Encyclopedia Astronautica
US Space Stations



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NASA Station History
Credit: NASA
Wernher von Braun brought Noordung's rotating station design with him from Europe. This he popularized in the early 1950's in selling manned space flight to the American public. By the late 1950's von Braun's team favoured the spent-stage concept - which eventually flew as Skylab. By the mid-1960's, NASA was concentrating on modular, purpose-built, zero-G stations. These eventually flew as the International Space Station.

Wernher Von Braun brought Noordung's rotating station design with him from Europe. This was elaborated throughout the 1950's as he and others tried to sell the American public on manned space flight. When the time came to actually design the first space stations, Von Braun and Ehricke favoured the spent-stage concept - using the last stage of the rocket as the space station hull, and fitting out the propellant tanks with furnishings and equipment.

By the mid-1960's, the tide at NASA had swung away from rotating and spent-stage stations to purpose-built, zero-G stations. This was the concept used for the USAF Manned Orbiting Lab, NASA MORL, and NASA Skylab stations. America's grand space plans of 1969 foresaw parallel development of space stations in earth and lunar obit, lunar bases, and expeditions to Mars. Instead NASA fell on hard times as the space budget was drastically reduced due to the high cost of the Vietnam War and social programs. NASA was barely able to secure funding for the Space Shuttle in 1972 as Apollo was cancelled. The abandonment of the Saturn V launch vehicle forced NASA station designs to be modularised - delivered in sections by the new space shuttle and assembled in orbit. The space agency had to exist on a virtual shoestring budget throughout the 1970s while struggling to complete the Shuttle development program. The new Shuttle Transportation System (STS) turned out to be more expensive than expected when it finally became operational in 1982, but with development completed, the money became available for NASA to proceed to the next step.

Senior NASA managers wanted another program to complement the Shuttle; something that would 'give STS something to do' while showcasing its versatility and usefulness. At the same time, the new project was going to provide much-needed employment for as many NASA centres and aerospace contractors as possible. NASA had been unable to afford hiring new employees for much of the 1970s, and it was hoped that a large space station would persuade more young engineers to join the agency.

No project better illustrates the roller coaster effect of inconsistent space policies than the resulting International Space Station, which now is finally being assembled by the American, European, Russian, Japanese and Canadian national space agencies. The Space Station program was started, at NASA's urging, by President Reagan in 1984. Reagan wanted to launch a major space project shortly before the elections, since it would create jobs in important states such as California, Texas and Florida. He also wanted to invite other NATO countries to participate in the U.S-led project, since the Soviet Union had been launching international crews to their Salyut space stations since 1971. The new American station would of course be bigger and better, sending a clear signal to the world about American leadership and dominance in space.

However, the space station was also going to tie the emerging European and Japanese national space programs closer to the U.S.-led project, thereby preventing those nations from becoming major, independent competitors too. Commercial space was booming and competition from other Western nations had become a major worry for the U.S. aerospace industry. There was at that time considerable commercial interest in the Space Shuttle, and some market analysts felt a space station could be economically important as a research lab or manufacturing centre. The Reagan Administration generally extolled the virtues of free enterprise and small business, and the space station was regarded as an important market for private space investors.

After many redesigns and overruns, assembly of the station finally began as the millennium closed. But overruns and cutbacks continued to occur, threatening the continuation of what had become the world's only remaining space station project.

By Marcus Lindroos, with additional material by Michael Vandensteen and Mark Wade

More... - Chronology...


