Phase 1—Shuttle-Mir is an amazing story, superbly presented here in
text, image, and sound, by Clay Morgan, Rebecca Wright, Sandra Johnson,
and Paula Vargas, and by the many people who lived the story itself.
It was an honor to play a small part in helping make that story real.
One of the many parts of this 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
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
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
Chapter - History's Highest Stage!