Shuttle Crew Says Goodbye, Undocks from ISS

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After a successful visit to the International Space Station, the crew of space shuttle Atlantis said farewell and undocked from the station at 4:24 am EST Monday morning. Their busy nine-day stay included three spacewalks and the installation of the European Columbus science module, as well as a switch-out in crew. European astronaut Leopold Eyharts stays on the ISS while US astronaut Dan Tani returns home after a four-month expedition on the station.

“We just wanted to thank you again for being a great host and letting us enjoy your station for about a week,” shuttle commander Steve Frick radioed to the ISS before undocking. “We had a great time over there, we learned a lot and we really, really enjoyed working with your crew, one quarter of which we have here and we’re happy to take Dan home. But just again, to you and to Yuri and to Leo, thanks very much.”

“Well thank you guys,” station commander Peggy Whitson replied. “It’s a great new room you’ve added on and we really appreciate it. Get Dan home safe, and thanks!”

In an emotional farewell ceremony on Sunday, Tani reflected on his extended mission. The delay of Atlantis’ mission due to fuel sensor problems made his stay in space almost two months longer than originally planned. During his time on the station, Tani’s mother, who he called his “inspiration” was killed in a car accident. He said he can’t wait to get back home to be with his family.

But his recent experiences have given him great hope for the future.

“Today I feel very optimistic about our space program and our society because I’m here, I’ve spent time with a man from France, from Italy and from Germany and from Russia,” he said. “Nations that have not always been friendly are now cooperating and we’re doing great things.”

With shuttle pilot Alan Poindexter at the controls, the shuttle did a one-loop fly around of the station before departing. Atlantis’ crew is inspecting the shuttle’s heat shield to get the final OK for landing, which is scheduled for shortly after 9:00 am Wednesday morning, if the weather holds in Florida. Both the Kennedy Space Center and the backup landing site in California will be ready as NASA wants the shuttle to land that day to give the military enough time to destroy a damaged spy satellite.

The next shuttle flight is coming right up. Endeavour began its crawl to the launch pad early Monday in to prepare for a March 11 liftoff.

North American residents with clear skies Monday evening should be able to see both Atlantis and the ISS flying in tandem. See NASA’s orbital tracking site or Heaven’s Above for sighting times for your area.

I Heart the ISS: Ten Reasons to Love the International Space Station

It’s been called a white elephant, an orbital turkey, a money pit, and an expensive erector set. Seemingly, there’s even people at NASA who think building it was a mistake. The International Space Station has been plagued with repeated delays, cost overruns, and bad press. Additionally, the ISS has never really caught the fancy of the general public and most likely there’s a fair percentage of the world’s population who have absolutely no idea there’s a construction project the size of two football fields going on in orbit over their heads.

But I’m going to be honest. I’ll come right out and say it: I really like the ISS. In fact, I’m crazy about it, and have been ever since Unity docked with Zarya back in 1998. Yes, my heart belongs to the space station, and since its Valentine’s Day, I’m going to profess my feelings here and now with ten reasons why I love the International Space Station:
(In no particular order:)

1. International Cooperation. Didn’t your heart swell with pride for the Europeans when the Columbus science module finally became part of the station this week? And you gotta love the Canadians for their reliable, heavy-duty Canadarm 2. The Russians have been steady partners in station construction and re-supply for years now. Japan’s science lab will be added on the next shuttle mission.

The ISS is the largest, most complex, international engineering project in history. In a world where violence and political animosity floods the daily news, it’s incredible that this structure is quietly being built by 16 different countries working together in relative harmony. If not for the international partners, the ISS probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has said that the station’s most enduring legacy is the international partnership that created it.

2. Actually Building an Outpost in Space. The dream of almost every post-Apollo space enthusiast is to have a settlement or colony in space. As humble as it is, the ISS is exactly that. Humans have been living on board the station for over 7 years now. The experience of constructing and living aboard this complex structure in space is invaluable, and any future outpost will benefit from what’s been learned with the ISS.

ISS Crew & STS-120 Crew.  Image Credit:  NASA

3. The Personalities. Peggy Whitson, the first female station commander. Clay Anderson’s unique sense of humor. Suni Williams’ marathon and haircut for cancer patients. Mike Lopez-Alegria’s music. Mikhail Tyurin’s golf shot. Yuri Malenchenko’s wedding. Frank Culbertson’s September 11 perspective. Yury Usachev’s spinning antics. It goes all the way back to the three-way fist pump on Expedition One between Bill Shepherd, Sergei Krikalev, and Yuri Gidzenko. With the Expeditions lasting 4-8 months, we have the opportunity to get to know the astronauts and cosmonauts that live and work on board the ISS. If you watch the daily feeds from the ISS or listen to the periodic press conferences, you can become familiar with the different personalities of the station crews. The number one personality has to be Don Petit and his Saturday Morning Science.

