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Astronauts Ready to Tackle Space Station Construction

Astronauts Ready to Tackle Space Station Construction
At the slidewire basket landing on Launch Pad 39A, the space shuttle Atlantis STS-122 crew responds to questions from the media on Nov. 19, 2007. From left are commander Steve Frick (with microphone); pilot Alan Poindexter; and mission specialists Leland Melvin, Rex Walheim, Hans Schlegel, Stanley Love and Leopold Eyharts. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.)

A team ofastronauts on Earth and in orbit are poised for a December spaceflight to haula new European laboratory at the International Space Station (ISS).

The seven astronautsof NASA's shuttle Atlantis are training to launch toward the ISS with theEuropean Space Agency's (ESA) Columbus laboratory as the station's Expedition16 crew gears up for two planned spacewalks this week to ready the outpost forthe new addition.

"We'rereally excited about this mission," shuttle commander Stephen Frick toldreporters Monday on Atlantis's Pad 39A launch site at NASA's Kennedy Space Centerin Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Frick andhis STS-122 crew are due to launch spaceward on Dec. 6 on an 11-daymission to deliver Columbus to the ISS. They will climb into the 100-tonAtlantis orbiter on Tuesday for a dress rehearsal of their launch dayactivities.

"Sofar, we're looking right on schedule for Dec. 6," Frick said. "Thereal challenge is on the station side. They've just had a ton of work to getdone since [the last flight]."

Commandedby NASAastronaut Peggy Whitson, the space station's three-person Expedition16 crew is currently in the midst of a packed month of spacewalks, robotics andmodule outfitting to ensure the orbital laboratory's newHarmony connecting module is ready for Atlantis's arrival nextmonth. The station crew moved Harmony to the front of the outpost's U.S.Destiny module last week.

Whitson andflight engineer Dan Tani are now set to stage a pair of spacewalks, on Tuesdayand Saturday, respectively, to fold the Harmony node into the station's powerand cooling systems. The spacewalks must go smoothly to allow December'sshuttle mission to launch, NASA has said.

"These[spacewalks], I expect, will be tough," Tani told Chicago's WBBM Radioin a Monday interview broadcast on NASA TV. "Plus, we know that we are inthe critical path to getting the node fully activated."

Tani andWhitson equipped Harmony with a shuttle docking port last week before moving itto the front of Destiny using the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm. The new connectingnode will serve as the hub for the ESA's Columbus module and Japan's Kibolaboratory.

"We'relooking forward to the work ahead," Whitson said. "We know it's goingto be challenging, but we're prepared."

NASAwill broadcast the Expedition 16 crew's second spacewalk outside the ISS liveon NASA TV on Nov. 20 beginning at 4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT). Click here for's ISS mission updatesand NASA TV feed.

  • VIDEO: ISS Commander Peggy Whitson Takes Charge
  • NEW IMAGES: Discovery's STS-120 Mission in Pictures
  • VIDEO Interplayer: STS-120 Mission Brings 'Harmony' to ISS


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Tariq Malik
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. 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. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.