SPACE OD­DITY: THE AR­CHI­TEC­TURE OF THE IN­TER­NA­TIONAL SPACE STA­TION

Pasatiempo - - ART OF SPACE -

On March 18, a Rus­sian Soyuz rocket blasted off from Kaza­khstan, car­ry­ing three new crew mem­bers to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion. Four days later, the pri­vate space-trans­port com­pany Or­bital ATK launched a cargo ship from Florida to the ISS, de­liv­er­ing al­most four tons of crew sup­plies, space­walk equip­ment, ve­hi­cle hard­ware, and science ex­per­i­ments. The crew will em­bark on stud­ies of oxy­gen con­sump­tion dur­ing space­craft fires, of me­te­ors that en­ter Earth’s at­mos­phere, and of the prop­er­ties and sta­bil­ity of re­golith, the “soil” layer on as­ter­oids and other air­less worlds. They will be able to man­u­fac­ture tools and parts with a new 3D-print­ing de­vice, and they will con­duct tests of Gecko Grip­per, a new ma­te­rial in­spired by the tiny hairs that al­low small lizards to climb and rest on walls.

On March 1, as­tro­naut Scott Kelly came home af­ter an Amer­i­can- record 340 days at the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion. That was in the news, but there’s so much amaz­ing re­search go­ing on in space all the time that most of us never hear about. The sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments are just one part of what David Nixon cov­ers in t he em­i­nently read­able and f ab­u­lously i l lustrated In­ter na­tional Space Sta­tion: Ar­chi­tec­ture Be­yond Earth, just out from Circa Press in Lon­don.

Nixon’s ca­reer in­cludes st i nts dur­ing t he 1970s work­ing for sev­eral ar­chi­tec­ture firms, among them Sk i d more, Owings & Mer­rill LLP in Chicago and Nor­man Fos­ter and Richard Rogers in Lon­don. Then, in 1979, he and ar­chi­tect Jan Kaplicky founded the Fu­ture Sys­tems stu­dio. In the 1980s, Nixon di­rected a S out her n Cali f or ni a In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tec­ture grad­u­ate-stu­dent project for NASA fo­cus­ings­ing on the de­sign of as­tro­naut ac­com­mo­da­tions for the de­vel­op­ing space sta­tion. He es­tab­lished his of­fice, Al­tus As­so­ci­ates, in 1992, and over the years he worked on an as­sort­ment of space and trans­porta­tion projects for NASA, the Euro­pean Space Agency, the Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory, Bri­tish Aerospace, and other clients.

He of­fers great de­tail on t he space st ation’s con­cep­tion, devel­op­ment, and assem­bly in space. Con­struc­tion be­gan in 1998, 14 years af­ter Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan ap­proved NASA’s plans for a space sta­tion. In 2000, the first crew be­gan liv­ing and work­ing on the sta­tion, which or­bits a lit­tle over 200 miles above Earth at a speed of about five miles per sec­ond. For years now, a chang­ing crew of six men and women have oc­cu­pied the sta­tion, work­ing on cutting-edge science ex­per­i­ments and liv­ing in a clus­ter of “bus­sized mo­d­ules,” the whole hav­ing an in­te­rior vol­ume greater than that of a Boe­ing 747.

The ba­sic com­po­nents of the gan­gly sta­tion are a 167-foot-long com­plex of cylin­dri­cal lab­o­ra­tory, habi­ta­tion, and ser­vice mo­d­ules, along with eight broad pairs of so­lar ar­rays at­tached to a spine, more than 350 feet lon­g­long, of cage­like trutrusses. As­tro­naut Ni­cole Stott, who was an ISS crew mem­ber for most of 2009 on what Nixon calls “the en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion mas­ter­piece of mod­ern times,” in­tro­duces the book with a per­sonal mem­oir ti­tled “A Home in Space.” Among other top­ics, she dis­cusses com­fort is­sues and the use­ful­ness of Vel­cro and bungee cords. “If you don’t con­sciously man­age your be­long­ings,” she writes, “they are likely to f loat away and not be seen again for a long time, if ever.” In the in­tro­duc­tion, Stott also thanks the sta­tion’s de­sign­ers for adding vis­ual cues by which the as­tro­nauts can ori­ent them­selves in the weight­less en­vi­ron­ment of space “be­cause our brains and bod­ies don’t give us any phys­i­cal cues of up or down.”

