Countdown Begins for Next Shuttle Launch
With the Hubble Space Telescope squared away for another five years, NASA prepares for its second shuttle mission this year to the International Space Station. The seven-person Endeavour crew will deliver the final pieces of the Japanese Kibo laboratory complex.
NASA turned on the countdown clock June 10 for the space shuttle Endeavour's
scheduled June 13 launch to the International Space Station. The 16-day mission
is the first of the final eight NASA missions to complete the ISS build-out by
the end of next year.
NASA officials said the weather prediction for the 7:17 a.m. EDT June 13 launch is "80 percent go." If the weather is uncooperative, NASA will attempt to launch on June 14 or June 15 before delaying the mission to July as NASA has scheduled a June 17 launch of the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) and the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite). Both will launch riding an Atlas V rocket.
Endeavour's mission is the 32nd flight dedicated to ISS construction and the final of a series of three flights dedicated to the assembly of the Japanese Kibo laboratory complex, a literal "front porch" on the ISS for space-exposed science experiments. After Endeavour's mission, seven missions to the ISS remain before the shuttle program is scuttled in late 2010.
"It's a real exciting mission. We are the last mission that is taking up Japanese hardware on a space shuttle ... really big pieces of equipment that we're going to go ahead and leave behind on the space station for construction," Endeavour Commander Mark Polansky said in a preflight interview.
The mission also involves five spacewalks, including using Kibo's robotic arm to exchange three experiments from the palette to the platform. Future experiments also can be transferred to the platform from the inside using the laboratory's airlock. Endeavour also will deliver a new crew member and bring back another after more than three months aboard the station.
The 16-day mission is not the longest mission a space shuttle has flown, but it's only the second time that astronauts have gone into a mission planning to stay in space for that long.
"The first 15 years of flying shuttle, a long mission was a week," said Paul Dye, lead shuttle flight director, at a May 26 briefing. "We'd go up and we'd do our task and we'd come on down. Nowadays, we basically are using the shuttle in the final stages of assembly for the space station the way that shuttle was originally conceived. To me, that's pretty exciting."