The human space population is scheduled to more than double June 13 when the seven-person crew of the space shuttle Endeavour launches for the International Space Station). All five space agencies involved in the ISS -- United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe -- will have representatives at the space station when the shuttle arrives June 15 with six Americans and a Canadian. The ambitious 16-day mission will need them all.
Endeavour will arrive with a cargo bay full of work, including the final permanent components of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Kibo laboratory complex, a literal "front porch" on the ISS for space-exposed science experiments. To store and transport the experiments that the exposed facility will accommodate, Endeavour will also carry a storage area similar to the logistics module on the Kibo laboratory, but unpressurized.
Inside Endeavour's cargo bay will be an integrated cargo carrier holding several pieces of spare equipment for the space station. Most of it -- a spare space-to-ground antenna, a spare linear drive unit and a spare pump module -- will be stored on an external storage platform on the station's truss. But six batteries for the station's oldest solar array will be installed. All the work required will take five spacewalks over the course of the mission. "That's spacewalk, a day off, a spacewalk, a day off," said lead Shuttle Flight Director Paul Dye. "And that just goes on forever."
NASA officials said the weather forecast for the 7:17 a.m. EDT launch June 13 is "80 percent go." If the weather is uncooperative, NASA will attempt to launch on June 14 or 15 before delaying the mission until July. After June 15, the Endeavour must stand down because NASA has scheduled a June 17 launch of an Atlas V rocket carrying the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) and the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite).
Once the Endeavour reaches the ISS, things will be as busy inside the shuttle and space station as the spacewalkers, with all three of the available robotic arms being 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 a new Japanese robotic arm will be making its debut to transfer science experiments.
"It's certainly really exciting for JAXA," said Polansky. "For them, this is the last of their hardware that's going to be permanently attached to the space station. This completes their series."
The mission also marks another milestone for JAXA with Japanese flight controllers on the ground operating their own berthing mechanisms for the first time. The Kibo external facility will never need to be connected to anything but a Japanese-built module, so the Japanese were free to use any berthing mechanism they wanted.
"Before, even when we had pieces of hardware that were built by someone else, we have, here in the U.S. control center, still maintained a lot of the technical leadership," said lead Station Flight Director Holly Ridings. "In this case, they truly have technical leadership for some of the things that must work to make the mission a success. It's unique."