NASA Clears June 13 Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch
With the space shuttle Atlantis barely back from its successful mission to repair and update the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA June 3 cleared the space shuttle Endeavour for a June 13 launch to the International Space Station. The launch marks NASA's final push to complete the build-out of the ISS by the end of next year.
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 16-day mission, seven missions to the ISS remain before the shuttle program is scuttled in late 2010.
The Atlantis crew is wrapping up the two-day terminal countdown demonstration test at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Fully suited in launch-and-entry suits, they'll board space shuttle Endeavour at Launch Pad 39A for a dress rehearsal of their upcoming liftoff. NASA says it has a 10-minute window at 7:17 a.m. for the June 13 launch.
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."
The mission includes five spacewalks, only the second time that so many have been planned for a station mission. All three of the available robotic arms will be put to use, sometimes all on the same day. The shuttle's Canadarm and the station's Canadarm2 will be put through their regular paces for surveys, unloading cargo and moving equipment and spacewalkers around, and the new Japanese robotic arm will be making its debut to transfer science experiments.
Four of the spacewalks and most of the robotics work will be devoted to installing and outfitting the final pieces of Japan's Kibo laboratory-its external facility, which will provide the Japanese a way to expose science experiments to the extreme environment of space, an exposed experiment logistics module for storage and some experiments to get it started.