Next Shuttle Mission Vital for Space Station Expansion
HOUSTON ? NASA?s shuttle Discovery is on track for an October launch to the International Space Station (ISS), where its astronaut crew will lay the foundation for future orbital laboratories, mission managers said Friday.
Discovery?s seven-astronaut crew is set to launch Oct. 23 from NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and deliver a vital hub-like connecting node to the orbiting space station.
Plans for the two-week mission will also include new management meetings to bolster more open communication among NASA engineers, as well as the likely addition of an extra, fifth spacewalk to test a pink goo-like substance for use in shuttle heat shield repairs, said NASA shuttle program manager Wayne Hale.
?The time has come to do an in-flight demonstration to see how it really works,? Hale told reporters of the repair method during a mission briefing here at the Johnson Space Center.
Mission managers are expected to give final approval of the spacewalk addition, which calls for an astronaut to use a caulk gun-like tool to squirt the heat-resistant goo into intentionally damaged shuttle tile samples, on Monday. The repair method was one of several considered to fill in a small ding in the shuttle Endeavour?s tile-covered belly last month before engineers found that no repairs would be required.
A piece of fuel tank debris dinged Endeavour during its Aug. 8 launch to the ISS. NASA engineers believe they?ve tracked the issue to cracked insulation layers on shuttle fuel tank brackets and completed repairs of similar damage to Discovery?s fuel tank last week.
Led by veteran shuttle flyer Pamela Melroy -- NASA?s second female shuttle commander -- Discovery?s STS-120 mission will deliver the Harmony connecting module to the ISS, where the cylindrical module will serve as the connecting point for European and Japanese laboratories. The crew will also move the station?s mast-like Port 6 solar array tower and perch it at its permanent home on the port-most edge of the orbital laboratory?s metallic truss backbone.
?We are truly entering a new phase of the ISS assembly sequence, and we are very excited with what lies ahead,? said Kenny Todd, NASA?s space station mission integration and operations manager.
But before Discovery?s crew launches into space, mission managers have decided to add an extra preflight meeting to encourage engineers to speak up with any concerns, said Hale, adding that plans for the new discussions have been under development for several months.
?We have instituted a number of ways for people to speak up anonymously,? said Hale. ?I would like to say that everybody feels comfortable coming to a board, standing up in front of the management and presenting their case. But apparently that's not so.?
Earlier this summer, lawmakers urged NASA to provide better forums for open communication among its ranks.
Discovery?s STS-120 mission is NASA?s third of four planned shuttle flights to continue ISS construction this year.
Between now and next spring, NASA hopes to launch the European Space Agency?s Columbus laboratory and components of Japan?s three-part Kibo laboratory to the ISS. The agency plans at least 11 more shuttle flights to complete space station construction by the planned September 2010 retirement of its three-orbiter fleet.
Hale said mission managers are also considering prolonging use of the space shuttle Atlantis, which is slated to retire from flight service in 2008, help ease the station?s tight construction schedule.?
?If we feel that we need the schedule margin, that vehicle is a perfectly flyable vehicle,? Hale said of Atlantis. If the shuttle is retired next year as planned, its components would serve as spare parts for NASA?s remaining two orbiters, he added.
- SPACE.com Video Interplayer: NASA's STS-118 Shuttle Mission
- IMAGES: Endeavour's STS-118 Launch to the ISS
- Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage
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