Colloquium: June 3, 2014

Putting the I in ISS: Fostering space cooperation with the Russians

Jim Van Laak

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 2:00 at P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium
(Video of the lecture) within the Langley firewall only


The space program was born during the Cold War as a technological competition between the superpowers. Three decades later, the end of the Cold War offered the opportunity for space to become an important forum for cooperation between former adversaries. In 1993, President Clinton directed NASA to bring Russia into the newly redesigned space station program, but even as NASA took on the technical challenge of integrating the Russian systems, numerous issues, from economics to politics to human frailties, threatened to undo the effort. Told by a central figure in its history, this talk will describe how these challenges were overcome through the structure of the program, the design of the spacecraft, and the courage of participants on both sides. It presents a fascinating firsthand account of bringing these two proud nations together on the high frontier.


Jim Van Laak has enjoyed a diverse and challenging career in aerospace, from service as an Air Force fighter pilot to participation in nearly every aspect of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station Programs. He crafted the technical and programmatic approach that allowed the Russians into the program while protecting a path forward should they be unable to continue. As Deputy Director of the Shuttle-Mir Program, he co-led the pioneering program that put 7 Americans on the Russian Mir. He then took over as ISS Manager of Operations and led the highest tempo of human missions ever seen, with 20 international missions flown in 18 months, including 36 EVAs. He later served as Director of the Systems Management Office at NASA Langley Research Center and Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration. He is currently working at NASA Langley on a detail for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Doris Hamill is hosting our speaker this month.