Bellingham, Washington, March 29 (RFE/RL) - Ed
Gholdston is a physicist who works for the Rocketdyne Division of
Rockwell, an American aeronautics giant that is working with Russian
partners as part of the International Space Station Project.
The space station represents history's largest peacetime project,
Gholdston notes. And its launching will usher in the 21st century
with two of the 20th century's leading enemies working together as
Rocketdyne is working with two Moscow-based firms - RSG Energia
and Khrunichev - on the electrical components to supply power to an
orbiting space station that will be an amalgam of modules from the
various international partners.
The first critical step will be taken in the second half of April,
when several Khrunichev engineer-technicians travel to the Los
Angeles suburb of Canoga Park to test a mechanism that they have
invented to convert different voltages of electricity so that power
can flow freely between the American and Russian segments of the
space station. These segments form the heart of the modular space
The fact that such a converter is necessary stems from the
project's origin in the Cold War "space race," in which the Soviet
Union and the United States competed, in deepest secrecy and mutual
suspicion. As a result of that beginning, the present partners find
themselves with systems that generate different levels of electrical
current that now must function as one. Rather than require the
Russian partners to abandon years of effort, both sides are
respecting the work of the other by developing an interface that can
translate the different voltages to provide the space station with
the common output of electricity that it will need to support its
full-time crew and the experiments that they will conduct.
Gholdston says he is amazed at the transformation of the former
"space race" into a "space partnership." Besides Russia and the
United States, the International Space Station Project involves the
European Union, Canada and Japan.
"It never crossed my mind when I began as a physicist," Gholdston
recalls, "that we would one day find ourselves on the same team" with
Russians. It's a good thing, too, he adds, because "no single economy
could have supported a project of this magnitude."
The electrical interface that will convert electrical power
between the U.S. module and the Russian module will be tested in
Canoga Park through June. If all goes well, more extensive follow-up
tests will take place there in September so that the Russians can
complete their work on the interface in time to install it on the
module to be launched into orbit late next year.
In terms of space launchings, that's a tight schedule, Gholdston
says, but he has every confidence in the abilities of the
international team. Of his Russian colleagues, he says, "We find them
all very technically competent and a pleasure to work with."
The project's official language is English. But a number of
Rocketdyne's engineers are virtually native Russian speakers.
Moreover, the Russian engineers -- few of whom can speak English
because there was no reason to when working on top secret projects
during the Cold War -- are now avidly studying the language.
Gholdston says "a lot" of his Russian colleagues "are learning
fast." One of them, he adds, gets up at 4 o'clock five mornings a
week to study English before beginning his work at RSC Energia.
But, the human element aside, it is critical that the impending
tests succeed if the launch schedule is to be met. Gholdston says
"this interface has to work" in order for the project to move ahead.
The Russian partners are building the hardware. They are to deliver
it in April in Moscow to the space stations's coordinator, the Boeing
Company of Seattle. Boeing will bring the equipment to California
with the Russian staff to test it with the Rocketdyne technicians.
If all goes well, it will be riding aboard the first space
station module, built in Russia, which is to lift off from the
Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan late next year.