Friday, August 28, 2009

Discovery's Mission: Space Station Resupply

The international space station will receive a major delivery order as a moving truck filled with racks of experiments, equipment and supplies arrives at their door as NASA and it's space partners increase the productivity of earth's only outpost in space.

NASA's 128th space shuttle mission will head to the space station beginning this weekend on a resupply flight as Discovery and her crew of seven unload 15,200 pounds of cargo from the Leonardo module tucked in the orbiter's payload bay.

Once Discovery has docked with the station on flight day 3, the crew will begin work to power up the station's robotic arm using the attached orbiter boom sensor and pluck Leonardo out of its bay and slowly dock it with the station. Leonardo is also known as the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), and is a pressurized room filled with racks of equipment such as a huge freezer for storing new growth samples; a treadmill which will arrive in two parts; and a new sleeping compartment.

Commanding this 37th flight of Discovery will be three time spaceflight veteran Rick "CJ" Sturckow. Sturckow served as the pilot for the first space station assembly flight in 1998 when the two first pieces of the station were connected 220 miles up.

Serving as pilot on STS-128 is retired U.S. Air Force colonel and spaceflight rookie Kevin Ford. Ford will operate the station's robotic arm and fly Discovery around as the shuttle separates from the orbital outpost.

Mission specialists include Danny Olivas, who will perform three spacewalks on this mission; Patrick Forrester, who will be the choreographer (IV) for the three spacewalks; Jose Hernandez, who will use the orbiter's arm to inspect for tile damage on day 2; Christer Fuglesang of the European Space Agency and will perform two of the three spacewalks; and Tampa Bay native Nicole Stott, who will begin her stay on the space station as part of the Expedition 20 & 21 crews. Stott will return back to earth on the next shuttle flight STS-129 in December.

There will be three spacewalks performed on flight days five, seven and nine, each lasting 6 and one-half hours.

On the first spacewalk or EVA-1, Olivas and Stott will headout to the left side of the backbone of the station to begin unbolting an empty ammonia tank. The tank will be replaced on the second spacewalk. The pair will also head over the the ESA Columbus module and grab two experiments for their return back to earth aboard Discovery eight days later.

The second orbital walk in space will have Olivas and Fuglesang retrieve the 1800 pound new ammonia tank from Discovery's bay and replace the empty one. This new tank, according to the Johnson Space Center, "is the most mass ever moved around by spacewalking astronauts during station assembly".

The third and final planned spacewalk during STS-128 will see Olivas and Fuglesang prepare the station for the February 2010 arrival of the Tranquility node. The orbital duo will attach cables between the right side truss segment and the Unity node where Tranquility will be docked. They will also install a bracket which will store spare station parts; and install a circuit breaker.

As NASA's current oldest orbiter sails upon the ocean of space this week, she will celebrate the silver anniversary of her first voyage into space - STS-41D. Launched on August 30, 1984, the first flight of Discovery performed an experiment which had a lasting effect on the space station program. Mission Specialist Judith Resnik deployed the OAST-1, or the very first retractable solar array in space as a test bed for the then future space station Freedom project.

Discovery was named for the famous explorer Henry Hudson's ship, the HMS Discovery which sailed in the early 1600's; and Capt. James Cook's vessel which explored in the 1770's.

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