US President Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sign an agreement to beginning planning on a joint space station, to be called Freedom. There will be a need for substantial design and definition studies before the plan can be realised to determine the best balance of costs. The Soviets plan to have the first module of Mir in space by early 1986.
NASA scientists Stephen Edberg and Charles Morris make the first unaided sighting of Halley’s Comet since the celebrated phenomenon’s previous visit. Launch programs have been underway since June to intercept the comet and take the first modern analysis. Astron, the Soviet ultraviolet space telescope launched in 1983, will also be used. Both the Soviet Union and the USA have planned launches to view the comet from low-earth orbit.
NASA announces a suspension of all US space flights, pending a full investigation of the Challenger space shuttle disaster. President Ronald Reagan announces that he will appoint a special commission to investigate the disaster and to determine the cause. The House of Representatives will also conduct their own investigation.
The core module of the Mir Space Station goes into space, meeting the political deadline of having it in space prior to the meeting of the XXVIIth Communist Party Congress. Program director Valentin Glushko receives the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.
After two weeks of endless headlines, the presidential commission, including astronauts Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, is appointed by US President Ronald Reagan to investigate the Challenger disaster. Chaired by theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, President Reagan announces that the investigation will centre on the O ring of the right hand booster rocket, which attaches the lower part of the booster rocket to the external liquid fuel tank. He will state at the press conference that “reality will take precedence over public relations”. A number of commentators express the view that Morton Thiokol Group should be held legally liable for failure to fulfill its contract and supplying NASA with inappropriate parts.
The first two cosmonauts arrive at Mir Space Station, beginning a new age of human exploration in space. From this date, the species will have a permanent presence beyond the atmosphere of the planet.
With the launch of the Vega space program, three space probes to monitor Venus and then Comet Halley, the USSR agrees to open transmission of its receiving satellite, so that NASA may share the results. In return, the scientific communities in the United States open up with their observations of space phenomenon.
Professor Carl Sagan of Cornell University leads a delegation of international scientists to Moscow’s Institute of Space Research. They view the arrival of Vega near Halley’s Comet, viewing up close the coma and nucleus of the comet for the first time. It is also confirmation of the theory about the ice nucleus of comets, but demonstrates the comet is evaporating two to three times more than predicted.
With the conclusion of the report on the Challenger incident, US President Ronald Reagan declares that it is time to get NASA back into space and to step up programs to compete effectively against the Soviets. However, with the budget deficit, Congress is reluctant to get into both a military and a space race at the same time. They are particularly concerned about two explosions in the Titan rocket program and the destruction of a Delta rocket have left the United States with no way to lift a payload into orbit, and NASA will remain grounded until mid-1987.
NASA’s new administrator, James Fletcher, states that undertaking the reforms recommended by the presidential commission will require two years and there is insufficient funding to build another shuttle, arguing for an increase in space funding from $7.3 billion per annum to over $10 billion. The White House is rumoured to be in the centre of a “raging debate” about the future of the space program.
Despite NASA denials, a report by Jane’s states that the Soviets are a decade ahead in space exploration and that the development of its shuttle program and growing strength in the satellite field indicate that it is catching up even in those areas in which it is behind. They also point out that the US space station is unlikely to be operational before 1996, by which time the Soviet Mir station will be fully constructed.
NASA confirms that it is ready to resume launches into space after a spate of disasters, notably including the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger earlier in the year. It states that they have completely redesigned and tested the booster rockets, as well as fixing previously undiscussed problems with the shuttle’s thermal protection system.
The first of the Polyus orbital weapons platforms is launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It is equipped with anti-satellite cannons, stealth capability and laser communications. The command centre of the second-generation space station, it has three docking ports, two solar arrays and six permanently recharging batteries.
The Soviet space agency Glavkosmos offers once again to fill the gap left by NASA’s ongoing grounding, by asking US business to use them to launch satellites at half the price of the European Ariane rocket program. It confirms that the first Soviet space shuttle, the Buran, will be ready for launch within four months. US bans, however, will limit Soviet access to the US market.
The Soviets confirm the successful launch of the Energia rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome. While onboard computer systems show some minor glitches, it demonstrates that the Soviets have a rocket capable of launching a payload four times the weight of the US shuttle. Science Minister Alexander Yakovlev states that the rocket will allow Mir to be converted into a fully-fledged research and manufacturing station and will also allow, in the longer term, the construction of an interplanetary ship in orbit. Unsaid is that it would also permit battle stations in space, something for which the US have no capacity.
At the Paris Air Show, a model of Mir is opened, including the new Kvant astrophysics lab, which is due to be launched early next year. It is also confirmed that the Soviet Union has recently launched an unmanned probe to Mars, called Phobos. They also stun world opinion with their long-term vision for Mars. They plan further launches to study Mars, beginning in the early 1991 with a permanent unmanned orbiting spacecraft to monitor the planet and its two moons. By 1998, they project to have a six-month permanent unmanned scientific station on Mars. In the US exhibition is the B-1B strategic bomber.