4. You can see it almost every night. I’ve witnessed jaws dropping and eyes widening in wonder when people see the ISS for the first time gliding silently and swiftly across the night or early morning sky. I never tire of observing it. Find out when the station will fly over your backyard at NASA’s website or at the Heaven’s Above website.

5. No major problems so far. One of the real impressive things about the ISS is that all the components, built by different countries and contractors have fit together perfectly. Yes, there have been intermittent computer issues, a faulty smoke alarm and the torn solar arrays. But these problems have all been resolved in short order. The damaged SARJ (Solar Alpha Rotary Joint) is a looming issue that could be problematic. But there are some first-rate engineering minds working on this matter, and it appears they have time to come up with a solution. The station has never had a major calamity or had to be evacuated in over 7 years of continuous human occupation. Knock on a Whipple Shield.

6. The general public can participate. Schools and informal education centers can conduct live question and answer sessions with space station crews. Middle school students can choose locations on Earth for the ISS crew to take pictures as part of the EarthKAM project. Ham radio operators can talk regularly with astronauts and cosmonauts with the ARISS (Amateur Radio on the ISS.) College students can design projects to be researched on board the station. And of course if you have $40 million in spare change you can ride to the ISS on a Soyuz as a spaceflight participant.

7. Finally, we have science officers. The other dream of every post-Apollo space enthusiast (and Star Trek fans) is to have science officers to conduct real scientific research. The ISS has had science officers since 2002, but science hasn’t been in the forefront of the work on board the ISS. Yet.

8. Long term research. The ability of the ISS to serve as a platform for science has come under fire. But what other lab has been expected to produce scientific results while still under construction? With the addition of the European and Japanese science labs, and the expected increase in crew size from three to six in 2009, scientific research, the original purpose of the station, will finally be able to be conducted with consistency. The microgravity environment of the ISS allows the study of long-term effects of weightlessness on the human body, crucial for any future human exploration on the moon and Mars. Research will help fight diseases such as diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and AIDS. The station provides a unique place to test technologies such as life support systems and new manufacturing processes, and gives us a long-term platform to observe and understand Earth’s environment and the universe.

9. Post docking fly-arounds. After each construction mission to the ISS, the shuttle’s post docking fly-around gives us a chance to see the new additions and latest configuration of the station. The astronauts say it’s a thrill to see how their handiwork on a specific mission fits into the big picture of the entire ISS, and it’s a thrill for us back on Earth to see the station’s new look, too. Plus the fly-around usually gives the shuttle pilot some actual stick time to fly the shuttle and a little time in the limelight.

10. What else would we be doing? Some people feel that the ISS’s tremendous budget has taken funds away from robotic exploration and other science. I can’t argue with that. But when it comes to human spaceflight, what else would we have been doing for the past 10-20 years? A space station was the logical next step after the shuttle. The main problem is that it took so long to decide on a plan, get it approved by Congress and get it in the works with international cooperation. But now, with construction and maintenance ongoing, we’re constantly and continually learning how to live and work in space. The ISS is a resource that will guide us on our future human endeavors in space. It’s more than just an obligation to finish and then be disregarded. The planning and funding for its future should encompass the maximum utilization of its fullest potential.

In my eyes, the International Space Station is a thing of beauty, a work of art, an engineering marvel, and a constant companion that I watch for every night as it orbits our planet. The ISS should be given all the respect — and love — it deserves.

STS-122 Space Shuttle Mission Rockets to Space

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Defying a bleak weather forecast, space shuttle Atlantis rocketed into space on Thursday, February 7, on its way to the International Space Station with a new science laboratory. The STS-122 mission had been delayed by a faulty fuel sensor, and was originally scheduled to launch last December. But today there were no problems with the sensor during fueling and the shuttle lifted off flawlessly at 2:45 p.m. EST. On board is a seven member crew and the European Space Agency’s $1.9 billion Columbus science module, Europe’s main contribution to the ISS. Atlantis will rendezvous with the station on Saturday, Feb. 9. The launch came seven years to the day after Atlantis carried NASA’ science laboratory named Destiny to the space station.

“It was a pretty clean launch,” astronaut Jim Dutton radioed the shuttle crew from mission control following the launch. “We did see, at about MET 2:13 (two minutes and 13 seconds after launch) a few piece of debris, they think at least three, that came off inboard of the LO2 (liquid oxygen) feedline just aft of the starboard bipod leg. The debris assessment team indicated they didn’t identify an impact at the time and it’s obviously under evaluation.”

The crew of Atlantis will now check out its systems and inspect the heat shield while chasing down the space station. There will be three spacewalks during the flight so astronauts can attach the Columbus lab and connect its power and fluid lines.

Atlantis’ liftoff came despite concerns that a weather front would interfere with the launch. But the weather cooperated for an on-time launch.

