This Week in Rocket History: the first International Space Station expedition.
The first module of the International Space Station had been launched all the way back in 1998, but over the next two years, no crew had spent more than a handful of days at the station. Crews went up, did a bit of work putting the station together, and then left it mothballed.
That changed on October 31, 2000, with the launch of Soyuz TM-31. Onboard were NASA astronaut William Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev. After a two-day rendezvous, they docked to the fledgling space station — then only consisting of three modules — and began a busy four months of operations.
Their first order of business was to unload the Progress M1-4 resupply spacecraft that was full of supplies for their mission. This was not an easy task; the uncrewed spacecraft’s automatic docking system had failed, and so the spacecraft had to be manually docked to the station. And that was just the first few days of their mission.
During their four-month stay, Expedition 1 would be visited by three space shuttles (Endeavour, Atlantis, and Discovery) and would witness the addition of three new modules to the station. In between the shuttle visits and construction tasks, the crew performed a packed program of science experiments, including taking over 700 photos of Earth. Yes, astronauts taking pictures of Earth in their free time has scientific value.
The first proper scientific experiment flown to the ISS was the Plasma Crystal experiment from the Max Planck Institute of Extraterrestrial Physics, where special crystals were grown in dust suspended in plasma. The ISS was the best place for this experiment because microgravity allows the growth of really large crystals.
STS-97 on Endeavour arrived on December 2, 2000, and brought up the first two solar panels for the station’s massive Integrated Truss System. This large installation was done by the Endeavour’s crew, requiring three EVAs. A hatch between the station and the shuttle was closed until the work was done, taking almost a week. Once the solar arrays were installed, the hatch was opened, both crews structurally tested the new configuration, and at long last, opened the hatch to Node 1, which had been closed off from entry because there was not enough power to heat it.
The crew of the shuttle brought even more supplies on board the station and then undocked on December 9.
The next visitor for Expedition 1 was STS-98, arriving on February 8, 2001. Atlantis brought a major component of the ISS, the U.S. Lab, officially called Destiny.
Installing Destiny took some reconfiguration. One of the station’s two docking adapters, or PMAs, was moved from the end of Node 1 to the top of the truss temporarily. Then the Lab was moved onto the port recently vacated by the PMA. Then the PMA was put on the end of Destiny, completing the installation.
STS-98 also marked a milestone in station construction. Instead of using reaction control thrusters to maintain the orientation of the complex, ground control switched on the control moment gyros (CMGs) located in the truss on February 13. CMGs are a special type of reaction wheel that doesn’t need to be desaturated because they constantly spin. They change spacecraft orientation by being moved side to side instead of being sped up and slowed down like a reaction wheel.
Reaction wheels need to be periodically desaturated, or slowed down, once they’ve sped up to max speed. This involves firing a thruster in the opposite direction of the spin. Not having to use thrusters to change the station’s attitude or desaturate reaction wheels saves propellant.
The rest of STS-98’s time at the station was spent doing three EVAs to attach the new lab more permanently to the station, including routing power and data cables on the outside to their spots on Destiny and installing handrails and other components to make moving around the station easier on future spacewalks.
After STS-98, another Progress spacecraft, Progress M44, brought up several tons of supplies to the station and docked to the port that M1-4 had departed the previous month. The Expedition 1 crew unloaded the Progress and packed its supplies into the station.
The final Shuttle to visit Expedition 1, STS-102, arrived on March 10, 2001. Since its primary mission was to swap out crews, no new permanent modules were brought up on this trip. It did, however, do something new: it attached the first Multipurpose Logistics Module to the ISS.
All four modules were named after famous Italians, with this particular module bearing the name Leonardo. The Multipurpose Logistics Module was designed to be brought up with supplies and loaded with experiment samples and other things to be brought back to Earth. For the return trip, it would be put back into the Shuttle’s payload bay. It was attached to Node 1 and was unloaded by the combined crew of ten, a record at the time.
The crew of STS-102 also did two EVAs: one to again move the PMA to allow Leonardo to be berthed and the other to add some components to the station’s truss to prepare for the CanadaArm which was to come.
Discovery undocked on March 19, 2001, leaving Expedition 2 with James Voss, Yury Usachev, and Susan Helms on the ISS.
Cargo spacecraft “Progress M1-4” (Kursknet via Internet Archive)
International Space Station Status Report #63 (NASA via Internet Archive)
Plasma Crystal info page (MPE via Internet Archive)