Friday, May 27, 2011

Crew Declares Victory: Station Assembly Complete

With a "Ninja Ballerina Grip" on either end of Endeavour's inspection boom, spacewalkers Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff carefully mounted it to the metallic backbone of the International Space Station today, winding up an 11.5-year effort to build a $100 billion laboratory complex 220 miles above the planet.

"Houston, Endeavour," shuttle mission commander Mark Kelly radioed down to Mission Control.

"Go ahead, Endeavour," fellow astronaut Steve Swanson replied.

"On behalf of the STS-134 crew and the Expedition 27 crew, space station assembly is complete," Kelly said.

"Houston copies," Swanson said. "Thank you."

"Assembly complete. Amazing," Chamitoff said a few minutes later. "Boy, this is a big space station."

Fuestel, Fincke and Chamitoff are three of six members of the crew of NASA's 134th -- and next to last -- shuttle mission. The others: pilot Gregory "Box" Johnson mission specialist Drew Feustel and mission specialist Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency.

Also on board the station at this historic moment: U.S. astronaut Ron Garan and two Russian cosmonauts -- Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev -- members of the 27th expedition to the orbital outpost.

The assembly of the International Space Station began in earnest in December 1998 when the crew of STS-88 linked the U.S. Unity module to the Russian Zarya space tug -- the first two building blocks of the outpost.

Fincke and Chamitoff are making the 159th spacewalk performed in the assembly and maintenance of the station. Just short of 1,000 hours of spacewalking work has been required to construct the one-million-pound station, which spans an area in space that's larger than an American football field.

The station's skeletal backbone is 335 feet long. It's massive American solar arrays stretch 240 feet -- longer than the wingspan of a 747 jumbo jet.

Fifteen nations are taking part in the station project: the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries. More than 100,000 people on four continents are involved.

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