On October 31, a new era of permanent human presence in space is scheduled to begin at the place, the orbital inclination and the time recommended seven years ago by a civilian committee asked by the White House to evaluate the design of the space station.
The place is the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where the space race began with the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957. The orbital inclination is 51.6 degrees, the orbit which permits the use of the Soyuz emergency crew return vehicle. And the time is October, 2000, when the 17-member Advisory Committee on the Redesign of the Space Station predicted the beginning of permanent human presence in space.
Dr. Charles M. Vest, president of MIT, headed the redesign committee and wrote the June 1993 report recommending that the United States use a Russian crew return vehicle and the Russian orbital inclination of 51.6 degrees, rather than the US orbit at 28.8 degrees.
Vest commented today, "As chairman of the committee chartered by the White House with evaluating the space station program, I congratulate NASA and the international program. I am very pleased that we have achieved the major milestone of launching the first crew to begin a permanent human presence in space.
"It is a huge undertaking that has managed to keep on schedule, a considerable achievement," he said.
Professor Edward F. Crawley, head of MIT's aeronautics and astronautics department and a member of the advisory committee, commented, "I think the wisdom of the move (to a 51.6 degree orbit) is apparent. Under the current flight rules and budget, we would not have a space station now if it weren't in 51.6 degrees. We must have a lifeboat present, and the Soyuz is all there is available, and it only goes to 51.6 degrees -- or higher."
Vest added, "MIT takes great pride in the fact that the commander of the first crew to live aboard the International Space Station is an MIT graduate and that the first active experiment to be performed on the station was developed at MIT."
Commander William M. Shepherd in 1978 earned two MIT master's degrees in mechanical engineering and ocean engineering. The crew will perform an experiment about controlling motion and vibration in space travel ("MIT has first experiment aboard space station," MIT Tech Talk, September 13, 2000).