Gateway to Space Station's Future Reaches Orbit

NASA: Shuttle Launch Paves Way to Larger Space Station
The Space Shuttle Discovery thunders off the launch pad during liftoff Tuesday Oct. 23, 2007 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Image credit: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Somegateways to international progress, it turns out, look like giant tin cans thatfloat in space.

The U.S.Harmony connecting module, also known as Node 2, has been deemed such a gatewaybecause it is crucial for future expansion of International Space Station (ISS).NASA successfullylaunched the Italian-built node on Tuesday aboard the space shuttleDiscovery from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

But neverjudge a space station module by its metallic cover: the 31,500-pound(14,288-kilogram) Harmony packs devices essential to completion of the orbitallaboratory by September 2010, when NASA plans to retire its aging space shuttlefleet.

"It'sa very complex piece of hardware," said Paolo Nespoli, a European SpaceAgency (ESA) spaceflyer and STS-120 crewmember, in a NASA interview. "It'san example of how an international cooperation can work together ? and continuethe building of this important laboratory."

NASAmission managers expect the seven-person crew of the STS-120 mission,led by Cmdr. Pam Melroy, to berth Harmony to the ISS on Oct. 26 just one dayafter docking.

Core ofscience

OnceDiscovery and its crew attach Harmony to the space station, it will be thefirst pressurized module added to the ISS since September 2001.

From itspermanent home on the end of the Destiny laboratory, Harmony will serve as acore to distribute air, water, electricity and other systems to two major scientifichubs to be attached at a later time.

"Node 2 isthe expansion of the space station's capability to bring internationallaboratories up," Melroy said, adding that it will also allow to the spacestation crew to double to six members. "It's this big boost in thecapability which is really exciting."

The node is23.6 feet (7.2 meters) long and 14.5 feet (4.4 meters) in diameter, and will increasethe space station's livable space by more than 2,500 cubic feet (71 cubicmeters). A powered grapple fixture on the end of Harmony will also allowcrewmembers to operate the space station's robotic Canadarm2 from the module.

NASA hopesto launch the ESA's Columbus Research Laboratory to the ISS in December and attachit to one of Harmony's four available ports during the STS-122 mission. Furtherspace shuttle missions—STS-123, STS-124 and STS-127—will deliver the four mainchunks of the Japanese Experimental Module called Kibo, also for attachmentto Harmony.

Longroad to Harmony

ThalesAlenia Space, a Torino, Italy, company, built Harmony as part of an agreementbetween NASA and the ESA, and delivered the component to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in June 2003.

Yet themodule's name remained "Node 2" until March 15 of this year, when NASAended a contest among U.S. schools to name the node—six differentschools from five different states, in fact, suggested "Harmony."

"Harmonywas selected to symbolize the spirit of international cooperation embodied bythe space station, as well as the module's specific role in connecting theinternational partner modules," said Steve Huning, STS-120 launch packagemanager.

Margaret Brackey, an 8-year-old who built a model of the Harmonymodule with her classmates as part of the contest, told thather naming of the module had more to with its pleasing sound.

"Ijust like the name Harmony," Brackey told, adding thather mother and classmates settled on the moniker after a few discussions.

In eithercase, mission managers are looking forward to the day the module is permanentlyinstalled.

"Thearrival of the Harmony module really sets the stage for a series of shuttleflights between now and next spring that will finally allow us to realize thefull benefit of this international partnership," said Kenny Todd, ISSprogram manager. "That's something we've looked forward to for a very,very long time."
NASA is broadcasting Discovery's STS-120 launch and mission operations liveon NASA. Click here formission updates and NASA TV from

SPACE.comStaff Writer Tariq Malik contributed to this story from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

  • VIDEO INTERPLAYER: Delivering 'Harmony' with NASA's STS-120 Mission
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Former contributor

Dave Mosher is currently a public relations executive at AST SpaceMobile, which aims to bring mobile broadband internet access to the half of humanity that currently lacks it. Before joining AST SpaceMobile, he was a senior correspondent at Insider and the online director at Popular Science. He has written for several news outlets in addition to Live Science and, including:, National Geographic News, Scientific American, Simons Foundation and Discover Magazine.