Monday, August 31, 2009

Live In Orbit: Special Delivery Set At Space Station

BLOGGER UPDATE, 12:01 PM: NASA's Mission Management Team has decided that there will be no need for a focused inspection of the starbaord wing of the orbiter Discovery or thermal tiles on the starboard side of the shuttle's belly. Discovery's astronauts were unable to check out those areas during Flight Day 2 inspections because the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module in the shuttle's cargo bay prevents Discovery's inspection boom from checking out that area. Engineers were able to clear those areas with imagery from the Rotational Pitch Maneuver done during the final approach to the station late Sunday. The decision clears the way for the installation of Leonardo on the Earth-facing port of the U.S. Harmony module later today.

Discovery's astronauts will deliver an Italian moving van to the International Space Station today as the joined crews of the shuttle and the outpost zoom through their first full day in space together.

Wielding the station's 57.5-foot robot arm, Discovery pilot Kevin Ford and station flight engineer Michael Barratt will hoist the Leonardo cargo carrier from the shuttle's cargo bay. The game plan then calls for the orbital crane operators to berth the cylindrical module to the nadir, or Earth-facing, side of the U.S. Harmony module.

There's a slight chance the move of the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) could be delayed a day if engineers determine that an inspection of parts of the starboard belly and starboard wing of the orbiter might be required. Some areas could not be checked out during Flight Day 2 inspections with the shuttle's inspection boom because the Leonardo module blocked the way.

But imagery data from gathered during the shuttle's climb to orbit as well as the Rotational Pitch Maneuver during the shuttle's approach to the station likely will obviate the need to do an extra inspection. The checkout, if need be, would be done with the shuttle's extension boom on the end of the station's robot arm. It would delay by a day the installation on the station of the Leonardo module.

NASA mission managers are expected to decide early today whether the extra inspection is required.

If not, then more than 100 hours of supply transfer between the shuttle and the station will begin in earnest after leak checks are completed and the 50-inch hatch to Leonardo is swung open. Mission specialist Jose Hernandez and Christer Fuglesang of the European Space Agency will serve as supervising "load masters."

You can watch the action unfold live here in The Flame Trench. Simply click the NASA TV box on the right hand side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live 24/7 coverage of the STS-128 mission to outfit the station.

The shuttle astronauts are delivering about 8.5 tons of supplies and equipment, including a new crew quarters, the treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert and an Air Revitalization Rack that houses a new U.S. carbon dioxide scrubber.

Three science research racks also will be hauled into the station along with a couple of refrigerator-freezers that will be used to store important biomedical and other samples until they can be transported back to Earth.

The huge haul -- which is the second largest ever to be flown to the station -- will play a critical role in outfitting the station with enough supplies and equipment to maintain a full staff of six on the outpost.

In a very large way, the work will set the station up for what will be its first full era of scientific research after outpost assembly is complete next year.

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