Astronautsaboard the International Space Station (ISS) equipped their orbital laboratory’snewest addition with a shuttle docking port on Monday to prepare for the plannedDecember launch of a European-built module.
ISSExpedition 16 commanderPeggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani used the space station’srobotic arm to attach the 1.5-ton shuttle docking port to Harmony, a hub-like modulethat will serve as the anchor for future international laboratories once it ispermanently installed at the front of the outpost’s U.S. Destiny lab. TheEuropean Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory, slated to launch Dec. 6aboard NASA’s shuttle Atlantis, will be the next addition to Harmony.
“Whata beautiful view,” Tani said as the Earth backlit the shuttle dockingport during its brief flight from the tip of the station’s Destiny lab tothe end of Harmony.
Taniplucked 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. Whitsoncommanded a series of 16 bolts that secured the docking port to Harmony.
Monday’srelocation marked the first move for the 3,033-pound (1,376-kilogram) PMA-2 docking portsince 2001, but was thesecond major milestone for the station’s Expedition 16 crew this month.
Last Friday, Whitson, Tani and flight engineer YuriMalenchenko staged the first of three planned spacewalks as they workthrough a busy November to ready the space station in time for NASA’splanned 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 vitalpower, data and cooling lines to fold Harmony into the space station grid onceit reaches its permanent spot.
NASA’s STS-120 astronaut crew delivered Harmony tothe ISS last month and returned to Earth on Nov. 7.
“It’san unbelievably busy time for the space station crew, but again they are reallyready for these tasks,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associateadministrator for space operations. “They’re ready to do what needsto get done.”
But first,Tani must move the nearly 16-ton Harmony module and its attached docking portto their final home at the front of the U.S. Destiny lab. That relocation, alsoto be performed remotely using the station’s robotic arm, is set for earlyWednesday.
Meanwhile,NASA is continuing work to prepare Atlantis for its December launch. The shuttlerolled out to its Pad 39A launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Saturday. Mission managers will begin reviewingplans for Atlantis’ STS-122 shuttle mission on Tuesday, NASA officials said.
NASA has aslim window to launch Atlantis and its Columbus lab payload due to theavailable sunlight angles for the space station’s power-generating solararrays when the shuttle is docked at the ISS.
The shuttlecan currently launch between Dec. 6 and Dec. 13, though the window could bestretched two days longer pending further review, mission managers have said. Ifthe space station crew is not ready to host Atlantis’s visiting STS-122astronauts next month, the shuttle would likely not fly until Jan. 2 at the earliest,they added.
NASAwill broadcast the Harmony node’s move to the tip of the Destiny lab liveon NASA TV beginning at 4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT). Click here for SPACE.com’s ISSmission 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