Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Storage unit added to space station

Astronauts this morning added the last large room delivered by a shuttle to the International Space Station.

The Italian-built module nicknamed Leonardo was firmly installed to its new home, facing Earth on the Unity node, at 10:05 a.m. EST.

It will serve as a 2,472-cubic-foot storage closet .

Discovery mission specialists Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott lifted the 28,353-pound module from the shuttle payload bay with the station's robotic arm and guided it a short distance to Unity.

They had a direct, close-up view from inside the outpost's windowed Cupola (left), which was also built in Italy.

Formerly called a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, or MPLM, Leonardo seven times shipped supplies to the station and hauled trash or excess equipment back to Earth.

Before this flight, it underwent a $12 million refurbishment to survive life as a permanent station module, and is now called the Permanent Multipurpose Module, or PMM.

It was outfitted with Kevlar shielding to harden it against impacts from micrometeoroids or space debris that it's likely to encounter over at least the next 10 years, or as long as the station remains in orbit.

Inside the module are 14 science and equipment racks and more than 8,500 pounds of supplies. The headlining cargo is Robonaut 2, a dextrous, human-like robot that will be unpacked and activated weeks from now.

Discovery and station crew members plan to open and enter their new closet just before 7 p.m. today.

Leonardo is the last addition currently planned to the station's U.S. segment. But a node used as a test article has been moved to the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center and could someday be launched to the station atop an expendable rocket.

Discovery is flying its last mission; two more shuttle flights are planned. The next one, planned by Endeavour in April, will deliver a large particle physics detector that will be installed outside the station.

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