Installing Columbus, named after the 15th-century Italian explorer, is the main task for the 121st space shuttle mission.

“Columbus has discovered a new world, and I think that with Columbus we are discovering a totally new world,” Jean Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director general, said after the launch.

Atlantis’ seven-member crew includes two Europeans, Germany’s Hans Schlegel and France’s Leopold Eyharts. US astronauts are Commander Steven Frick, pilot Alan Poindexter, and mission specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, and Stanley Love.

“It’s great to have two laboratories in space,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.

The mission is scheduled to last 11 days.

Original News Source: NASA Press Release

Tricky January 30 Spacewalk to Repair ISS Solar Array

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Space station astronauts will conduct a spacewalk on January 30 to replace a faulty positioning motor at base of the station’s two starboard solar arrays. ISS Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani will change out the motor in hopes of regaining more power-generating ability of the orbiting laboratory’s expansive solar wings. But the astronauts will have to work fast, since they can only work on the electricity-producing arrays when the sun isn’t shining on them. That only allows 33 minute increments of time to conduct the repairs.

Because of the faulty motor, the solar arrays have been unable to track the sun continuously since early December, when the joint motor suffered a series of electrical shorts. In an earlier spacewalk, Tani and Whitson surveyed the damage and ruled out meteorite damage to the motor. Without the repair, the space station would have enough power to make it through at least the next shuttle mission, currently scheduled for a Feb. 7 launch, but not much further said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s ISS deputy program manager.

If the Wednesday spacewalk is successful, the ISS will have power to last through the planned arrival of a massive Japanese laboratory in April and into the summer, Shireman added.

The broken motor controls a beta gimbal joint that pivots one of the station’s two starboard solar wings to face the sun. NASA hopes replacing the whole motor, a garbage-can sized device that weighs about 250 pounds (113 kilograms), with a backup will fix the problem. The replacement motor was already on board the station, brought up on an earlier flight.

For safety reasons, the astronauts can only work while orbiting on the night side of Earth. If the sun was shining on the solar panels while Whitson and Tani were working on the joint, they would be at risk of shocks due to the high power levels surging through the arrays. They will only have about 33 minutes of total “shadeâ€? at a time to conduct their work. If they can’t replace the motor during one night side pass, they’ll have to wait and finish their task on the next pass. The station continuously orbits the Earth every 90 minutes.

NASA officials said the repair is possible to do in one 33 minute segment, but only if everything goes as planned. Since the damage only occurred recently, Whitson and Tani have not rehearsed the spacewalk in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, a giant swimming pool where astronauts train for spacewalks. However, other astronauts on the ground have rehearsed the repair and shared their insights with the astronauts on board the ISS.

Wednesday’s EVA will be the sixth career spacewalk for both Whitson and Tani, and the fifth for the station’s Expedition 16 crew.

This spacewalk is unrelated to on-going analysis of problems with a massive Solar Alpha Rotary joint on the right side of the station’s main power truss that is needed to turn outboard arrays to track the sun. Astronauts discovered metal shavings in the gear’s attached metal ring during past spacewalks, and engineers do not yet understand the cause of the unusual erosion. Whitson and Tani will take another look at the 10-foot (3-meter) wide gear if they have extra time during Wednesday’s excursion, mission managers said.

NASA will broadcast the Expedition 16 crew’s fifth spacewalk live on NASA TV beginning at 4:00 a.m. EST (0900 GMT) on Jan. 30.

Original News Source: NASA TV, Space.com

Researchers Plan to Launch Paper Airplane from ISS

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This is from the “why is anyone spending money on this?” department. Researchers from the University of Tokyo have teamed up with members of the Japan Origami Airplane Association to develop a paper aircraft capable of surviving the flight from the International Space Station to the Earth’s surface. The only problem is that no one knows where the paper airplane might land, and no tracking device is in the works to be used. So, the plan is to do an experiment with no way of gathering any data.


The researchers began testing the strength and heat resistance of an 8 centimeter (3.1 in) long prototype on January 17 in an ultra-high-speed wind tunnel at the University of Tokyo. In the tests, the origami glider — which is shaped like the Space Shuttle and has been treated to withstand intense heat — will be subjected to wind speeds of Mach 7, or about 8,600 kilometers (5,300 miles) per hour.

The researchers claim this paper airplane will come down more slowly than say, a real spacecraft, and it is not expected to burn up on re-entry.

No launch date has been set for the paper spaceplane, but Shinji Suzuki, an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Tokyo, is thinking ahead. “We hope the space station crew will write a message of peace on the plane before they launch it,” says Suzuki. “We don’t know where in the world the plane will land, but it would be nice to send a message to whoever finds it.”

Even if the paper airplane does make it through the atmosphere unscathed, given that our planet is 70% water, don’t hold out much hope for it being found.

Original News Source: Pink Tentacle