Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) equipped their orbital laboratory’s newest addition with a shuttle docking port on Monday to prepare for the planned December launch of a European-built module.
ISS Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani used the space station’s robotic arm to attach the 1.5-ton shuttle docking port to Harmony, a hub-like module that will serve as the anchor for future international laboratories once it is permanently installed at the front of the outpost’s U.S. Destiny lab. The European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory, slated to launch Dec. 6 aboard NASA’s shuttle Atlantis, will be the next addition to Harmony.
“What a beautiful view,” Tani said as the Earth backlit the shuttle docking port during its brief flight from the tip of the station’s Destiny lab to the end of Harmony.
Tani plucked the cone-shaped docking port, known as Pressurized Mating Adapter-2 (PMA-2) free from the front of Destiny at 5:12 a.m. EST (1012 GMT), then reattached it at 6:29 a.m. EST (1129 GMT) as the ISS flew 214 miles (344 kilometers) above the Pacific Ocean. Whitson commanded a series of 16 bolts that secured the docking port to Harmony.
Monday’s relocation marked the first move for the 3,033-pound (1,376-kilogram) PMA-2 docking port since 2001, but was the second major milestone for the station’s Expedition 16 crew this month.
Last Friday, Whitson, Tani and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko staged the first of three planned spacewalks as they work through a busy November to ready the space station in time for NASA’s planned Dec. 6 launch of the Columbus module. Two more spacewalks, set for Nov. 20 and Nov. 24, respectively, will allow the astronauts to hook up the vital power, data and cooling lines to fold Harmony into the space station grid once it reaches its permanent spot.
NASA’s STS-120 astronaut crew delivered Harmony to the ISS last month and returned to Earth on Nov. 7.
“It’s an unbelievably busy time for the space station crew, but again they are really ready for these tasks,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations. “They’re ready to do what needs to get done.”
But first, Tani must move the nearly 16-ton Harmony module and its attached docking port to their final home at the front of the U.S. Destiny lab. That relocation, also to be performed remotely using the station’s robotic arm, is set for early Wednesday.
Meanwhile, NASA is continuing work to prepare Atlantis for its December launch. The shuttle rolled out to its Pad 39A launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Saturday. Mission managers will begin reviewing plans for Atlantis’ STS-122 shuttle mission on Tuesday, NASA officials said.
NASA has a slim window to launch Atlantis and its Columbus lab payload due to the available sunlight angles for the space station’s power-generating solar arrays when the shuttle is docked at the ISS.
The shuttle can currently launch between Dec. 6 and Dec. 13, though the window could be stretched two days longer pending further review, mission managers have said. If the space station crew is not ready to host Atlantis’s visiting STS-122 astronauts next month, the shuttle would likely not fly until Jan. 2 at the earliest, they added.
NASA will broadcast the Harmony node’s move to the tip of the Destiny lab live on NASA TV beginning at 4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT). Click here for SPACE.com’s ISS mission updates and NASA TV feed.
- VIDEO: ISS Commander Peggy Whitson Takes Charge
- SPACE.com VIDEO Interplayer: STS-120 Mission Brings 'Harmony' to ISS
- Complete ISS Expedition Coverage