Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Leonardo storage module docked to space station

A new storage module is docked to space station today. (NASA)

An Italian-built pressurized storage module was plucked from the space shuttle Discovery's bay and firmly docked to the International Space Station this morning to become a permanent storage facility on the orbiting complex.

The new pressurized module addition means extra storage for the crew of six living and working aboard the orbiting lab. The storage module is also the final American addition to the space station ending 13 years of space shuttle delivered construction.

The Italian-built Permanent Multipurpose Module was known as Leonardo on it's first seven visits to the space station beginning in 2001 and is owned by NASA. This will mark Leonardo's eighth and final trip to the space station as it will now stay as a permanent storage facility.

The space station's 58-foot robotic arm grappled the storage module at 8:26 a.m. EST, today and twenty minutes later slowly began to lift it from the aft section of Discovery's payload bay.

Working inside the 360-degree viewing room known as the Cupola, Discovery astronauts Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott used the robotics work station to guide the module attached to the arm from the shuttle and across to the Unity module for docking.

In the bask of sunlight, the module just centimeters from the common berthing mechanism, Stott radioed down to mission control, "We see four good rtl's". Station crew member Cady Coleman then replaced Stott on the arm, and she and Barratt were then go for docking the module to the common berthing mechanism which attaches Leonardo to station.

The 28,353-pound module was then docked to the earth facing port of the Unity module at 10:05 a.m., located adjacent to the Cupola node, as the station-shuttle complex flew 222 miles high over Western Sahara, Africa (above).

Minutes later, as the bolts were driven in to firmly secure the module, the space station flew over central Italy, and above where the module was constructed in the mid-1990's.

Once fully docked, Coleman then swung the station's arm from the module beginning at 10:30 a.m. and over to a holding position.

Measuring 21 feet by 15 feet in diameter, the PMPM is carrying 14 different racks inside filled with science, equipment and supplies.

Leonardo last flew to station in April 2010, following that flight the module was refurbished to support a longer duration is space.

New reinforced protective blankets were added on the outside of most of the module to help block micrometeorite hits as the station speeds through earth orbit at 17,300 m.p.h.

"Thank-you for the new storage module, Houston", station commander Scott Kelly radioed mission control in a dry-tone voice. "It's much needed."

Later today, crew members will open the hatches between station and the module as it begins active duty during the next decade in space.

Also, of interest Discovery was given a go last evening for an extra day in space docked to the station.

However, Russia this morning stood firm and turned down NASA's request to have a Soyuz TMA-M undock and fly out to take a last portrait of Discovery docked with her international partners.

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