STS-115's Rock, Knob and Third Solar Array

STS-115's Rock, Knob and Third Solar Array
Atlantis' truss and collapsed solar arrays can be seen in this photo taken from the International Space Station. A third array, as well Newton's apple seed descendants and a rock from the summit of Mt. Everest remains out of view inside the crew compartment. (Image credit: NASA)

Theupcoming deployment of two wing-like solar arrays outside the space station hasbeen the focus of astronauts and flight controllers, but there is one morepower-producing array on-board Atlantis that lies hidden - for now - from thepublic's view.

This thirdarray is stowed inside a shuttle middeck locker,along with thousands of other items flown on behalf of, for and with theSTS-115 crew when they launched Saturday.

"We'retaking a little mini-solar array up there," pilot Chris Ferguson told collectSPACE during a pre-flight interview. "We'retaking it [among] our personal items. We're going to make a video - all belowthe radar-scope - for education purposes."

The hiddenpayload is a much smaller, but still functional version of the arrays attachedto the 17.5 ton, 45 foot-long P3/P4 integrated truss segment that Atlantisdelivered to the International Space Station earlier today and which theSTS-115 astronauts used both shuttle and station robotic arms to hand-offbetween spacecraft.

Once installedand switched on during a later mission, the new arrays will double theelectricity available to the ISS.

Themini-array, one of several, was put together by the crew using spare solarcells donated by the company that built the full-size versions.

"Whatwe've done is made several little packages that we've wired four cells togetherand distributed them to schools throughout the country," said Ferguson."We'll be doing some work up there, just a demonstration-type thing, toshow the kids what you really can do with solar power."

In aseparate interview with a newspaper, Ferguson said they would be powering a CDplayer with the mini-array.

"Ifigured it was really quite fitting considering what it was we weredoing," said Ferguson, relating the demo to the STS-115mission objectives.

Though Ferguson will access the mini-array duringflight, most of the crew's personal items will remain untouched until Atlantislands, now scheduled for September 20.

"We'reallowed to fly some personal items, they have to be very small and they have tobasically fit inside a small zip lock bag. And then of course, we don't evenhave access to those items during the mission. They're put away safely and thenreturned [post-flight]," commander Brent Jetttold collectSPACE.

"WhatI decided to do, as this was my fourth flight, I offered most of those slots toour training team. I asked them if they had anything personal that they wouldlike me to fly for them," said Jett. "I don't want to get intodetails as to what those items are but they are basically small trinkets andjewelry, that type of things. For me, those folks put so much into our spaceflight, those... who run the mission from the ground or train us to get readyto go, it's a small thing for us to do that for them."

Others onJett's crew chose to fly items for their families.

"I'mtaking two items - I'm allowed two - one of them is the gear-shift knob off ofmy son's 1969 Camaro that he and I did as arestoration project," said mission specialist Joe Tanner. "So, I amtaking that as a tribute to the work that he and I did together. And the otheritem is a key fob for my other son's car - he's got a Subaru WRX - and I gavehim this key fob for Christmas."

"Ithink most of what I am taking up is pictures," said HeidemarieStefanyshyn-Piper, also a mission specialist, aboutwhat she was flying for family. "They can't come with me but I figure if Ihave their likenesses, they're there with me."

"I am takingsomething for Eric, my one brother who won't be at the launch because [inAugust] he deployed with the Marine Corps. And so I am taking something up forhim," Piper said.

For DanBurbank, who with Ferguson performs in the all astronaut bandMax Q, one of the personal items he might have taken is already on-board thestation.

"I'mcertainly bringing up some music with me. There's a guitar up there, or that'swhat I hear. I am looking forward to a chance to play it. But I am not lookingforward to the chance to play it on the downlink, so you may have to look hardto see me do that," joked Burbank. "But it will be really neatto do."

"Andwe don't have a drum set [on-board] unfortunately. Chris Ferguson is our Max Qdrummer and a dynamite one at that. I'm not sure if we have drumsticks up, buthe may be able to make due with some [thing]."

That hemay.

"Unfortunately,we are limited in the number of personal items we can take, and I had one moreleft and they said that a 'pair of drumsticks' is two items. So I had to leavethe drumsticks back," said Ferguson.

In additionto their items stowed in "personal preference kits," the STS-115astronauts are also flying thousands of items for presentation to theirco-workers and supporters, both professional and personal.

"Ihave a couple of items for my high school. I went to Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is now part of Cretin-Derham Hall, and I'm taking some stuff up for them. I'vegot a banner for my ROTC unit that I am [taking] up," said Piper.

CanadianSpace Agency astronaut Steven MacLean had packed aboard several items hethought were "neat".

"Afriend of mine has climbed all seven mountains, the highest mountains on allseven continents, so I have a small stone off of Mount Everest that I am carrying in what iscalled an Official Flight Kit."

"Alsowe have some apple seeds that are unique - you know Sir Isaac Newton 'found'gravity with an apple falling on his head, well the university in Europe kept that tree going over thegenerations. And York University up in Canada recently got a sapling, a cuttingoff of that tree and planted that tree in Toronto. And I have the first seeds fromthat tree," MacLean told collectSPACE.

"Idon't know if that's really important but its kind ofneat."

View the fullmanifest of the STS-115 Official Flight Kit.

VIDEO:First Tasks of NASA's STS-115 Mission

Gallery:Prepping Atlantis

Complete Space Shuttle MissionCoverage

NASA'sSTS-115: Shuttle Atlantis to Jump Start ISS Construction

TheGreat Space Quiz: Space Shuttle Countdown

CompleteCoverage: ISS Expedition 13

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.