While browsing concepts of Space Station Freedom and other '80s NASA concepts (I love concept art), I noticed that there are some interesting differences in how the Shuttle was intended to dock with a station than in real life. The concepts, noticeably

this concept


this one have no real docking port inside the Shuttle. In fact, the docking adapter is on the station instead of inside the shuttle. real adapter

Why would NASA not choose to go with their conceptual design when building the ISS, and how would it have worked? Surely keeping the adapter on the station would increase payload mass/volume, which is pretty critical when building a station.

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    $\begingroup$ Having the docking adapter on the station in that position means you have to maneuver the docking adapter in close proximity to the aft bulkhead of the cabin. One mistake means a dent or breach in the cabin. Having the docking adapter in the cargo bay means more clearance to the cabin, and a mistake will result in hard contact between the docking adapter ring and its counterpart on the station, both of which are built to handle that. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Dec 9 '16 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ Concept art should almost never be taken as a canonical design. It is almost always wrong to some extent. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Dec 9 '16 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ Those pictures don't seem to show the shuttle docked at the ISS, just nearby to it, with attaching the two together left as an exercise for the reader. $\endgroup$ – djr Dec 11 '16 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ I know this is old but it seems a little harsh on the OP. The concept art is actually valid and a lot of time was spent on those docking and berthing mechanisms. As for the question: "Why did the design for Space Shuttle docking change?" - the Shuttle-Mir project changed the design. The experiences, and success, of Shuttle-Mir and the availability of Soviet/Russian APAS docking capability (manpower and hardware) laid the previous designs to rest. The PMA design came out of that as well. $\endgroup$ – blobbymcblobby Jul 26 at 3:02

This diagram from 1973 (shortly after the contract was awarded to Rockwell) shows that the external docking adapter was already planned. I suspect those concept art photos are playing fast and loose with reality.

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From Jenkins "Space Shuttle", 1992 edition.


All docking ports require a part both on the passive spacecraft (in this case the space station) and a part on the active spacecraft (in this case the shuttle). If I had to guess, the concept art used a reference photograph of the space shuttles, which at the time did not have docking adapters installed.

Here you can see Challenger in orbit in 1983

This image is a little small, but you can see that there is no docking port on the spacecraft. The docking adapters were only installed for the first Shuttle-Mir missions, and later found use on the International Space Station.


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