The first Soviet space shuttle, the Buran, is launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome with an Energia rocket, following two years of intensive testing. The flight, which lasts only hours in length, is fully automated, with no humans on board the vessel.
The Soviet space agency, the Institute of Space Research, allows a New York Times journalist into their control centre to conduct an interview with orbiting Soviet cosmonauts. They insist that the Mir station has substantial living space and fresh air, “much better than Salyut”. It is part of the 30th anniversary celebrations for the organisation and sends a not-too-subtle message that the Soviets are far ahead in the space race.
The Soviet space agency announces the success of a space mission in conjunction with the European Space Agency and NASA. The mission was to test the effects of weightlessness of various animal species, including mammals, insects, fish and amphibians.
NASA announces that, over the next year, it will construct the long-delayed Galileo probe to head out beyond Jupiter, to be launched in the autumn of 1989. Galileo will have an eight-year mission. It also announces that, at last week’s summit, Premier Gorbachev and President Bush have signed an agreement allowing the US space shuttle to visit Mir and for the two nations to cooperate on building an international space station, sharing the enormous cost.
Leaving Mir Space Station, Commander Yuri Romanenko ends 332 consecutive days in space, shattering the previous Soviet record by nearly one hundred days and leaving the US record of 84 days looking poor by comparison. His departure is marked by the first complete crew change on board Mir, ensuring the continuing occupation of the space station.
NASA announces that a newly designed booster rocket has been safely tested at Morton Thiokol’s plant in Utah. It increases the chance of a resumption of US manned space missions in the coming year and insiders suggest that Discovery may be back in space by the end of June.
US President George Bush admits that there is a high degree of popularity for cooperation to build an international space station by the year 2000, and states that, if re-elected, he will negotiate an agreement to allow the project to proceed. He states that he will seek an additional $1.1 billion for NASA this year, raising spending from $760 million in the current year to $1.9 billion next year. He also envisages a permanent human outpost on the Moon by 2012 and a manned mission to Mars prior to 2020.
A US space payload consultant signs a contract with Glavkosmos, the Soviet space agency, asking them to carry a crystal-growing project to Mir. There is hope within both space communities that the respective governments will remove restrictions preventing the sharing of technologies.
The launch of Kvant2 from Baikonur Cosmodrome doubles the size of the Mir Space Station and upgrades life support systems on board for the astronomy and science teams. The use of the Soviet space shuttle Buran, on its first manned mission, is also noteworthy.
Despite a planned eight-day mission, the Buran space shuttle returns to Earth after just two days. While the crew have delivered the new module of the space station, the completion of its integration will be left to station residents. The Buran crew cancel the conduct of tests on various shuttle components and pieces of equipment. Soviet authorities claim the return was “precautionary” and project the Buran will be relaunched in mid-May.
NASA reports that Soviet scientists have suggested that an unmanned mission to Mars within ten years, suggesting that the Soviets have superior lift capacity, while the Americans would be able to contribute superior ground vehicles. They would be able to collect soil samples and fly them back to Mir at a cost of $2.5 billion to each country. After consultation with NASA directors, US President George Bush states that the project would be studied, but that it will be at least two years before the US could be assured that the project is technically feasible.
Kristall, the fourth module of the Mir space station, is launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Proton rocket. This module contains a port which is compatible with the Soviet space shuttle, Buran. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev praises the achievement, stating that the nation’s scientists are developing a retrofit for the port which will allow the US space shuttle to dock with Mir, but that it will not be ready for launch for two years.
Space shuttle Discovery is launched with a communications satellite for the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. It marks the US return to space after the Challenger disaster of 1986.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel announces that his nation will become the eighth country to have space launch capability, with plans to test a rocket within the next month. Based on an upgrade of the Jericho missile, it is planned that the Shavit will be used to launch three low earth-orbit satellites before the end of the century. It is suggested that the measure may form part of an Israeli response to recent missile purchases by Saudi Arabia.
The Buran space shuttle leaves on its third mission, arriving at Mir to pick up Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov, two cosmonauts who have just set a world record 326 days in space.
Soviet astronomers reveal to NASA that they have discovered an asteroid which they state will approach Earth orbit on 22 March next year. They estimate it will miss the Earth, but admit that they have insufficient data to determine this with certainty. If the meteor hits, they estimate that it will create a zone of destruction at least 35 kilometres in radius. As one of the Apollo group of asteroids, it is given the name of Apollo’s son Asclepius. Both agencies report to their individual governments, but the information is not yet public. It is announced that President Gorbachev and his wife are taking a sudden trip to the United States in late December for talks with the White House on the environment.
