Space Shuttle Atlantis Rolls Out To Launch Pad 39A At KSC
Liftoff Still Set For 4:31 P.M. ET Dec. 6 If Space Station Ready
Space Shuttle Atlantis rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and moved to Launch Pad 39A, preparing for a launch that NASA leaders still hope will occur on schedule at 4:31 p.m. ET Dec. 6.
But some questions hang over that scheduled liftoff for the STS-122 Mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
For example, crew members on the ISS must perform extensive work if launch is to come off on schedule.
While some of those tasks can be performed remotely with a long grappling arm, other tasks will necessitate spacewalks, before the ISS will be ready to receive the giant Columbus European laboratory that Atlantis will carry aloft to help further construction of the space station.
As a case in point, space station Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko last week performed a key spacewalk to help prepare for the arrival of Atlantis next month.
The astronaut and cosmonaut completed their increment’s first spacewalk, a challenging 6-hour, 55-minute workout.
They spent their initial part of the extravehicular activity (EVA) disconnecting and stowing cables, removing a light on one of the station’s transport carts and taking a cover off the Harmony node Common Berthing Mechanism, or CBM.
The Harmony Node 2 is a connecting room added to the space station that will serve as the attachment point for laboratories to be brought to the ISS on later shuttle flights. Harmony was brought to the space station this month by Space Shuttle Discovery. (Please see story in Space & Missile Defense Report, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007.)
That spacewalk is just the beginning of the prep work that must be completed before Atlantis arrives at the space station.
For example, today the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2, or PMA-2, was moved from the Destiny lab and attached to the Harmony CBM.
In the EVA last week, the spacewalkers also removed a base-band signal processor that will later be refurbished, and a remote power controller module that will be replaced. They then transferred tools in preparation for upcoming spacewalks.
On Wednesday, Harmony with the newly attached PMA-2 will be moved to the forward end of the U.S. Destiny laboratory. Harmony was temporarily attached to the Unity node during space shuttle Discovery’s STS-120 mission.
So there is much to be done if Atlantis can lift off on time.
Further, an on-time departure of Atlantis might involve breaking a bit of bad karma. There is the question of whether Atlantis can break a run of simple bad luck that has marred its recent launches, mostly because of Mother Nature suddenly being in a bad mood.
For example, last year, Atlantis was almost hit by lightning while making progress toward a launch date, and its electrical systems had to be checked extensively to see whether the errant bolt fried any electronics.
Then Atlantis seemed ready to go, only to have a hurricane bear down on the Florida coast. Fortunately, the huge storm veered away, and Atlantis finally was ready to launch. But all of those delays made Atlantis two weeks late in reaching space.
The brilliant performance of the ship and crew once at the space station stood in marked contrast to the grief on the ground.
Then, this year, Atlantis rolled out to the launch pad, only to have a huge thunderstorm rumble overhead and lash it with vicious hail, putting thousands of divots in the external fuel tank foam insulation that then had to be repaired. Atlantis was two months late launching.
But if the Red Sox can break the curse by winning the World Series pennant, perhaps Atlantis can find some luck as well, if the third time is the charm.
Atlantis is scheduled to stay at the pad for about three weeks undergoing final preparations.
The mammoth crawler-transporter hauled the already-joined orbiter vehicle and external fuel tank to the pad in a three-mile trip that took approximately six hours.
The Columbus laboratory was waiting at the launch pad when Atlantis arrived and the module will soon be placed inside the shuttle’s cargo bay where it will undergo its own series of tests and preparations for launch.
Atlantis’ crew of seven includes two European Space Agency astronauts who will help install Columbus on the International Space Station and activate its intricate systems. One of the ESA crew members will remain on the station for a long-duration mission.
Atlantis STS-122 Mission crew members are Commander Stephen N. Frick, Pilot Alan G. Poindexter, and Mission Specialists Stanley G. Love, Leland D. Melvin and Rex J. Walheim.
As well, there will be two European Space Agency astronauts in the crew, Hans Schlegel and Leopold Eyharts. They will help to attach the European Space Agency Columbus Laboratory to the space station.
And Atlantis will bring back to Earth U.S. astronaut Daniel Tani, a member of the ISS Expedition 16 crew who arrived at the space station aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-120 Mission.