Tim Furniss/LONDON

At long last, assembly of the International Space Station (ISS) is expected to start in 1998. Six years later than originally planned, the first component is to be launched in June, marking the beginning the realisation of a programme initiated by USPresident Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Reagan could never have imagined, however, that the first stage of the ISSwould be Russian, in the form of the Functional Cargo Block (FGB). That is due to launched by a Proton launcher from Baikonur: this will be followed in July by the STS88/Endeavour mission, which will dock to the FGB and attach a Node and other equipment. The small beginnings of the ISS in 1998 will end in December when the Russian service module is due to be added to the small assembly.

Meanwhile, the Russian Mir space station will be operating in perhaps its last full year, still hosting international visitors, including its last US astronaut, Andrew Thomas, who is scheduled to be launched on the STS89 Shuttle mission on 22 January, relieving David Wolf.

The NASA Lunar Prospector will be launched on 5 January, to perform global mapping of the Moon's chemical composition from lunar orbit. The first of a series of NASA environmental Earth Observing System spacecraft to monitor the world in detail will be launched by an Atlas 2AS in June while, in July, the Deep Space 1, NASA's first New Millennium mission to develop new technologies for interplanetary spacecraft and Earth-observation satellites, will be launched on a Delta rocket.

The Deep Space 1 will fly past the comet West-Kohoutek-Ikemura in 2000 after a fly-by of the asteroid McAuliffe in 1999. The Mars Surveyor Lander, the next in the series of NASA's assaults on the planet Mars, will be launched in December. It is to touch down near one of the poles of Mars in 1999 and will sample and make a simple analysis of the soil.

Source: Flight International