The space shuttle Atlantis' 11-day mission to the ISS (International Space Station) is going so smoothly the only glitch so far has been a Nov. 19 false depressurization caution alarm that aroused the crews of the Atlantis and the ISS from their sleep. Otherwise, the mission has been surprisingly glitch free.
From launching on time Nov. 16 -- a rarity this year for NASA due to stormy weather in Florida -- to sustaining no apparent blastoff damage to actually being ahead of schedule, Atlantis and its crew has, indeed, delivered the goods. In fact, more than two tons worth of spare parts.
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.
After arriving at the ISS Nov. 18, Atlantis Commander Charles Hobaugh and his crew have already completed the first of three planned spacewalks with astronauts Mike Foreman and Robert Satcher completing a 6-hour, 37-minute ISS maintenance spacewalk Nov. 19. It the the 228th conducted by U.S. astronauts, the fourth for Foreman and the first for Satcher.
It was also the 134th in support of ISS assembly and maintenance, totaling 837 hours, 28 minutes. It was the 106th spacewalk out of the space station, totaling 650 hours, 13 minutes.
The first and only glitch, so far, occurred at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 18 when an depressurization caution alarm sounded throughout the coupled ISS and space shuttle. According to NASA, the crews were never in any danger and ventilation fans were shutoff as a precaution, but that shutdown kicked up dust that resulted in a fire alarm in the European Columbus laboratory also sounding.
In less than an hour, the flight control teams in Houston brought the station back into its normal configuration and Atlantis' crew was told it could go back to sleep. The ISS crew members were required to stay up a bit longer as the station's ventilation system was reactivated. Flight control teams are looking into the cause of the initial false alarm.
For astronaut Randy Bresnik, though, lost sleep is about to become commonplace. While Bresnick goes about his duties in space, his pregnant wife, Rebecca, is expected to give birth to a baby girl as early as Nov. 20. NASA has arranged time for Bresnick to call his wife for updates.
"I think like most parents, I would prefer to be there for the birth," said Bresnik said during a NASA interview. "But you know, we don't pick this timing and so it's to be a bit disappointing not to see her in person right when she enters the world."
Baby or not, Bresnick is scheduled for a Nov. 21 spacewalk.
The tons of spare parts are loaded on two platforms in Atlantis' bay. Called external logistics carriers, or ELCs, they will 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 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.
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.
The Atlantis is scheduled to depart the ISS Nov. 25 and arrive back in Florida Nov. 27.