Re­gard­ing the safety of crew mem­bers, the space sta­tion has no en­er­gized de­flec­tor shields like on Star

Trek, but it does have 23 tons of de­bris-shield pan­els on its ex­te­rior. These are ef­fec­tive at block­ing or mod­er­at­ing dam­age by mi­crom­e­te­oroids up to 10mm in di­am­e­ter. Any­thing over 100mm can be de­tected by Earth-based radar and, alerted, the sta­tion can ma­neu­ver out of its path. It’s the space bits and pieces of old space­craft be­tween 10mm and 100mm t hat con­tinue to pose a danger.

Nixon said the as­tro­nauts typ­i­cally don’t com­plain about some of the sta­tion’ s less com­mend­able de­sign is­sues in or­der to keep up morale in their cadre, but he isn’t so ret­i­cent. “Speak­ing as an ar­chi­tect, I think the in­te­rior de­sign of the mo­d­ules is a dis­as­ter,” he told

Pasatiempo. “They’ve filled these pres­sur­ized mo­d­ules with as many racks full of equip­ment as pos­si­ble, leav­ing just a nar­row cor­ri­dor down the mid­dle. I think the les­son is that the in­te­ri­ors of the hab­it­able part of these mo­d­ules need to be much pleas­an­ter places to live, par­tic­u­larly on long mis­sions. There was go­ing to be a habi­ta­tion mod­ule that would pro­vide the crews with a proper gal­ley and gym, and that was can­celed by the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. Con­se­quently, this fa­cil­ity that has cost more than $100 bil­lion dol­lars to the U.S. tax­pay­ers has no proper liv­ing fa­cili­ites. It’s the most ex­tra­or­di­nary omis­sion.”

The ISS is still a leap from Rus­sia’s Mir space sta­tion (in or­bit from 1986 to 2001) and a huge leap from the United States’ Sky­lab (1973-1979), which Nixon said was more of a space out­post than a sta­tion. “Mir was the first space sta­tion, be­cause it was oc­cu­pied for years by dif­fer­ent crews and it gave way to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, which I would call the first great piece of ex­trater­res­trial ar­chi­tec­ture.”

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, the Amer­i­can mo­d­ules of the ISS are “some­what ster­ile, with a lot of white pan­els

and ex­posed ca­bles and equip­ment,” Stott writes, “while the Rus­sian mo­d­ules are what I would de­scribe as ‘cosy,’ with a plush tan fab­ric cov­er­ing the ma­jor sur­faces.” Per­haps its best fea­ture for the crew is the seven-win­dow Cupola. “In the days of Sky­lab,” Nixon said, “there were no win­dows be­cause the en­gi­neers claimed they would be too heavy and risk-prone, and as­tro­nauts don’t need to look out of win­dows, any­way, be­cause they’re too busy with their work. But how can you pos­si­bly ex­pect peo­ple to go into space for months with­out hav­ing some­thing to look at out­side? Today the as­tro­nauts love the Cupola dur­ing their time off, just to sit there and look at the Earth or to play gui­tar or read a book or just med­i­tate.”

One of the many amaz­ing pro­ce­dures the as­tro­nauts or­ches­trate is dock­ing other ves­sels from Earth. The process is fa­cil­i­tated by ar­tic­u­lat­ing ro­botic arms, the most re­mark­able be­ing the 58-foot Canadarm2. “All vis­it­ing space­craft stop short of the sta­tion and the ro­botic arm grap­ples them and brings them in very slowly to berth with the port,” Nixon said. “The Canadarm is ab­so­lutely in­dis­pens­able for berthing space­craft and is the ma­jor con­struc­tion tool; it’s a space crane. It’s the most amaz­ing piece of equip­ment. I’d love to have a go at op­er­at­ing that thing.”

