Astronauts discuss another successful mission

Published 7:03 pm Friday, October 27, 2006

Plans to finish the International Space station seem to be shaping up nicely as another mission to install a solar array on the station was a smashing success.

The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis successfully completed installation of a girder-like truss that provides an additional set of solar arrays to increase the station’s power supply. This was the first major addition to the space station since the 2002 Columbia disaster. However, the astronauts report that it will take 15 more missions to complete the station by 2010.

During their visit to Stennis Space Center on Wednesday, there was some question as to whether the station would be complete in time with only 15 missions to go and a rumored 30 sets of cargo still to be transported to the station. Atlantis Commander Brent Jett said the manifest he was given states that the station will be complete in time. Also, there are other ways to get cargo to the station such as the Russian Soyuz space craft, Jett said. However, the space shuttle is the key to getting crucial parts to the station such as the power module carried there in their Sept. 9 to 21 mission, he said.

Mission specialist-space walker Dan Burbank said the mission went by in a whirlwind with so much to do and so little time.

“It was busy and it was an awful lot of fun,” Burbank said. “We were sorry to say good-bye to the station.”

No matter how it looks from the outside, mission specialist-space walker Joe Tanner said that being an astronaut is not as easy as it looks.

“We’ve been accused of making it look easy,” Tanner said. “It was attributed to our training.”

The extra vehicular activity, or space walk as the astronauts commonly referred to it, took six hours and involved complex choreography between the ground and team to install the power module, Jett said.

Those new solar arrays will provide 65 kW of power to the station, which will be used for experiments and to produce oxygen for the astronauts, pilot Chris Fergusson said.

“Power’s what keeps you alive up there,” Jett said.

Mission specialist-space walker Heide Sefanyshyn-Piper said the only time she was a little worried was during a space walk installing the power module.

“I wouldn’t say I was frightened, but I definitely had a tight grip with my other hand,” Sefanyshyn-Piper said about when she was looking out into the empty black of space.

While ground training can prepare a space walker for the feeling of weightlessness, Sefanyshyn-Piper said there is no training that will prepare an astronaut for the sight of earth and the black space.

There team had only one hitch worth mentioning, a problematic bolt. Mission specialist-space walker Steve MacLean said that a restraint bolt gave the team a little trouble as they were attaching the power module. If the crew had not been able to get the problem fixed, the mission would have been a failure, MacLean said. Like work on the ground it just took a little elbow grease and determination.

“It was like being on the farm fixing a bolt,” MacLean said.

The next mission scheduled to go to the space station is in December and will entail installation of a similar module to be installed on the right side of the truss that the crew installed on this last mission, Jett said. All the extra power supplied by the solar arrays will provide enough electricity for the additional scientific study modules to be added to the station. There are plans for a Japanese, European and another American module to be added to the station, Jett said. The European module is slated to study the properties of plasma in space while the Japanese module will use an outside platform to study material experiments and more work with astronomy, MacLean said. Other research planned for the station includes immune cell and cancer cell study in zero gravity conditions, MacLean said.

Once the station is complete the six-man crew will work in a state-of-the-art facility everyday, MacLean said. Essentially, the completed space station will be a jumping off point possibly utilizing life-support system testing for future missions to the moon and later Mars between 2014 and 2020, MacLean said.

“It’s going to be a hopping place once we get it assembled,” MacLean said.

The station is slated to have a 15-year life span once it is complete, but MacLean said he expects it to be used longer.