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Feature Story

NASA astronaut Stephen Robinson

Photo by NASA

Space Stationís New Window on the World. NASA astronaut Stephen Robinson poses for a photo near the windows in the recently installed Cupola module of the International Space Station while Space Shuttle Endeavour remains docked with the station.

Boeing gives space station 'keys' to NASA


NASA astronaut Nicholas Patrick

Photo by NASA

Taking a zero gravity stroll, NASA astronaut Nicholas Patrick conducts a spacewalk during an International Space Station mission in February.

Itís hardly unusual for an experienced builder to hand over a freshly finished product to its excited new owner. Unless, of course, the product weighs 800,000 pounds, has a larger wingspan than a Boeing 747 aircraft and hovers 220 miles above the Earth.

Such a unique and historic transition occurred in March, when Boeing signed paperwork formally transferring ownership of the U.S. portion of the International Space Station to NASA. The “handing over of the keys” became possible after the completion of a year-long, complex acceptance process. An official review board certified that all contractually required hardware and software for the orbiting laboratory is now in place and functioning properly.

The United States and 14 other nations built the space station, which is equivalent in size to a five-bedroom house, making it the largest spacecraft ever assembled. Boeing is NASA’s prime contractor for the design, development, integration, testing, delivery and now sustainment of all U.S.-built elements. The company also integrated all elements provided by international partners.

“The successful completion of this International Space Station contract is a testament to the hard work, dedication and perseverance of an amazing international team of government agencies and their commercial contractors,” said Michael Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager. “I want to congratulate the entire Boeing team, including its many suppliers and subcontractors, for their service to NASA and the world.”

Completion of the station will allow its six-person crew and its U.S., European, Japanese and Russian laboratories to increase the pace of space-based research to “unprecedented levels,” according to NASA.

Space Shuttle Endeavor

Photo by NASA

Demonstrating some out-of-this-world photography skill, a crew member of the Space Shuttle Endeavor snapped this shot of the International Space Station.

“Nearly 150 experiments are currently under way on the station, and more than 400 experiments have been conducted since research began nine years ago,” NASA said in a recent posting on its Web site. “These experiments already are leading to advances in the fight against food poisoning, new methods for delivering medicine to cancer cells and the development of more capable engines and materials for use on Earth and in space.”

By any measure, the station is a major engineering achievement. It travels 17,500 miles per hour and circles the Earth every 90 minutes. It gets all of its power from the sun, recycles nearly 85 percent of its water and has already hosted almost 190 human visitors over the past 10 years. Major components built across the globe came together smoothly, even though the program did not have the luxury of fitting them together on the ground before they were launched into space.

“We proved to ourselves, that what we asked for was delivered, and I would say it was delivered in fine fashion,” Suffredini said.