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The View from Space: Exciting projects moving forward

By John Holliman

June 5, 1998
Web posted at: 5:06 PM EDT (1706 GMT)


(CNN) -- What a week it's been!

There's nothing more exciting for a space reporter than to watch a space shuttle take off from Florida's Cape Canaveral. CNN's launch pad bureau is a two-story office across the street from the firing room, where the shuttle is given the go-ahead to get into space. It's a perfect view.

For the Tuesday launch to Mir, astronaut Dave Wolf joined us to offer an astronaut's perspective of the proceedings. He told me it's much scarier to watch a launch from our viewing deck than to experience it from inside the shuttle.

He felt the ground move, as did I, as the shuttle Discovery took off. We also experienced the ripping sound as it tore into the Earth's atmosphere on the way to orbit.

The shuttle and Mir docked on schedule Thursday afternoon, and CNN viewers got to watch it live from cameras on-board Mir. The shuttle's TV system refused to work for the first few days of the mission, but after docking, the astronauts worked overtime repairing it so we could get live TV transmissions from both the shuttle and Mir.

The Russians also helped, spending extra time and money using their on-board TV system to give us pictures of the docking, as well as the arrival ceremony on Mir.

Date set for first space station launch

Before the shuttle took off Tuesday, NASA and the other space station partners announced something we've been talking about for months -- an updated schedule to launch sections of the new international space station. The first piece -- the U.S.- funded, Russian-built control module -- will launch November 20.

The module has a new name, "Sunrise," which is a little more poetic than "functional cargo block" or "space tug." The module has the ability to keep itself in orbit and has a place to store fuel. It also provides a system so that later pieces can dock to expand the station.

In November, CNN will travel to Moscow and Baikonur, Kazakstan, to bring you live coverage of the countdown and launch of "Sunrise," part of the largest international public works project ever attempted.

The second piece of the station will be carried into space on the shuttle on December 3. Known as Node 1 for years, it's a series of connecting ports which can be used to join American, Russian and other nations' pieces of the space station.

It, too, has a new name, "Unity." The Russian-funded and built service module is scheduled to launch in April. Don't be surprised if it's delayed by a month or two, but it will still make it into orbit in time to support the rest of the station and provide a place for the crew to live.

The Service Module is the most important piece of hardware the Russians will provide to the station. It's also very similar to the core module of Mir, but it is new on the inside with more modern equipment and computers.

Mir: Into the ocean?

The Russians and NASA managers also have agreed that Mir will leave its current orbit 240 miles above the Earth beginning this summer. The station will be pushed slowly into Earth's atmosphere over the next six to 18 months.

NASA officials tell me privately they believe Mir will be abandoned by its cosmonaut crew this spring, and will be forced into the ocean by a newly designed progress rocket by early next summer. That will give Russian manufacturers and controllers more time to devote to the new space station, which will be controlled from Russia for its first year in orbit.

Second-generation Hubble in works

Just last week, astronomers using pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope found a planet in a distant solar system which seems to be zooming away from the double star system that formed it.

Next week, there will be a briefing at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The same team that is controlling Hubble will take over operations of its replacement telescope.

This new telescope will be launched in 2007 and will provide even clearer pictures of our universe than we're getting today. The new telescope has not yet been funded, and so it's not currently being built, but it probably will be. Hubble is scheduled to stay in orbit until 2010, sending pictures of the universe to us and our children long into the future.

Coming up next week on CNN and here in the View from Space is a close look at Valery Ryumin, the shuttle crew member who many people say should not be there.

We'll also have a conversation with Vaughn Cordle, a pilot for a major U.S. airline, who has signed up to pilot a privately built spaceship that will take passengers into low Earth orbit as early as next year.

You may get to read an edition of this report from low Earth orbit as a result of his efforts. More on that next week.
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