Teams up in space and on the ground completed crucial tasks over the weekend to clear the path for attachment of the new Tranquility module to the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts aboard the ISS removed the last obstacle blocking the path to dock Tranquility to the orbiting outpost. Meanwhile, technicians at Pad 39 A loaded Tranquility and the Cupola workstation into shuttle Endeavour’s cargo bay in preparation for the planned Feb 7 blast off of the STS 130 mission at 4:39 AM.
In a complex robotic operation, Astronauts Jeff Williams and TJ Creamer with help from Soichi Noguchi worked to expose the docking port on Node 1, also known as Unity, where Tranquility will be joined to the station. This side facing port was occupied by another component known as Pressurized Mating Adapter 3, or PMA 3, which had to be removed in order to make way for connecting Tranquility.
During a several hour long operation, the astronauts deftly snatched the PMA-3 with the stations Canadian- built robotic arm, unlatched the hooks and then relocated PMA-3 to the zenith berthing port of the Harmony module, also known as Node 2, and locked it back into place. Leak checks confirmed a successful outcome. Node 2 is where space shuttle Endeavour will dock at the station at another docking port dubbed PMA-2.
The PMA’s are basically tunnels though which astronauts move to get about from the shuttle to the station or between adjacent modules on the station. After Endeavour departs, the ISS crew will again relocate PMA-2, this time from Harmony on to the far end port of Tranquility. The station is outfitted with three PMA’s altogether.
The teams at pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) sealed the two payload bay doors for flight after installing and securing the Tranquility and Cupola modules, which are the primary payloads for the STS 130. Tranquility will house many of the ISS life support systems.
Today (Jan 26), KSC technicians also began final ordnance connections at the pad and carefully checked out the astronaut’s spacesuits before packing them into special containers to be loaded onto the shuttle.
Meanwhile work continues at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Ala to assemble the four new ammonia coolant hoses essential for mission success. New hoses had to be constructed after two of the original 14 ft long hoses failed during pressure testing. The new lines were built by joining together shorter spare hoses already approved for flight and use aboard the ISS. A NASA spokesperson told me that “The original hoses were redesigned after the test failure and are on schedule for availability as a backup”.
The NASA press spokesman told me that the original subcontractor for the hoses has left the spaceflight business and therefore had to be replaced by a new subcontractor who is relatively new to the space business. The new hoses are due to arrive at the Kennedy Space Center in the next few days for installation aboard Endeavour.
The senior NASA shuttle management team meets on Wednesday (Jan. 27) at KSC for the official Flight Readiness Review (FRR) to assess in depth all aspects of the mission including launch, spacecraft and cargo and will then announce the official launch date. Flow processing is proceeding well at this time and no major issues are being worked.
I will be reporting on site from the Kennedy Space Center in February and directly from the launch pads for both STS 130 and SDO. Earlier STS 130 article by Ken Kremer