The shuttle’s trip to the space station should take two days. Once there, Discovery’s crew will unload and install the $1 billion lab and hand-deliver a specially made pump for the outpost’s finicky toilet.
About five pieces of debris — what appeared to be thin pieces of insulating foam — broke off the fuel tank during liftoff, but the losses did not occur during the crucial first two minutes and should be of no concern, said NASA’s space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier. This was the first tank to have all safety changes prompted by the 2003 Columbia disaster built in from the start.
Three spacewalks are planned during Discovery’s 14-day flight: to install Kibo, replace an empty nitrogen-gas tank and try out various cleaning methods on a clogged solar-wing rotating joint.
NASA astronauts are making good progress this weekend at the International Space Station. Work includes installation of the first portion of Kobi, Japan’s science laboratory, and assembly of Canada’s Mr. Dextre, a large robotic appendage designed to perform tasks on the outside of the ISS so that humans don’t have to suit up and do them.
Everything has run smoothly and the initial module of Kobi was opened for the first time Friday. The hatch was opened at 7:24 MDT March 15, marking the first time the space station’s 15-nation program has full on-orbit participation. Kobi is in a temporary berth at the station, and will likely be moved prior to the arrival of the next portion.
Not everything ran smoothly with Mr. Dextre’s installation. A power problem prevented its initial deployment. The problem was eventually traced to a flawed cable in the pallet containing the robot during shuttle delivery. Once power from the station was introduced, the robot responded to controls. The cable ended up not being the correct type for the powering system.
Last night’s work focused on attaching Dextre’s two arms. Work with the arms was temporarily slowed due to stubborn bolts, but things were wrapped up by 12:57 MDT this morning. Initial tests of Dextre and it’s two arms indicate a nominally operative piece of equipment, which is excellent news.
I wrote a post a few days ago regarding Cassini’s planned fly-through and testing of Encaladus’ eruptive geyser. Unfortunately, a software glitch prevented instrument from determining the make-up of the geyser material during the fly-through. The good news is that cameras were operating at the critical time. They discovered that the north pole of Enceladus appears much older than the moon’s south pole.
All is not lost with regard to determining the make-up of the ejecta. NASA officials said that Cassini’s Wednesday flyby is the first of four close-up swings past the moon this year. A similar plume pass is slated for October 9th.
And that’s just Enceladus. Cassini continues to probe the remainder of the Saturnian system.
An unmanned European cargo ship blasted off on Saturday to the International Space Station in the maiden voyage of a new class of ships. From Space.com: “About the size of a double-decker London bus, the 21-ton cargo tug is 32 feet (10 meters) long, almost 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide and is designed to haul up to 16,800 pounds (7,620 kg) – about three times that of current Russian cargo ships – of fresh supplies to the space station. After six months in space, the spacecraft will be jettisoned for disposal in Earth’s atmosphere.”
The ships are scheduled to be launched every 18 months, relieving the needs for Russian Progress units. Interestingly, the Europeans launched the ship but will have to make it wait for its docking until Endeavour finishes its mission to the ISS.
Speaking of which, the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled for launch tonight from Kennedy Space Center at 2:28 EDT. It is carrying the first piece of the Japanese science module, Kibo. Astronauts will also assemble a monstrous, two-armed Canadian robot and deliver a suite of on-orbit experiments during their mission, scheduled to last 16 days! More from Space.com: “ Two days after Japan’s first orbital room is stowed in a temporary berth at the space station, spacewalkers Linnehan, Foreman and Behnken will piece together Dextre — the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) maintenance robot that weighs more than 3,440 pounds (1,560 kilograms).
The giant robot, often personified by the STS-123 crew as “Mr. Dextre,” will have an arm span of about 30 feet (9 meters) and stand 12 feet (3.7 meters) tall. By guiding highly precise “hands” from inside the space station, astronauts can perform basic space station maintenance without having to venture into the unforgiving space environment outside.”
Update 3/11/08 12:45A MDT
Endeavour has successfully reached orbit. Hope the rest of the mission goes as well!