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Boeing Frontiers
December 2003/January 2004
Volume 02, Issue 08
Boeing Frontiers
Integrated Defense Systems

A time of change

ISS team keeps busy and prepares to finish job when Shuttle flights resume


A time of changeThe loss of Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003 was a hard hit to one of Boeing's greatest endeavors to date, the International Space Station. With an intense launch schedule slated for 2003 and a program that had been executed nearly flawlessly up to that point, the ISS was forecast to reach "Core Complete" status by 2004. That would have made it fully functional to conduct science.

In September, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board released its findings and made 29 recommendations for critical improvements to the Shuttle team's safety processes, communication mechanisms and overall culture. These changes pushed the Shuttle's return to flight to no earlier than September 2004, which temporarily froze ISS assembly plans. Bill Dowdell, NASA director of Technical Operations for ISS and Payload Processing, said the delay of Core Complete status could be "somewhere in the neighborhood of two years."

It's a real bump in the road for the Space Station, a program that celebrated its fiveyear anniversary recently. Even in the shadow of Columbia, this milestone has provided the team with an opportunity to celebrate many successes.

ISS Complete
Fifteen major elements have launched to date. Eight crews have lived full-time on the station and have performed more than 130 scientific experiments aboard the orbiting lab. The crews have formed an impressive collaboration with Russia—an alliance that would have seemed unthinkable just over a decade ago.

"It has been a great partnership between NASA, Boeing and 16 nations," said Dowdell. "The relationship has gone extra well, and our launch record and success on orbit reflect that. Boeing has done excellent work getting the hardware ready."

"We've also learned critical lessons about living and working in space that will benefit worldwide space programs for many years to come," noted John Elbon, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems vice president and program manager for the ISS.

In September, the Boeing team at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., completed a final Multi-Element Integration Test on the Italianbuilt Node 2 and the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). The two elements were connected to the U.S.-built lab emulator and essentially reproduced on the ground the same conditions this hardware will face in space. The test marked a major milestone for Boeing's Checkout, Assembly and Payload Processing Services (CAPPS) contract team—a signal that all core ISS elements are ready for turnover to NASA.

While program managers celebrated these successes, there has been some anxiousness about the program being on hold. More than 10 months after the Columbia tragedy, NASA's Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center is a warehouse of bulky hardware—Boeing-built trusses, as well as the Node 2 and JEM—each waiting for a ride to the ISS.

At this point, some may think there's little left to do over the next 12 to 24 months, but Jim Chilton, Boeing IDS program manager for CAPPS, said there will be plenty to keep his team busy.

“Even though we’re not flying, our depots and warehouses here in Florida are providing the consumable crew supplies that are currently being delivered to ISS on Russian Progress vehicles," said Chilton. "We're also providing the parts and supplies necessary to keep ISS operational. Additionally, we'll have to reconfigure our processes two to three more times to meet the changing needs of ISS while on orbit."

While Russia's Progress supply flights have served the program well, the Shuttle remains the Space Station's sole assembly vehicle. Progress ships don't have the Shuttle's heavy lift capabilities and are severely limited in the number of provisions and ISS hardware they can carry. Also limited are the size and type of experiments and scientific research that can be carried out in orbit.

In the long term, after ISS has reached "Core Complete," there will be a significant increase in the role that international partners will play in the program. "The steps we are taking to get to Core Complete are only the beginning of the process," said David Bethay, Boeing IDS director of ISS Operations in Florida. "To date, and with few exceptions, the focus has been on Russian and American hardware. But this is really just the end of the first chapter for us. Next, you'll see a large influx of hardware from our other international partners like Japan and the European Space Agency. Core Complete is only the tip of the iceberg."

Elbon, a 21-year Boeing veteran, will provide the leadership for determining the future of the ISS program. Promoted from CAPPS program manager to ISS vice president in September, Elbon will provide the vision that will enable the Boeing ISS team to move forward.

"John is an excellent leader and has a proven track record in program management," noted Mike Mott, Boeing IDS vice president and general manager of NASA Systems. "He brings a wealth of experience, and with his leadership, I see a bright future for Boeing's involvement in ISS."

As for NASA Systems' future in ISS and space exploration overall, Mott is upbeat. "America will always have a need to continue the human and robotic exploration of the universe," he said. "Boeing and ISS will play a key role in those future exploration architectures."

The ISS is expected to be a shining star in that future as a world-class orbiting laboratory and engineering test facility. The future implications of the ISS, orbiting 200 miles above the Earth, hold the promise of discoveries that may redefine science, medicine, environmental effects on our planet, and interplanetary exploration.




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