Friday, February 11, 2011

Station Partners Mull Extraordinary Photo Op

NASA and its partners are thinking about staging an extraordinary photo opportunity next month that would yield still and video images of the International Space Station with all current U.S., Russian, European and Japanese spacecraft docked at the outpost.

Station skipper Scott Kelly and two Russian flight engineers -- Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka -- would climb aboard their Russian Soyuz spacecraft during an upcoming visit from shuttle Discovery and then back away to a vantage point where they could capture images of the entire outpost -- a complex that spans an area larger than an American football field.

Set for launch Feb. 24, Discovery would be docked to the U.S. side of the outpost. A second Russian Soyuz space taxi and robotic cargo carriers from Russia, Europe and Japan also would be parked at the station. It would be the one and only time all current "visiting vehicles" would be simultaneously present at the complex.

U.S. and Russian engineers are evaluating structural loads that would be imparted on the station as well as the best angles and lighting for gathering imagery. There also are safety considerations. In the unlikely event the Soyuz could not re-dock at the station, the crew would have to return to Earth, leaving only three on the outpost.

The photo opportunity only would be carried out if all higher-priority work planned during Discovery's mission already had been successfully completed. NASA's six-member STS-133 crew plan to deliver a permanent storage module to the station and complete two spacewalks. An extra day would be added to the flight to complete the photo documentation.

As it stands, Discovery's planned 11-day mission is scheduled to launch at 4:50 p.m. Feb. 24 and land at Kennedy Space Center at 12:36 p.m. March 7.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the NASA image of the International Space Station as seen from Atlantis during a fly-around that took place after the shuttle departed the complex last May. You also can click the enlarged image to get an even bigger, more detailed view. Photo Credit: STS-132 crew.

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