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November 09, 2008

STS-126: Extreme Home Improvements

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to launch Friday, Nov. 14, 2008. The press kit subtitles this STS-126 mission, "Extreme Home Improvements." The nickname is appropriate for a flight that will deliver a new water recycling system, toilet, sleeping quarters and exercise equipment. These "home improvements" are needed to support the planned expansion of the International Space Station crew from 3 to 6 beginning in the spring of 2009.

The commander is Navy Captain Chris Ferguson, who admitted that he spent a few sleepless nights wondering if there were anything that he hadn't thought of, but who has total confidence in his crew and expects the flight to "go entirely perfect!"

The pilot is rookie Eric Boe who said he is looking forward to the "awesome view" from orbit that the veteran astronauts have raved about. He will get his chance in between helping with the complex logistics of this flight and supporting the space walks.

The lead mission specialist on this flight is Don Pettit, former Expedition 6 crewmember famous for spending his off-duty time doing "Saturday morning science" demonstrations. With this flight crowded with four spacewalks and installation and testing of so much new hardware, he said he expects any "free" time will be spent "catching up on sleep." But Sandra Magnus, the replacement for current expedition crewmember Greg Chamitoff, said she had plans to do some educational videos during her Expedition 18 tour. She will join Expedition Commander Mike Fincke and Russian Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov who have been on station since mid October.

The other three mission specialists are all assigned spacewalk duties. The purpose of the four spacewalks is to "grease" the stuck Solar Alpha Rotary Joints (SARJ) that allow the station's solar arrays to track the sun and generate power for operations and science. The spacewalks are scheduled for flight days 5, 7, 9, and 11. If launch is on Friday, the first spacewalk will be the following Tuesday, and the others will be every other day after that.

Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper, wearing the red stripe on her suit, will go out with rookie spacewalker Steve Bowen on the first Extravehicular Activity (EVA). Their job is to remove and replace a tank of nitrogen and remove a cover from the Japanese Kibo ("Hope") module to prepare it for STS-127 that will install the exposed facility (sometimes called the porch).

Piper will be joined by Shane Kimbrough for the second EVA that will relocate two Crew Equipment Translation Aids (CETA) carts. This move is in preparation for the moving of an external stowage platform. The spacewalkers will also "grease" the end effector of the station's robotic arm. The end effector consists of two nested cylinders that grab onto objects by rotating to wrap cables around doorknob-shaped grapple fixtures. The astronauts will end their EVA by lubricating a bearing on the SARJ.

Piper's third spacewalk will be with Bowen and focus entirely on greasing up the SARJ.

The fourth spacewalk, by Bowen and Kimbrough, will remove insulation from Kibo and add a Global Positioning System antenna and TV camera. Kimbrough will also complete the servicing of the SARJ.

The spacewalks are a vital part of the space station assembly and maintenance, but the work going on inside: installing the new recycling system, has the greater potential for long-lasting impact to the future of humans in space.

The ability to recycle waste water is absolutely necessary for trips of more than a few weeks duration beyond low-Earth orbit. These systems will allow the crew size to double without doubling the supply flights--especially shuttle flights that deliver much of the fresh water needed by the current expedition crews. The shakeout and testing of these new systems during Expedition 18 may not make headlines, but they will provide the foundation upon which to build the space-faring civilization that NSS members envision. Extending the human presence beyond the old homestead of Earth certainly qualifies as an Extreme Home Improvement!

Marianne Dyson
NSS member
Former NASA flight controller

Posted by m_dyson at November 9, 2008 12:54 PM



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