NASA Gets Ready for Complicated Shuttle Mission

NASA photo: STS-116 crew
It could be one of the most complicated space shuttle missions ever as NASA prepares for the launch of Discovery early next month. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the 12-day trip includes a difficult reconfiguration and the installation of a key part of the International Space Station.

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Discovery is set to launch December 7th, its 33rd mission and one of the most important. In what amounts to a major re-wiring job, shuttle astronauts will use three spacewalks to reconfigure electrical and cooling systems aboard the ISS. This is Lead Space Station Flight Director John Curry.

"We've been operating the Space Station, especially the U.S. segment, but the Russian segment is very much reliant in some cases on the U.S. segment as well, in this early configeration, what we call the interim configeration, and this is the flight that is going to allow us to switch everything on power and thermal, so this is a major milestone on space-station assembly operations and very much looking forward to it."

The reconfigeration will nearly double the amount of eletrical power available on the ISS, but requires most of the key systems aboard the Space Station to be powered-down, which affects complex communications systems and simpler things like smoke detectors.

"It's more of making sure that they're aware that they are going to lose these things, so for example, on one of the space walks, we lose some of the smoke detectors in the node and so we want to make sure that they know that when we take that smoke detector away or the fan that might blow the smoke detector, we make that they are aware that they're going to be the ones, their nose is going to be the smoke detector device."

The job includes moving the large solar panels on the outside of the ISS, even completely retracting one so that other parts of the station can be moved. Astronauts will also use a long boom arm, laser and cameras to twice inspect the underside, nose, wings and tail of the shuttle for damage. Lead Shuttle Flight Director Tony Ceccacci says the inspections take some time, but are getting quicker.

"You talk about the time requirements right now, 6.5 hours each day to actually do the inspections. You know, the folks are getting smarter since we've done this for three flights, that we might be able to reduce the time requirements to actually execute the inspections, so they're looking at that and hopefully taking an hour off here or a half an hour there which will help minimize the impacts to actually get the mission done."

The mission also includes the installation of an important truss that connects parts of the ISS. The shuttle will also bring a new crew member to the ISS and return with a European astronaut who has been aboard the space station since July.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...