The main ISS com­po­nents were trans­ported into space by NASA’s Space Shut­tles. Noth­ing could be taken up that didn’t fit in the shut­tles’ pay­load bays, which were about 60 feet long and 15 feet in di­am­e­ter. The Space Shut­tle pro­gram was dis­con­tin­ued near­ly­five years ago. “Now In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion sup­plies, as far as the U.S. is con­cerned, have been taken over by two pri­vate com­pa­nies, Space X and Or­bital ATK. Space X and Boe­ing are both de­vel­op­ing cap­sules to trans­port crew to take the load off the Rus­sian Soyuz space­craft. The­o­ret­i­cally that leaves NASA free for other things, like Mars,” Nixon said. SpaceX’s Fal­con 9R rocket, based at Spaceport Amer­ica out­side Truth or Con­se­quences, is re­lated to the com­pany’s his­to­ry­mak­ing Fal­con 9 rocket. In 2012, it de­liv­ered the SpaceX Dragon space­craft into or­bit for ren­dezvous with the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, the first such mis­sion by a pri­vate com­pany. It’s the Dragon that SpaceX is evolv­ing to trans­port crew mem­bers.

The ISS is help­ing to de­velop trans­porta­tion pro­to­cols for both crew and com­mer­cial cargo, and it func­tions as an or­bit­ing sci­en­tific lab­o­ra­tory. By March 2014, 1,824 sci­en­tists from 82 coun­tries had par­tic­i­pated in more than 1,550 ex­per­i­ments hosted by the sta­tion. Ex­am­ples of the sta­tion’s ben­e­fits are the Neu­roArm, a de­vice based on Canadarm that has been used in brain surgery; a wa­ter-pu­rifi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy that has been tested in New Mex­ico; pho­to­graphic map­ping that aids man­age­ment of reef ecosys­tems; and sta­tion mon­i­tor­ing of f lood con­di­tions to ben­e­fit North Dakota farm­ers. The In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion is equipped with a re­ceiver used by ships on Earth’s seas; in 2012, it reg­is­tered a dis­tress call from a cap­sized Nor­we­gian ves­sel, out of range of coastal re­ceiv­ing sta­tions, and re­layed its po­si­tion to a nearby ship. That ac­tion re­sulted in the res­cue of the lone sur­vivor. The ISS is poised to pro­vide Earth with pho­to­graphs of vol­canic erup­tions, for­est fires, and other cat­a­strophic events, if needed.

Nixon laments that so few peo­ple know, or care, what’s go­ing on on t he space sta­tion. Beau­ti­ful pho­to­graphs help the cause, and the sta­tion’s awein­spir­ing Cupola is “an ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous plat­form for pho­tog­ra­phy,” he said. “Scott Kelly took some stun­ning pho­to­graphs of Earth, and there’s an as­tro­naut from Bri­tain up there now, Tim Peake, who is also tak­ing some amaz­ing photos. I grew up in the 1950s, when space was mys­te­ri­ous, and there were pro­grams on tele­vi­sion that were pretty scary with mon­sters and things. I re­mem­ber the beep­ing of Sput­nik was very alien-sound­ing. It was a gen­er­a­tion that was awed by space, but I’ve no­ticed that in the younger gen­er­a­tions today there is not the same alacrity. They’re not re­ally get­ting the mes­sage that it’s the field of the fu­ture.”

“In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion: Ar­chi­tec­ture Be­yond Earth” by David Nixon was pub­lished in early March by Circa Press.

Look­ing out to­ward Earth from the Cupola af­ter its

2010 in­stal­la­tion

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