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March 11, 2009

Shuttle Night Launch

If all goes as planned, the Space Shuttle Discovery will light up the night sky along the upper Florida coast tonight at 9:20 PM (Eastern daylight time). With the full Moon still low in the sky during launch, there should be some fantastic photo opportunities.

At the controls will be first-time Commander Lee Archambault, making his second space flight ,with rookie pilot Dominic (Tony) Antonelli in the right seat. The five other members of the crew are John Phillips who was part of the Expedition 11 crew in 2005 and is making his third trip into space; veteran spacewalker Steve (Swanee) Swanson making his second flight; educator astronauts Richard Arnold and Joseph Acaba on their first flights; and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata who will replace Sandra Magnus on the space station. Wakata flew to the station on STS-92 in 2000.

The main purpose of the flight is to deliver and install the last of the giant solar arrays. This last one, called S6, will be mounted on the starboard side of the truss. This is the side of the truss whose sun-tracking rotation ability was restored through lubrication of the damaged solar alpha rotary joint on a previous mission. NASA reports that the fix is holding up well.

The first of four spacewalks to install the new array is planned for Sunday, March 15, which is two days after they arrive at the station, or four days after launch. It will begin at 2:50 PM EDT and last until early evening. The deployment of the radiator should be especially interesting to watch around 8 PM.

The shuttle is also taking up a backup urine recycling unit to repair the one that was installed during the last shuttle flight. The crew is not currently recycling their water, and there are sufficient supplies to increase the crew size from 3 to 6 without this capability—but the ability to recycle water from urine is important to reduce supply requirements after the shuttle is retired next year, and also to support future long-duration missions beyond Earth orbit.

The unfolding of the golden arrays is sure to provide some exciting and beautiful video. The deploy is currently scheduled to start on Wednesday at 4:50 AM. One bay will be gently pulled from the box and allowed to warm up for several hours before another bay is deployed. That will happen around 11:35 AM—a much more reasonable time of day to watch!

NASA will broadcast all mission activities live online. Check for the schedule. If you miss the live coverage, highlights from the previous day will be played each morning around 7 AM.

Ad astra,

Marianne Dyson

Posted by m_dyson at March 11, 2009 02:28 AM



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