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lecture_28.wps - Notes from Lectures #28-29: Space Stations...

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Notes from Lectures #28-29: Space Stations The United States, Russia, and several other nations are currently collaborating on the most ambitious construction project ever attempted: the International Space Station (ISS). Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, it would have been hard to believe that such a partnership would ever happen. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or “Star Wars”) to counter the perceived nuclear threat from the Soviet “evil empire“. The idea was to use space technology to intercept ballistic missiles during their ascent from Russia rather than during their reentry over the United States. This turned out to be technologically impossible as originally conceived, and would have bankrupted the country had we tried to actually deploy it. As the other superpower, it was a program that demanded a response from the USSR - a response they could not make. It can be argued that Star Wars so destabilized the Russian economy as to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Within only 15 years we went from Star Wars to the joint construction of the International Space Station. The Clinton administration was pivotal - in the absence of Clinton’s initiative to make Russia a partner in 1993, the ISS would have died. We will return later to this part of the story. Early Ideas about Space Stations The term “space station” was first used in 1923 by Hermann Oberth. He wrote about a grand plan to send people to the Moon and to Mars by first sending them to an Earth- orbiting space station. One of the earliest serious space station designs was conceived in 1952 by Wernher von Braun - a rotating wheel-shaped structure which rotated to produce artificial gravity for its inhabitants. If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey , you’ve seen this design in action. Recall that as of 1952, no human being had yet been in space; Yuri Gagarin’s flight was still nine years in the future. We had no idea how human beings would deal with weightlessness, so it seemed necessary to provide artificial gravity through centrifugal force caused by rotation. Today, however, we know that humans adapt very well to microgravity. Also, most of the interesting uses of a space station demand microgravity. Therefore, no modern space station design will rotate. However, later on we will look at designs for space colonies , which will produce artificial gravity by rotation. Von Braun’s space station also had as its original purpose launching people on trips of exploration to the Moon and Mars. In fact, NASA’s long-term thinking about going to the Moon had always involved a trip in two stages, the first of which would take us to a space station in LEO. After the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961, however, it was the competition with the Russians to go to the Moon that made us abandon the idea of a leisurely stopover at a space station on our way to the Moon.
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This note was uploaded on 04/29/2008 for the course APHY 103 taught by Professor Woods during the Fall '08 term at SUNY Albany.

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lecture_28.wps - Notes from Lectures #28-29: Space Stations...

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