Building the International Space Station: How and why the nations of the world are uniting in space


The story of the Tower of Babel emphasises that it is a problem of biblical proportions for the people of the world to reach out together into the heavens. However, sixteen nations have already started to assemble in earth orbit several million parts, weighing hundreds of tonnes, to make a space station larger than a football field and twenty stories tall. The conquest of the final frontier has begun, and when the first crew goes aboard this year, humankind will forevermore have some representatives living off the planet, out in the cosmos. We are truly at the dawn of a new era.

The engineers assigned to the Space Station project have had to overcome not only the daunting technical challenges, but also cultural, financial, linguistic, and political obstacles to reach this common vision. Each nation and each individual brings both shared and private goals to the project. It is the shared values of the group, and personal integrity of each contributor, which will conquer the formidable odds to achieve this global vision of the future.

The presentation will provide an overview of the history of space station concepts leading up to and including the International Space Station's design. Included will be some insight into the question of WHY. (The answer includes some exciting economics, and numerous special political, cultural, and technical influences). The presentation will address the way in which risks in this world-wide high-stakes effort are identified, mitigated, and sometimes accepted, and will explore the unique team effort and values which have risen to meet the challenges. There will be substantial time reserved for questions.


Jack Bacon Ph.D., P.Eng.

Jack Bacon is an expert in spacecraft integration, and in aerospace systems architectures. He works at the NASA Johnson Space Center as systems integration lead of numerous Russian and American spacecraft, including the Zarya' (also known by its Russian acronym: FGB), the first element and bridge module of the new International Space Station, launched November 20, 1998. His duties at NASA have included several assignments in the integrated architecture, design, and operations of the Shuttle and of all systems in the US, Russian, Japanese, European, and Canadian elements of the International Space Station. His duties have taken him to space development facilities all over the world, including previously secret Russian installations. He has presented NASA topics on all levels to worldwide audiences, and on numerous radio and TV events. An award-winning writer, he is currently working on "My Grandfathers' Clock": a nonfiction which traces the development of technology and society through 28 known generations of his family, dating from medieval times to today's permanent human presence in the cosmos.

He is the grandson of aviation pioneer David L. Bacon, one of the original engineers of the NACA in 1919, and of Grace Dunlap, the second woman technical employee at the NACA. (NACA= National Advisory Council on Aeronautics: the precursor of NASA). He is married to the former Janeane Stephens, a speech pathologist, and he is stepfather to Crystal Burdine, a high school student.

Dr. Bacon received his BS degree from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1976, and his MS and Ph.D. degrees respectively in 1978 and 1984 from the University of Rochester (New York), where he worked on laser-fusion power reactors, fusion propulsion systems, and on microgravity fluid surfaces. He worked for Xerox Corporation in several advanced technology and systems integration assignments, prior to joining NASA in 1990. He was also heavily involved in implementing the "Leadership Through Quality" program at Xerox, which won the Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award in 1989. He is licensed as a Professional Engineer.

Jack is a former sailplane pilot, scuba diver, and skydiver. He volunteers regularly as a test subject in numerous NASA flight medicine & physiology experiments, and has logged over 30 minutes of zero-gravity experience in medical test programs aboard parabolic aircraft flights. He is one of over 2700 applicants in the current astronaut selection round. He is a Member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and is nominated as a Fellow of the International Explorers Club. Among his numerous awards and honors, Jack has twice been recognized with the NASA Outstanding Speaker Award, has received the coveted Silver Snoopy award from the astronauts, and has attained the Johnson Space Center's highest recognition, the Certificate of Commendation.

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