Space Shuttle Atlantis Primed for ISS Mission
With only six space shuttle trips remaining before the fleet is retired next year, NASA focuses on delivering spare parts to the International Space Station.
Final preparations are proceeding smoothly for the space shuttle Atlantis'
scheduled Nov. 16 launch to the International Space Station. With only six
space shuttle trips remaining before the fleet is retired at the end of next
year, the mission is primarily dedicated to delivering spare parts to the space
Scott Higginbotham, the mission's payload manager, said Nov. 13 the processing of the payload has been a difficult and challenging race for his team. "But we're smiling today," Higginbotham said, "because we crossed the finish line and we survived."
Final inspections were completed and the payload bay doors were closed for flight. Only the space shuttle vehicles are large enough to carry many of the big backup pieces of equipment into space.
"You'll see this theme in some of the flights that are going to come after ours as well," said Brian Smith, the lead space station flight director for the mission. "This flight is all about spares-basically, we're getting them up there while we still can."
The spares are going up on two platforms-called external logistics carriers, or ELCs-to be attached on either side of the station's truss, in hopes that wherever a failure happens, the necessary spare won't be too far away.
The ELCs carried up on Atlantis will contain two pump modules, two control moment gyroscopes, two nitrogen tank assemblies, an ammonia tank assembly, a high-pressure gas tank, a latching end effector for the station's robotic arm and a trailing umbilical system reel assembly for the railroad cart that allows the arm to move along the station's truss system.
There's also a power control unit, a plasma container unit, a cargo transportation container and a battery charge/discharge unit. In all, that's 27,250 pounds' worth of spares to keep the station going long after the shuttles retire.
Some of those spares would be used to replace failed components of the systems that provide the station power or keep it from overheating or tumbling through space.
"It was a long-term goal to have the full power production capability and all the international partners present and six-person crew capability," said Mike Sarafin, the lead shuttle flight director for the mission. "These are the spares that will allow us to utilize the investment that we've put in."
Much of the focus of the mission will to be pave the way for NASA's next trip to the space station in February. The space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to deliver the Tranquility node with its attached cupola, a robotic control station with six windows around its sides and another in the center that provides a 360-degree view around the station.
For the Atlantis astronauts, the preparations for the Tranquility mode and its cupola mean routing connections and preparing the berthing port on the Harmony node that it will attach to.