Next Shuttle Mission Vital for Space Station Expansion

Students Name Next U.S. Space Station Module ‘Harmony’
Computer-generated artist's rendering of the International Space Station after the Harmony connecting node (circled in yellow) is relocated from the Unity node port side to the forward port of the Destiny Laboratory.
(Image: © NASA.)

HOUSTON ? NASA?s shuttle Discovery is ontrack for an October launch to the International Space Station (ISS), where itsastronaut crew will lay the foundation for future orbital laboratories, missionmanagers said Friday.

Discovery?sseven-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 spacestation.

Plans forthe two-week mission will also include new management meetings to bolster moreopen 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 heatshield repairs, said NASA shuttle program manager Wayne Hale.

?The timehas come to do an in-flight demonstration to see how it really works,? Haletold reporters of the repair method during a mission briefing here at the Johnson Space Center.

Mission managers are expected to give finalapproval of the spacewalk addition, which calls for an astronaut to use a caulkgun-like tool to squirt the heat-resistant goo into intentionally damagedshuttle tile samples, on Monday. The repair method was one of severalconsidered to fillin a small ding in the shuttle Endeavour?s tile-covered belly last monthbefore engineers found that no repairs would be required.

A piece offuel tank debris dinged Endeavour during its Aug. 8 launch to the ISS. NASAengineers believe they?ve tracked the issue to cracked insulation layers on shuttlefuel tank brackets and completed repairs of similar damage to Discovery?s fueltank last week.

Led byveteran shuttle flyer Pamela Melroy -- NASA?s secondfemale shuttle commander -- Discovery?s STS-120 mission will deliver the Harmonyconnecting module to the ISS, where the cylindrical module will serve as theconnecting point for European and Japanese laboratories. The crew will alsomove the station?s mast-like Port 6 solar array tower and perch it at itspermanent home on the port-most edge of the orbital laboratory?s metallic trussbackbone.

?We aretruly entering a new phase of the ISS assembly sequence, and we are veryexcited with what lies ahead,? said Kenny Todd, NASA?s space station missionintegration and operations manager.

But beforeDiscovery?s crew launches into space, mission managers have decided to add anextra preflight meeting to encourage engineers to speak up with any concerns,said Hale, adding that plans for the new discussions have been underdevelopment for several months.

?We haveinstituted a number of ways for people to speak up anonymously,? said Hale. ?Iwould like to say that everybody feels comfortable coming to a board, standingup in front of the management and presenting their case. But apparently that'snot so.?

Earlierthis summer, lawmakers urged NASA to provide better forumsfor open communication among its ranks.

Discovery?sSTS-120 mission is NASA?s third of four planned shuttle flights to continue ISSconstruction this year.

Between nowand next spring, NASA hopes to launch the European Space Agency?s Columbuslaboratory and components of Japan?s three-partKibo laboratory to the ISS. The agency plans at least 11 more shuttleflights to complete space station construction by the planned September 2010 retirementof its three-orbiter fleet.

Hale saidmission managers are also considering prolonging use of the space shuttleAtlantis, which is slated to retire from flight service in 2008, help ease thestation?s tight construction schedule.?

?If we feelthat 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, itscomponents would serve as spare parts for NASA?s remaining two orbiters, headded.

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