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Quick Shuttle Update

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Endeavour has been hoisted up into the air in the VAB, for mating to the external tank.  The whole operation takes a couple of days from rollover into the VAB until the orbiter is firmly attached to the external tank.  Check out these photos.

Yesterday the PMM I’ve mentioned was moved, using the Space Station robotic arm, from Discovery’s payload bay and attached to the ISS.  This is a pretty cool new addition, as it’s the first major addition that is not on a plane with all the other modules.  By this I mean, if you are in most parts of the station, there is an up and a down marked on the walls.  You can go forward or backward and left or right to get into any module.  Not this new one.  You would have to go down, through the earth facing port on the middle Unity node, to get into this room.  It may seem kinda silly worrying about up and down when you don’t feel any gravity, but apparently is makes a difference to the astronaut’s equilibrium. 

250 miles overhead, there is another spacewalk going on today.  The astronauts are doing a bunch of little jobs, squaring away the PMM after it’s move, and cleaning up other work sites and tools, installing some parts, removing others. 

I know I’ve kinda been overdoing it on the shuttles, but it’s because 1) They’re easy to write quick posts about without a whole lot of thinking and 2) there isn’t often a shuttle in space, and ‘ only going to be 1-2 more.  So, look for something different from me this weekend.  Thanks!

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Discovery Update 2

Discovery arrived at the ISS on Saturday.  I always love watching the actual docking, because the piece of equipment used, the Orbiter Docking System was one I got to work on during my co-op with United Space Alliance.  It’s a pretty cool piece of equipment.  It was made in Russia, originally intended to allow the Russian shuttle, Buran, to dock with the Mir space station.   The markings on the mechanism are all in Cyrillic, and even the electrical schematics are in Cyrillic.  Kinda funky when you are trying to read those schematics to locate a problem, like we had in the summer of 2009. 

Anyway, back to this mission.  Check out these NASA Videos for the highlights of the flight so far.  Each is just a little 3-5 minute bit of video and voice over about the highlights of each mission day.  Today is also the first spacewalk, or EVA, of the mission.  The astronauts are putting away a broken coolant pump module that had been replaced on the last mission, but had been left attached to the outside of the ISS.  They are also rerouting a power cable to get ready for the new PMM module that discovery brought up (see my first post on Discovery).  EVAs are interesting, but can be a little boring if you don’t understand what is going on.  everything the astronauts do seems to be in slow motion, due to the bulky nature of their suits, as well as all the other concerns on their mind.  Something as simple as turning a wrench is not so simple, as if the astronaut is not braced, he could end up turning himself around, and not the bolt. 

All the EVAs and other shuttle activities are broadcast on NASA TV.  Because of the timing of this mission, all the interesting stuff is happening during the work day, which means I’ve not been able to watch.  IF you are in the same boat, I recommend the highlight videos I mentioned above.  Enjoy!

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Discovery Update

Today, Saturday the 26th, Discovery will be docking at the ISS.  The time to watch is about 1pm eastern time today, which is 11am mountain time.  The shuttle will start with the Rendezvous Pitch Manuever (RPM) before it docks, allowing the crew on the ISS to take high-resolution photos of the heat shield of the orbiter.  This is one of the measures started after the Columbia disaster in an effort to detect any major damage to the orbiter’s heat shield before re-entry. 

 This manuever looks pretty cool, the orbiter is basically doing an end over end back flip, while the earth spins by in the back ground.  I highly recommend watching, either here or here

To find out EXACTLY what the astronauts onboard will be doing today, check out this pdf.

If anyone is interested, I could do a later post on how exactly two spacecraft moving at over 17,000 mph can hook up together in space.

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Space Shuttle Discovery

Yesterday, Feb 24, the space shuttle Discovery lifted off on her last flight.  This mission is going to the International Space Station (ISS) to drop off a new Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM).  This is a big new room that will be used on the ISS as a place to store spare parts, experiments and whatever else the astronauts on board need to stash somewhere.  The PMM is actually the former Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) named Leonardo.  The MPLM has been used in the past to take supplies up to the station, and to bring experiments, broken parts and trash back to earth in the space shuttle.  This PMM is the last habitable section to be added to the US side of the ISS.  The Russians however are planning to launch several modules to expand the ISS over the coming years. 

Discovery is also carrying along a cool new robot, called Robonaut 2, or R2 (Seriously guys, R2?  I guess it’s harmless publicity, but still).   It’s a humanoid torso robot that is supposed to be able to perform construction tasks and work with repetitive experiments to space the astronaut crew some boring or hard or dangerous labour.  Initially R2 will work inside the ISS with the astronauts, but at some later point the plan is to add some lower appendages and to use R2 outside the station.  There are even ground version of robonaut that use wheels that could be used on the moon or mars (Someday.  I’ll talk about that in some other posts.) 

This is Discovery’s 39th and last flight.  She’s been flying since 1984 as the third space-worthy shuttle to be built and, with Challenger and Columbia having been lost, is the oldest shuttle in the fleet.  Discovery flew a number of notable missions over the years, including the launch of the Hubble space telescope, she was the first shuttle to visit the russian Mir space station, John Glenn flew on her as the oldest person ever in space, and she was the shuttle chosen to make the first flight after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters. 

All the space shuttles (Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour) are being retired after 1 or two more mission.  Endeavour will fly the next mission, STS-134 sometime this spring or summer.  She will carry a cool new experiment that will mount on the outside of the ISS called AMS-02 that will act like the detector of a particle accelerator.  Instead of using a huge machine to accelerate particles, AMS-02 will use detect the particles already zooming through space from supernova and other cool space stuff. 

Atlantis may or may not fly one more time.  Congress told NASA they can fly it, and NASA wants to fly it.  Problem is Congress didn’t feel like giving NASA any more money to actually pay for the mission.    So, we’ll have to see.  But yeah, that would be it for the old space shuttles.  I’ll write more in the future about what’s next, but my crystal ball is still pretty cloudy. 

And back to the launch, here you can find some cool videos and photos, and photos, and photos.  And if you want to follow the mission as it happens, check out this site with live video of the mission, and a blog with updates.  This site is a bit harder to follow, but sometimes has information you won’t find anywhere else.  And for the really hard-core, the mission flight plan and press kit (careful, that last one is a ~15MB pdf) are available. 

 Let me know if you want any more information, or any other feedback.  Thanks!

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