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February 04, 2010

Last Shuttle Night Launch

The last night launch of a Space Shuttle is planned for 4:39 a.m. Eastern time Sunday. The five-man, one-woman crew of STS-130 are: Commander George Zamka, Pilot Terry Virt, Mission Specialist (MS)and primary Shuttle arm operator, Kay Hire, MS and station arm operator, Steve Robinson, and spacewalkers Nick Patrick and Bob Behnken.

This mission's primary objective is to deliver and install the last big piece of the space station, the Tranquility Node. Old models and lithographs show this "Node 3" on the Earth-facing (nadir) port of Node 1 (Unity), but a decision was made to move it the port side instead to allow it to be used as a docking port once commercial cargo ships are available.

The big picture window, called the cupola, will be moved to the Earth-facing port of Tranquility, providing a view that every member of the crew is anxiously awaiting to experience.

The pressurized mating adaptor # 3 (PMA3) is also being moved-to the port side of Tranquility. This location will not support docking of a shuttle or Soyuz, but it is hoped that it will eventually be used by commercial cargo ships. In the meantime, it will provide some badly needed closet space.

The new location of Tranqulity requires a series of complicated spacewalks to hook up the ammonia cooling system via a fancy set of "extension cords" that must be covered with a huge long white thermal blanket.

There will also be plenty going on inside the space station including a test of the recalcitrant water recycling toilet. The last shuttle flight brought back the distillation unit and discovered that it was clogged by calcium deposits. STS-130 is taking up a filter that should help prevent that problem in combination with a change in operating the system--basically emptying the tank more often. They will bring the tank back on the shuttle to see if this worked, so they want to get as much run time on it as possible before they have to disconnect it. The flight may even be extended an extra day to allow more time for this test.

If launch happens on time Sunday, Endeavour will arrive at the station on in the wee hours (12:23 a.m. Central time) on Tuesday. First EVA will be on Thursday.

I was fortunate enough to witness a night launch back in 1999. Night became day, fish jumped out of the water, and then the roar of the liftoff washed over us--powerful enough to rock our van back and forth (and blur my photos!). This is the last Space Shuttle night launch. I envy those who will experience it in person. If you haven't ever seen a launch with your own eyes, felt it through the soles of your feet, and heard it with your own ears, you may want to plan a Florida vacation between now and September when the last shuttle flight is currently scheduled. If you want to see a shuttle night launch, this Sunday is your last chance.

To the stars,

Marianne Dyson
NSS Advisor

Note: any opinions expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the National Space Society.

Posted by m_dyson at February 4, 2010 03:43 PM



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