Associated Spacecraft
  • Von Braun Station American manned space station. Study 1945. In the first 1946 summary of his work during World War II, Wernher von Braun prophesied the construction of space stations in orbit. More...
  • Ehricke 4-man orbital station American manned space station. Study 1954. In 1954 Ehricke postulated a four-man design that might serve a number of different purposes, depending upon altitude and orbital inclination. More...
  • Outpost American manned space station. Study 1958. In 1958, the year after Sputnik 1, Krafft Ehricke, then with General Dynamics' Convair Division, designed a four-man space station known as Outpost. More...
  • Mercury Mark I American manned spacecraft. Study 1959. Proposed derivatives of the basic one-crew Mercury capsule for investigation of earth orbit rendezvous, lifting re-entry and land landing. More...
  • Ideal Home Station American manned space station. Study 1959. Designed by Douglas, the Space Vehicle was represented by a full-scale model at the Ideal Home Show in London in 1962. It had a length of 19 m and was 5.2 m in diameter. More...
  • MORL American manned space station. Study 1962. In June 1964 Boeing and Douglas received Phase I contracts for Manned Orbital Research Laboratory station designs. The recommended concept was a 13. More...
  • Orbital Workshop American manned space station. Study 1965. The Orbital Workshop (OWS) was a 1960's NASA program to create an embryonic space station in orbit using the spent S-IVB rocket stage of a Saturn IB. More...
  • USAF Recommended Station American manned space station. Study 1962. During 1962 NASA Centers, the Air Force, and many of the major aerospace contractors were developing possible space station concepts and studying their potential uses. More...
  • LORL American manned space station. Study 1962. Large Orbiting Research Laboratory was a term applied to a number of NASA and USAF designs of the 1960's intended to succeed MORL. Typically these were rotating stations orbited in a single Saturn V launch. More...
  • Lockheed 1963 Space Station American manned space station. Study 1963. Lockheed made an unsolicited proposal to NASA in 1963 for an ambitious space station project. The elements would be launched by Saturn I, as would the 'Astrocommuter' shuttle. More...
  • Self-Deploying Space Station American manned space station. Study 1963. The first space station designs using the Saturn V launch vehicle involved spinning stations, providing artificial G for the crew. More...
  • Saturn II Stage Wet Workshop American manned space station. Study 1964. Wernher von Braun made a rough sketch of a space station based on fitting out of an expended Saturn II stage in orbit on 24 November 1964. More...
  • Apollo LM Lab American manned space station. Study 1965. Use of the Apollo LM as an earth-orbiting laboratory was proposed for Apollo Applications Program missions. More...
  • Extended Mission Gemini American manned spacecraft. Study 1965. A McDonnell concept for using Gemini for extended duration missions. The basic Gemini would dock with an Agena upper stage. More...
  • Apollo ATM American manned space station. Study 1966. The Apollo Telescope Mount began as a solar telescope built into the spaceframe of an Apollo lunar module. More...
  • Apollo LMSS American manned space station. Cancelled 1967. Under the Apollo Applications Program NASA began hardware and software procurement, development, and testing for a Lunar Mapping and Survey System. The system would be mounted in an Apollo CSM. More...
  • MOL American manned space station. Cancelled 1969. MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory) was the US Air Force's manned space project after Dynasoar was cancelled, until it in turn was cancelled in 1969. The earth orbit station used a helium-oxygen atmosphere. More...
  • Gemini Observatory American manned spacecraft. Study 1966. Proposed version of Gemini for low-earth orbit solar or stellar astronomy. This would be launched by a Saturn S-IB. It has an enlarged reentry module which seems to be an ancestor of the 'Big Gemini' of 1967. More...
  • Apollo RM American logistics spacecraft. Study 1967. In 1967 it was planned that Saturn IB-launched Orbital Workshops would be supplied by Apollo CSM spacecraft and Resupply Modules (RM) with up to three metric tons of supplies and instruments. More...
  • Apollo 120 in Telescope American manned space station. Study 1968. Concept for use of a Saturn V-launched Apollo CSM with an enormous 10 m diameter space laboratory equipped with a 3 m diameter astronomical telescope. More...
  • Space Base American manned space station. Study 1970. Growth of Space Station into a 50 man Space Base was a required capability in the Phase B NASA Space Station studies of 1969-1970. More...
  • S-IVB Advanced Station American manned space station. Study 1970. Follow-on to Skylab proposed by Douglas. The station would still use the S-IVB stage as the basis, but would be much more extensively outfitted for larger crews. More...
  • Modularised Space Station American manned space station. Study 1972. Space station design of 1972 using modules sized for transport in the Space Shuttle payload bay. could be carried inside the Shuttle orbiter payload bay. More...
  • Skylab American manned space station. One launch, 1973.05.14. First US space station. The project began life as the Orbital Workshop- outfitting of an S-IVB stage with a docking adapter with equipment launched by several subsequent S-1B launches. More...
  • Manned Orbiting Facility American manned space station. Study 1974. NASA carried out a number of space station studies while the Shuttle was being developed in the mid-1970s. More...
  • Apollo ASTP Docking Module American manned space station module. One launch, 1975.07.15, Docking Module 2. The ASTP docking module was basically an airlock with docking facilities on each end to allow crew transfer between the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft. More...