The news of the Asclepius meteor is released by the White House after information becomes impossible to contain further. President George Bush immediately cancels all military holiday leave and declares NATO on alert. He advises that there remains no certainty but that he will speak to the Congress on the evening on 7 January. He states that the Administration may act to requisition control of the transport system if necessary, but that no firm plans have been made as yet. Continuity of government has been implemented. The President states that any collision will have at least six days warning and preparations are being made for a globally-coordinated evacuation of any target site. In Leningrad, President Mikhail Gorbachev announces that both countries will be undertaking six satellite launches, with interceptor missiles built on to the satellites. These will examine the meteor and serve as defensive weapons against the meteor if necessary. He states that, to enable this, he and President Bush have agreed to suspend the ABM Treaty. He insists that people should continue to go about their lives until greater certainty existed about the meteor and, despite increased security, New Years Eve celebrations will go ahead throughout the world. Some people on holidays do not find out about the revelation until later in the first week of January.
The Soviet space shuttle Buran becomes the first to launch the beginning of the so-called Project Brilliant Pebbles. The project is based on high-velocity kinetic warheads, constructed to launch from satellites and guided by infrared sensors. It is hoped that these EKVs (Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles) will form the last line of defence if required against the Asclepius meteor.
The first US shuttle flight linked to Brilliant Pebbles takes off. Discovery will set up the sensor equipment needed to track the missiles to the meteor. The sensors are an exclusively American part of the mission, as the type of infrared technology used is classified by the US Department of Defense. US President George Bush expresses thanks to the thousands of Americans who have contacted their members of Congress and the White House to see if they could help. United Way and the Red Cross are already preparing for any emergency.
US President George Bush addresses a joint sitting of Congress. He makes Project Brilliant Pebbles public and explains that the next shuttle will go into space before the end of the month. He declares a state of national emergency “for the purposes of allowing us to speedily coordinate what we need to deal with this crisis” for the duration of the threat. He informs the world that the Soviets have made their shuttle available and that the first reading of the meteor from the sensors will come in early February, by which time NASA will have set a record by having three vehicles in space at the same time.
Following the second US shuttle launch by Atlantis to install Bright Pebble, there are some who suggest that the total cost of the project could be $7 billion, with over $2.3 billion provided by the United States. US President George Bush admits that he has sought and gained international contributions to pay for the project. The Soviets are contributing about $1.4 billion, the second largest contingent. Japan, China, France and Germany are also contributing to the project financially.
The space shuttle Columbia is launched from Cape Canaveral. This is a long-scheduled mission which is not part of the Bright Pebbles project and sees the launch of the Galileo spacecraft, a probe headed out toward Jupiter. It is scheduled to arrive at that planet on 26 March, 1994.
Columbia is launched from Cape Canaveral, the third shuttle launch in less than a fortnight. US President George Bush states that it is a moment of national pride that NASA has responded so successfully to the threat of Ascelpius. He states that the world must now “hope and pray for the survival of our civilisation against its greatest threat to date”, but expresses the belief that the meteor “has built a sense of common humanity which we must not abandon”.
At a presentation to a NASA symposium, Soviet scientists demonstrate for a new nuclear reactor for use in space. Called ENESYS, it can produce ten times more power than current models, allowing it to fly at higher orbits and stay in orbit for hundreds of years. They cost construction at $13 million and state the reactor is much safer than what it currently in use.
President George Bush, in conjunction with leaders right across the world, announces the suspension of program markets, prices and wages. He states that a universal decision was reached, on advice of economists from all disciplines, that panic could produce an enormous inflation peak. He pledges that everything will be “turned back on” when it becomes clear that Asclepius had passed.
It becomes clear that Asclepius will miss. UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar calls an international holiday, calling for all nations to pause in six days and celebrate their survival and that of the species.
Asclepius Day is celebrated throughout the world. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev uses the occasion to announce that the Soviets are well progressed in plans for future space exploration and will conduct their first manned mission to the lunar surface in 1992, twenty years after the last human visit. By this time, it is expected that the British space shuttle, the Argus, will have been launched. He is joined by President George Bush of the United States, who states that NASA will launch the Hubble Space Telescope in June this year.
Phobos reports begin to feed back to the international scientific community, with orbiters and one of the landers on Mars being successful. Until 1999, when communications will be lost with the Phobos probes within months of each other, they will sit in Mars orbit, completing a complete global map. The surviving lander will operate for two months and twenty-two days before shutting down, but in that time, it will analyse planetary geology and atmosphere.
NASA and Gavkosmos announce the joint launch of a new lunar probe, which will spend six months mapping the surface of the Moon. It will conclude that a large section on the surface is in permanent shadow and therefore has the potential for harbouring lunar ice.
The Hubble Space Telescope is launched by the space shuttle Discovery and will spend the next three decades in space, remaining the largest and most versatile space research tool for the majority of that time. It will successfully determine the rate of universe expansion and provide the best images ever made of the most distant objects in the universe.