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Schedule including this lecture.

Goddard Space Flight Center Engineering Colloquium

Date: Monday, December 9, 2002

Speaker: Robert Zimmerman

Title: 'We have Capture!' The Story of Rendezvous and Docking in Space, and How What Today Seems Routine Was Once Considered Almost Unachievable


Docking in space today seems almost routine. Shuttle and Soyuz dockings with Mir and the International Space station happen in an almost humdrum manner. Yet docking in space is simply not that easy. Instead, it more resembles a driver trying to attach his four ton truck to the tow hitch of another sixteen-wheeler, while both are racing down the highway, at night, without lights. Moreover, in earth orbit the task happens in three dimensions and at speeds over 17,500 miles per hour, and the driver has to use a joystick instead of a steering wheel. Finally, only one vehicle has a driver, and after docking, that driver has to be able to control the operation of both vehicles, from lights to steering. Not surprisingly, the first successful docking literally took years and some downright heroic acts to accomplish. This lecture will tell that story, showing how American engineers and astronauts had to solve a long list of unexpected problems in order to bring the first two spacecraft together in space. The lecture will also touch on the future, and how docking and rendezvous technologies, both manned and unmanned, are essential skills for building in orbit the first interplanetary spaceships.


Zimmerman, an award-winning author, writes articles and books on issues of science, history, technology, and culture. His essays are published regularly in such magazines as ASTRONOMY, THE SCIENCES, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, INVENTION & TECHNOLOGY, FORTUNE, AD ASTRA, AMERICAN HISTORY, STARDATE, and many other major publications. In 2000, he was co-winner of the David N. Schramm Award, given for Science Journalism by the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society. He has had two books published on the history of space exploration, and is presently completing work on a third. GENESIS, THE STORY OF APOLLO 8, published by Four Walls Eight Windows in 1998, describes the family and political tale behind the first human journey to another world. THE CHRONOLOGICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DISCOVERIES IN SPACE, published by Oryx Press in 2000, is a detailed reference book describing what was accomplished on every space mission, beginning with Sputnik in October 1957 and continuing through December 1999. Zimmerman's third book, tentatively entitled SPACE STATION, A HISTORY OF THE FIRST INTERPLANETARY SPACESHIPS, to be published by Joseph Henry Press of the National Academy of Sciences, will tell the courageous and little known story of the people who built and flew every space station since 1971. 

Colloquium Committee Sponsor: Michael Johnson

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