SLUG: 5-48659 Yearender: Space Station DATE: NOTE NUMBER:










INTRO: The last days of 2000 find the international space station Alpha brimming with human activity. Twelve months earlier, as 2000 began, it appeared another year might pass without occupation of the outpost. But as V-O-A Science Correspondent David McAlary reports, such fears were allayed when Russia finally launched its long-delayed command module.

TEXT: Almost two months ago, U-S commander William Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev arrived at Alpha on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan.


We have contact. We confirm contact.

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Cosmonaut Gidzenko made that announcement two years later than planned. Russian funding and launch problems had kept the command module they now occupy - named Zvezda - grounded until July.

As the year began, the U-S space agency NASA - fearing a Russian failure to deliver - continued preparing its own substitute command module. In February, NASA spokeswoman Kirsten Williams issued a rebuke to Moscow, fueled by Russian desires to keep its own Mir space station aloft.


Our frustration is that we want to see evidence of commitment to this project. When the Russians are saying they are going to keep Mir orbiting and things like that, that makes us question their commitment to this project.

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But after talks between the two sides, the critical module made it way to orbit in July, joining the U-S Unity and Russian Zarya segments linked in orbit since late 1998. Before it arrived, NASA official Mark Geyer [GUY-er] said Zvezda - also known as the Service Module - would double the size of the space station and turn it into a home.

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The Service Module is our next jumping off point to getting ready to have a permanent crew on board. We are very excited about this very next phase.

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But doubts about the module's quality surfaced when the investigative branch of the U-S Congress - the General Accounting Office - said it did not meet NASA safety standards. The agency cited a noisy interior, structural weakness against space debris penetration, and the inability to function if it lost air pressure.

An official with the company that built Zvezda - Valery Ryumin [ree-YOO-min] of R-S-C-Energia [en-er-GEE-yuh] - said many defects were fixed before launch, while others would have to await an orbital solution.


Mr. Ryumin said there were some problems the company could not fix in time for the launch. But he said there are plans to resolve those problems - including noise and concerns about material protection and protection of the windows. He said the company has plans and knows how to resolve the problems.

As the station grew, NASA dispatched more shuttle teams to outfit it with supplies and equipment. The hardware included the largest solar wings ever put into orbit to provide enough electricity for a U-S laboratory to arrive in January.

The task for crewmen Shepherd, Gidzenko, and Krikalev has been to store many of the goods and get the segment ready for future crews that will follow them after they depart in February. But their workload turned out to be too hectic, according to Commander Shepherd.


I think everybody had really high ambition for our time, the first time on station, to get a lot done and we're certainly trying to salute that the best we can. We've been pretty busy cowboys, and we've expressed that to the ground, and the ground has modified the schedule.

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The busy workload has been matched by a busy schedule of U-S launches to the station. There are six planned over the next 12 months - the most crowded shuttle calendar in years.

The assembly schedule had been even busier, but NASA and its international partners stretched it out this year, fearing a U-S or Russian launch each month would overtax the joint program. The outpost is now to be completed in 2006 instead of 2005. (Signed)