  • Space Operations Center American manned space station. Study 1979. The Space Operations Center was proposed by NASA's Johnson Spaceflight Center in 1979. More...
  • Science and Applications Manned Space Platform American manned space station. Study 1980. While NASA/Johnson was studying the Space Operations Center concept, the Marshall Space Flight Center was lobbying for its own station -- the Science and Applications Manned Space Platform (SAMSP). More...
  • STS External Tank Station American manned space station. Study 1980. NASA studied several concepts in the 1980's using the 'wet workshop' approach to the capacious External Tank carried into orbit with every shuttle flight. More...
  • Industrial Space Facility American manned space station module. Study 1982. In 1982 Space Industries Inc. planned to develop an 'Industrial Space Facility' (ISF), a 'mini space station' that would fly unmanned most of the time but be serviced regularly by the Space Shuttle. More...
  • Space Station Designs - 1982 American manned space station. Study 1982. NASA regarded a permanently manned space station as the next 'logical step' in manned spaceflight after the Space Shuttle entered service in April 1981. More...
  • Spacelab American manned space station module. 20 launches, 1983.11.28 (Spacelab 1) to 1998.04.17 (Neurolab). More...
  • Polar Platform American manned space station. Study 1984. In order to increase the Space Station's and Space Shuttle's appeal, NASA tried to involve as many users as possible. More...
  • Space Station 1984 American manned space station. Design as of 1984. President Reagan finally approved a space station project for NASA in January 1984. More...
  • International Space Station American manned space station. Development from 1994. Assembled in orbit from 1998, with completion expected 2010. In 1987-1993 the Russians successfully assembled and operated the 124-metric ton Mir station. More...
  • Dual Keel Space Station - 1985 American manned space station. Study 1985. NASA radically changed its Space Station baseline design in October 1985 following frequent complaints from users and astronauts. More...
  • ESA Polar Platform European manned space station. Study 1986. Britain initially expressed strong interest in developing an unmanned Polar Platform for Earth observation as part of the European Columbus package. In 1986 the platform was scheduled for a 1995 launch. More...
  • Flight Telerobotic Servicer American logistics spacecraft. Study 1987. NASA decided to develop a $288-million Flight Telerobotic Servicer in 1987 after Congress voiced concern about American competitiveness in the field of robotics. More...
  • OMV American space tug. Cancelled 1987. The Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle (OMV) was an important component in NASA's future Space Station plans in the 1980s. More...
  • HTV Japanese unmanned spacecraft designed for launch by the H-IIB launch vehicle for International Space Station resupply. The HTV carried International Standard Payload Racks, and was docked using the ISS robot arm after rendezvous with the station. First launched 2009.09.10. More...
  • ISS Space Telescope American visible astronomy satellite. Study 1988. The Space Station's free-flying unmanned platforms were all deleted in 1987-90 to compensate for the budget cuts. However, some of them may yet be reintroduced in the 21st century. More...
  • Space Station Freedom American manned space station. Design as of 1988. NASA's first detailed cost assessment for the US space station caused a political uproar in Congress, where many politicians had started to express doubt about the project. More...
  • Space Station Fred American manned space station. Design as of 1991. Following the collapse of the Space Station Freedom project, NASA unveiled its new Space Station design in March 1991. More...
  • ESA ACRV European manned spacecraft. Study 1992. As Hermes gradually faded into oblivion, the European Space Agency started to take a closer a look at cheaper and less complicated manned space capsules. More...
  • Spacehab American manned space station module. 14 launches, 1993.06.21 (Spacehab SH-01) to 1999.05.27 (Spacehab-DM). Founded by Bob Citron in 1982, Spacehab Inc. was the only entrepreneurial company to successfully develop a commercial manned spaceflight module. More...
  • ISS MPLM American manned space station reusable supply module. Launched and returned to earth, 2001-2011. When the International Space Station (ISS) was redesigned again in 1993, it was decided to expand the original Mini-Pressurized Logistics Module design. More...
  • ISS Columbus Orbiting Facility European manned space station. Launched 2008.02.07. In October 1993, ESA decided to further slash its overall budget by a combined $4.8 billion in 1994-2000. The Columbus space station module survived, but in a reduced form. More...
  • Space Station Options 1993 American manned space station. Study 1993. Following the collapse of Space Station Fred, NASA quickly formed a Space Station redesign team which identified three major redesign options in April 1993.... More...
  • ISS Unity American manned space station. One launch, 1998.10.29, Unity. Unity was the first U.S.-built component of the International Space Station. More...
  • Transhab Module American manned space station module. Cancelled 1998. Cost overruns soon forced NASA to consider other options for the International Space Station's habitation module. The space agency originally intended to use the same 8. More...
  • ISS Zvezda Russian manned space station. One launch, 2000.07.12, Zvezda. The Zvezda service module of the International Space Station had its origins a quarter century before it was launched. More...
  • NASDA Japanese Experiment Module Japanese manned space station module. Launched to ISS in three sections, 2008-2009. The Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) has been a rare island of stability in the often tumultuous Space Station program. More...

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