Atlantis Astronauts Laud ISS Construction, Pack up Shuttle

Atlantis Astronauts Laud ISS Construction, Pack up Shuttle
Bottom row (from left): Expedition 13's Thomas Reiter, Pavel Vinogradov and Jeffrey Williams. Middle row: STS-115 mission specialists Joseph Tanner, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, commander Brent Jett. Top row: pilot Chris Ferguson, STS-115 mission specialists Daniel Burbank, Steven MacLean. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

HOUSTON - The two astronaut crews at the International SpaceStation (ISS) hailed the success of their orbital construction job today asthey readied NASA's shuttle Atlantis for a Sunday departure.

The spacestation's Expedition13 crew and NASA's six-astronaut team on Atlantis' STS-115 spaceflight tooka certain satisfaction in the smooth success to date of their mission to jumpstart construction of the orbital laboratory.

"It's veryexciting to see the station assembly kick back into high gear," STS-115 missionspecialist Daniel Burbank during a joint press conference aboard the ISS. "We'reall very anxious to see how the future flights go along."

NASA's STS-115mission, commanded by veteran shuttleastronaut Brent Jett, has delivered newsolar arrays and a 17.5-ton pair of portside trusses to the ISS, markingthe first new segment to the ISS since late 2002. Construction of the orbitallab stalled as NASA recovered from the 2003 Columbia accident andreturned its three-orbiter fleet to flight.

"I'd ratethis crew 110 percent," Paul Dye, NASA's lead shuttle flight director, said ina mission status briefing here at the Johnson Space Center today. "They've donean outstanding job up to this point."

Three busyspacewalks and eight days into their busy 11-day mission, the joint ISS andSTS-115 astronaut crews have unfurleda 240-foot (73-meter) pair of power-generating solar wings and its vitalradiator. The crew had ahalf-day off this morning.

"I thinkthe successful deployment of the arrays marked the success, in our terms, ofour mission," STS-115 mission specialist Joseph Tanner said. "There are a lotof things that had to go right for that to happen."

Atlantis'STS-115 flight marks yet another milestone for the space station's Expedition13 crew. Station commander PavelVinogradov and flight engineer JeffreyWilliams not only saw NASA's second return to flight mission whenthe spaceshuttle Discovery arrived in July, but also received a new crewmember inthe form of EuropeanSpace Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter.

Vinogradovand Williams will leave a larger ISS when they undock on Sept. 28 than the onethey arrived at on April 1.

"We've gonethrough some very significant milestones during Expedition 13," Williams said. "It'sa great thing and a great honor to have participated in them."


One remainingjob for the both ISS and STS-115 astronauts is the packing of cargo that willleave the orbital laboratory aboard Atlantis early Sunday.

NASAofficials said the Atlantis crew will return about 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms)of equipment, including a set of cold bags filled with biological specimensfrom the space station's Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI), asuitcase-sized materials exposure experiment that spacewalkers retrievedfrom the ISS exterior on Friday and the space suits used during the threeSTS-115 spacewalks.

According to the crew's Flight Day Eight execute package, they are also returning about 78 pounds (35 kilograms) of clothing belonging to Vinogradov and Williams.

"This iswhat I'd describe as an incidental transfer," Dye said, adding that there isonly a limited amount of space in Atlantis' middeck for cargo.

Earliertoday, Vinogradov also shut the hatch on a disposable Russian cargo ship thatwill be jettisoned from the ISS once Atlantis leaves. Packed with trash andunneeded items, the Progress21 supply ship will undock from the space station's Russian-built Zvezdaservice module Monday at 8:28 p.m. EDT (0028 Sept. 19 GMT) and ultimately burnup in the Earth's atmosphere.

Dye saidshuttle astronauts will also transfer about 90 pounds (40 kilograms) of oxygen fromAtlantis to the ISS.

NASAofficials said the Atlantis crew will have transferred about 1,000 pounds (452kilograms) of water - a byproduct of the orbiter's three fuel cells - to theISS before undocking.

Atlantis isscheduled to undock at 8:50 a.m. EDT (1250 GMT) and, weather permitting, landingat NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 5:57 a.m. EDT (0957 GMT) on Sept. 20.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.