
International Space Station
NASA Human Spaceflight
   •International Space Station
   •Space Station Service Module Factsheet
NASA
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