Astronauts visit Stennis

Published 10:39 pm Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Four of the seven crew members who participated in the most recent shuttle mission made a visit to John C. Stennis Space Center.

One of those crew members was left on the space station to conduct some work while another astronaut who was on the station was given a ride home.

A primary focus of the mission was to deliver and install the final solar array, which provides the station an additional 25 percent in electricity to be used for scientific experiments. Now that the array is installed, the station has full power and can now sustain a full crew of six.

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During the astronaut’s visit, which included Cmdr. Lee Archambault, Pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialists Steve Swanson and Richard Arnold, they took time to thank the employees of Stennis for their work in testing the shuttle engines and also for conducting tests on the flow valve that delayed the initial launch by months.

“We’re nothing but a small part of the whole team,” Lee said.

The crew members then showed Stennis employees a video of the mission. The video covered everything from the eight-and-a-half-minute launch to inspections of the shuttle’s hull to the landing of the shuttle.

The video also showed a real time docking with the space station and a slightly faster than real time unloading of their payload, a S6 truss and solar array. Those components were stored in space walks, but not before they were moved close to their proper installation place with the robotic arm. During the space walks, the truss and solar array were bolted in place.

Breaks during a space walk installation provided Swanson with a unique view of the Earth,he said.

“Sometimes you have to take a break from driving your bolt to take a look at the ocean,” Swanson said.

Installation of this solar array had to be done in phases to avoid previous array installation problems. The first phase involved five minutes of expanding the solar array, then a bake in the sun was used to remove ice on the array, which had caused sticking in previous installations. After the array was thawed, it could then be expanded the rest of the way, Arnold said.

When they were not working, the astronauts were exercising, eating, speaking with the president, playing in zero gravity or sleeping, according to video footage the crew showed to Stennis employees.

The mission was delayed from late 2008 to March of this year because of a faulty flow control valve, Lee said. Stennis employees tested that valve, and thanks to their work, the mission was a success, Lee said.