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Stationed in the Stars

Program Overview


On December 2nd 1998, the space shuttle Endeavour blasted off from Cape Kennedy carrying the first stage of the world's most ambitious and expensive engineering venture of all time. If all goes as planned, by 2004 the US and its 14 international partners will have launched 460 tons of hardware into orbit 220 miles above earth. These components will be assembled in a space station as big as two football fields and weighing a million pounds. The station will offer at least eight interior spaces for living, storage, or lab research. Its solar panels - among the largest structures ever placed in orbit - will generate 45 kilowatts of power. The bill will come to at least $50 billion.

The International Space Station got off to a shaky start in the early 1980s, when its design was constantly at the whim of fluctuating budgets and successive NASA engineers. In the era of glasnost, the project got a new lease of life when it was perceived as an effective way of reaching out to the beleaguered Russian space agency. Fraught with funding issues and political tensions, the collaboration highlighted the different styles of its engineers. NASA engineers tend to think on a big—sometimes too ambitious—scale, while the Russians have concentrated on low-cost, improvised solutions to such problems as long-term life support for the astronauts on board.

NOVA's profile of the ISS will focus on a crucial turning point in the project as the Russians finally deliver the vital Service Module, which they've been constructing for almost 15 years. NOVA will take viewers inside the excitement and risks of the shuttle mission that will place this third key component of ISS in orbit. Assuming the mission succeeds, NASA hopes that ISS will begin to silence its many critics and start to realize its scientific potential. Our show will paint a vivid picture of the third mission, the risks and hazards of long-term operations in space, and the vision and audacity that lie behind this extraordinary project.

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Stationed in the Stars
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