Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shuttle Crew Makes First Delivery To Space Station

The Atlantis astronauts made their first delivery to the International Space Station today, handing off a pallet full of large spare parts than then was placed on the central truss of the outpost.

Stowed on the platform: An ammonia tank assembly, a battery charger discharge unit, a control moment gyroscope, a latching end effector for the station's Canadian-built robot arm, a nitrogen tank assembly, a plasma contractor unit, a pump module assembly and a passive flight releasable attachment mechanism.

Many of the spares -- such as the gyroscope -- are too big to be launched aboard any vehicle other than the shuttle. Stocking the station with large spares is one of the top priorities during NASA's six remaining shuttle missions.

The shuttle's 50-foot robot arm was used to pluck the carrier from Atlantis' cargo bay and then hand it off to the station's robot arm. The station arm then was used to place the pallet on an attachment fixture on the outpost's central truss.

Also today:

NASA's Mission Management Team met and later reported that they worked no significant issues. The shuttle's external tank did not shed significant amounts of debris during the critical first 135 seconds of flight -- the time the shuttle is climbing out of Earth's dense atmosphere. It's during that time that debris can strike the shuttle's heat shield with enough kinetic energy to cause severe damage.

The MMT will make a decision tomorrow on whether a focused inspection will be required on the fifth day of the flight. MMT chairman Leroy Cain said the analyses of launch imagery, Flight Day 2 inspections and the Rotational Pitch Maneuver (see backflip item below) today are still ongoing. However, no significant areas of interest have been spotted so far, so it appears a focused inspection won't be required.

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