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The European Space Agency (ESA) formally transferred ownership of the Tranquility habitable manned module over to NASA at a commemorative handoff ceremony inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday, November 20. Tranquility is the last element of a barter agreement between ESA and NASA for station hardware. Included on the module is the “Cupola,” which will provide astronauts with a panoramic view from the largest window flown in space.
ESA contributed the module known as Node 3 in exchange for NASA’s delivery of ESA’s Columbus laboratory to the station in 2008. Thales Alenia Space in Turin (Torino), Italy, built the module in partnership with ESA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and delivered it to KSC in May 2009 aboard an Airbus ‘Beluga’.
Official documents formalizing the ownership exchange were signed by Bernardo Patti, the space station manager for ESA and Michael Suffredini, the space station manager for NASA. A crowd of managers and technicians from NASA, ESA, Thales and Boeing involved in building and processing the node for flight witnessed the event. Media like myself were in attendance to document the transfer formalities.
“We are very proud to accept this module”, said Suffredini. “In some ways it’s a bittersweet moment because it represents a tailing off of assembly and using the SSPF. But Tranquility was built to start human life beyond Earth as we put things together on-orbit. More than just the work, history will look back at the legacy of the partnership that was built here.
Patti responded saying, “Yes it’s sad that the room is getting empty, but we are very happy that Tranquility is going to the ISS which is a platform for an exploration program that we are privileged to have a future with”.
Attached to the end cone of Tranquility is the Cupola advanced observation module and robotics work station. Both segments are set to launch aboard the next shuttle flight, STS 130, presently scheduled for a 4 February 2010 blast off.
One of the major tasks of spacewalking astronauts aboard the current STS 129 flight of shuttle Atlantis is equipment work to prepare the way for the attachment of Tranquility and the Cupola to the port side hatch of the Unity Node on the ISS by the STS 130 crew of shuttle Endeavour. The astronauts have removed and repositioned external brackets, handrails, micrometeoroid shields, computer and electrical connections.
Tranquility is a complex pressurized interconnecting node that will provide increased living and scientific workspace for the resident ISS crews and house “many of the stations critical life support systems”, Suffredini said to me in an interview following the ceremony. Tranquility will be home to the racks for the advanced Environmental Control and Life Support Systems. This includes the equipment for revitalizing the station atmosphere and removing contaminants, generating oxygen and providing breathable air, carbon dioxide removal, recycling waste water into potable drinking water, the crew toilet and the Colbert Treadmill for crew exercise. Suffredini added, “The check out and activation period for Tranquility will occur during the shuttle mission. The racks are already aboard the ISS and just need to be moved and installed. Many of them are aboard the Destiny module. Their relocation will free up research space”.
The Cupola will function as a panoramic control tower through which operations outside the station can be observed and guided with command and control workstations inside. The circular top window is 80 cm in diameter, making it the largest window flown in space.
The unique 7 windowed Cupola module will afford astronauts a heretofore unparalleled 360 degree viewing spectrum of the Earth, the station and the cosmos, said KSC Director Bob Cabana. It will be used for earth observation and space science. Cabana commanded the space shuttle mission which delivered the first US space station component to space, the Unity node and docked it to the Russian Zarya control module to commence ISS assembly in 1998.
‘Tranquility’ is named in honor the Sea of Tranquility, the lunar landing site for Apollo 11 which was NASA’s first flight to land man on the moon in July 1969.
Lead image caption: Michael Suffredini, the ISS manager for NASA accepts ownership of the Node 3 Tranquility module from ESA at hand off ceremony inside the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at the Kennedy Space Center on 20 November 2009. Cupola observation module is attached at forward hatch in center and covered with thermal protection blankets. Note robotic arm grapple fixture at lower right. Credit: Ken Kremer