Atlantis Launches for Spare Parts Haul to ISS
The space shuttle Atlantis rumbled off the launching pad Nov. 16 on a
flawless launch to the ISS (International Space Station). With near
perfect weather -- a rarity for recent NASA launch attempts -- Atlantis
departed on time at 2:28 p.m. for the 11-day mission to the space
The mission is NASA's last to the space station this year and is primarily dedicated to delivering spare parts to the ISS. With only five missions left in 2010 before NASA retires the shuttle fleet, the space agency is focused on using the shuttle's unique ability to haul large pallets of equipment to position spare parts on the orbiting laboratory.
Veteran astronaut Charlie Hobaugh will is in command of the Atlantis with first-time flier Barry Wilmore will serving as pilot. The mission specialists are Randy Bresnik and Robert Satcher -- also making their first spaceflights -- and veteran fliers Leland Melvin and Mike Foreman. Current space station crew member Nicole Stott will return to Earth aboard Atlantis as the seventh crew member of the crew.
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.