One of the many parts of the Shuttle-Mir story that continues to amaze me is the perseverance and undying dedication of those who actually made it happen, especially despite the adversities that arose, seemingly at every turn. These came from internal critics and external doubters, and from the technical challenges, including fire, depressurization, and even "floods" of condensing liquids inside the station.
The dedicated team members included the U.S. and Russian space crews who lived and trained far from home; the U.S. and Russian Flight Surgeons who learned every nuance of each other's flight program and medical system, and who gained fluency in each other's language in a few months; the engineers and specialists who lived and worked away from friends and families for months, and who made sense of totally new situations and systems; and the payload experts who worked tirelessly in trying physical conditions, and who integrated the U.S. hardware into Russian space modules and still maintained safety. These are the same caliber of people who put Gagarin into space, who put men on the Moon, who kept the Mir flying beyond its predicted service life, and who brought the Shuttle to a level of capability, reliability, and predictability that as a total package surpasses any launch vehicle in the world. These are people I would trust with my life, and indeed I will do so in the very near future as I begin my deployment onboard the International Space Station (ISS) with my Russian crewmates.
An interesting irony of our continuing partnership with the Russians is that, on the Russian side, the ISS team is virtually the same one that executed Phase 1, as it did many earlier phases of the Soviet and Russian space programs. On the U.S. side, although some Shuttle-Mir veterans are now working other details of the current ISS Program, these people are only a few amongst the dozens of U.S. team members who were not here for Phase 1, or who were so immersed in the separate Space Shuttle and Station Programs that Phase 1 is now barely a memory. To some of them, Shuttle-Mir may be barely a factor in the necessary change from short-duration "Space Shuttle thinking" to long-duration "space station thinking." It may bring sadness to some, but this much is true: We will never do things the "old way" again.
Of course, the current ISS team members will write their own story. They will also achieve great things as they overcome many of the same adversities that faced Phase 1. Meanwhile, they will build an incredible piece of hardware in space, using pieces from all over the globe.
But there will never be the same groundbreaking, the same pathfinding, the same cultural breakthroughs that we saw in Phase 1. It had its high points and low points, its high drama and political circus, but on the whole it must be seen as a success achieved by humans of diverse technical and cultural backgrounds, performing on a very public stage.
With the world and the politicians constantly looking over their shoulders, men and women worked through their problems face-to-face, building trust in each other and in each other's goals. This was often done at very personal levels and with high stakes, both physical and emotional, to achieve exactly what the participants set out to do and more: to execute a joint program of scientific achievement and space exploration by partners who had been archenemies less than ten years before. During Phase 1, Russians worked side by side with U.S. specialists at NASA facilities, and Americans lived not only on the Mir space station but also on a formerly secret military base. More importantly, they solved, successfully and safely, every problem they faced together. Learning to solve problems jointly is the skill we must not lose, or we will have to start over.
Shuttle-Mir was a unique challenge at a unique time in history. It may not be fully appreciated for quite a while, possibly not until after we finish the highest risk portions of the ISS and we have time to reflect on what made this all possible, and perhaps not until after we have sorted out some of the relational growing pains we still see in the new operational relationship. The most important message in the story presented here, however, is the story of the people, from the highly visible ones to the ones hidden behind their stacks of documents and boxes of experiment hardware. It is a story of cultural and linguistic misunderstandings as well as technical "mind-melds" and operational tugs-of-war.
Phase 1—Shuttle-Mir succeeded for three reasons. First, it succeeded because we had the unwavering support and guidance of key leaders such as George Abbey, Dan Goldin, and Yuri Koptev despite the most intense political pressure from outside the two space agencies. Second, it succeeded because we had the initial program structure, set up by Tommy Holloway, Valery Ryumin, Jim Nise, and others, which worked superbly. And finally, it succeeded because the Russians and Americans always found a way to meet each other, sometimes halfway, sometimes on totally different paths, but always striving to find that common place, always trying to learn and to teach at the same time.
We still have so much to learn and so much to teach each other, and we must now include the rest of the world in our story. The story of international space exploration only begins in low Earth orbit. It should end in the stars.
Frank L. Culbertson, Jr.
Phase 1 Program Manager
Read more about the author, Clay Morgan
Read more about the book
Text only version available
page is best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher or Netscape
4.0 or higher.
Other viewing suggestions.
NASA Web Policy
Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty