Space Shuttle Atlantis Poised For Landing
Atlantis Crew Attaches European Columbus Laboratory Module To Space Station In 13-Day STS-122 Mission
Space Shuttle Endeavour Launch Set For March 11, Just Three Weeks After Atlantis Is To Return To Earth
Space Shuttle Atlantis winds up its long-delayed but ultimately lucky and successful 13-day STS-122 Mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a landing at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) set for 9:07 a.m. ET Wednesday.
If that doesn’t work out for some reason, such as weather problems, then Atlantis can land later Wednesday, either at KSC at 10:42 a.m. ET, or at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., at 12:12 p.m. ET or 1:47 p.m. ET.
The White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico won’t be activated for this landing.
A goal here is to have Atlantis descend into reentry and arrive safely back on the ground before the Navy uses an Aegis ballistic missile defense cruiser to send a Standard Missile-3 interceptor to destroy a dysfunctional/dead intelligence satellite carrying 1,000 pounds of toxic fuel, just before the satellite plunges out of control into the atmosphere and perhaps hits a populated area. (Please see full story in this issue.)
So Atlantis has undocked from the space station and is preparing for reentry. The ISS isn’t expected to be endangered by any debris from the anti-satellite shot, because it is 100 or more miles in orbit above the useless satellite, and most of the debris will hit the atmosphere quickly and burn to nothingness.
During the busy Atlantis STS-122 mission, crew members removed the European Columbus laboratory module from the Atlantis payload bay and attached it to the ISS, giving Europe a permanent presence in space. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Feb. 11, 2008.)
Tightly Packed Shuttle Missions
Atlantis will touch down on the runway less than three weeks before the currently scheduled March 11 launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on the STS-123 Mission to the ISS to attach part of the Japanese Kibo laboratory to the space station. Also, the Canadian Space Agency grappling system, the two-armed robotic Dextre, will be attached to the space station.
Endeavour at 11:24 p.m. yesterday was rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and at 4:45 a.m. today reached Launch Pad 39A, carried on top of the crawler-transporter at 1 mph. Endeavour was secured down on the pad at 6:22 a.m. today.
The Endeavour crew will arrive at KSC Saturday, and then participate in a full launch dress rehearsal for the Endeavour mission, the terminal countdown demonstration test, which runs from Saturday through Monday. The complex mission involves a challenging five spacewalks.
Next up will be Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-124 Mission to the space station, now set to launch April 24.
The landing Wednesday of Atlantis will be a momentous time for Astronaut Dan Tani, who headed up to the space station on Oct. 23 last year aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.
Tani at the time thought he would be staying on the space station as an Expedition 16 crew member for just a few weeks, coming back to Earth in December.
But his taxi ride back to terra firma aboard Atlantis was delayed repeatedly, as the shuttle experienced problems with sensors in the external fuel tank to block the Dec. 6 scheduled liftoff, followed by problems with a kinked radiator hose, woes that had to be resolved before Atlantis, two months late, finally shot up to orbit on Feb. 7.
Meanwhile, Tani’s mother was killed at a railroad crossing when her vehicle was struck by a train, and he missed her funeral.
But, true to astronaut tradition, he continued working, including performing a spacewalk with Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson that was the 100th station extravehicular activity (EVA).
More spacewalks were to follow, including three during the just-ended visit of Atlantis to the space station.
The most significant EVA was the first, when U.S. astronauts Stanley Love and Rex Walheim attached the European laboratory to the space station, a marked expansion of the ISS. The lab will have its own ground control unit, in Germany.
Other spacewalks were executed to swap out a nitrogen tank assembly on the space station for a new one, and to install two payloads on the outside of the Columbus laboratory module.
One of the payloads is SOLAR, a sun monitor. Another is the European Technology Exposure Facility that carries eight experiments requiring exposure to the vacuum of space.
Spacewalkers also moved a failed control moment gyroscope from its storage location on the space station to the Atlantis payload bay for return to Earth. CMGs are vital to keep the space station properly oriented.
Other Atlantis crew members are European Space Agency astronauts Hans Schlegel and Leopold Eyharts, Commander Stephen N. Frick, Pilot Alan G. Poindexter, and mission specialist Leland D. Melvin.
There also will be seven astronauts on the upcoming Endeavour STS-123 Mission flight.
Dominic Gorie will command the mission. Gregory H. Johnson will be the pilot. Robert L. Behnken, Mike Foreman, Rick Linnehan, Garrett Reisman and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi make up the rest of the crew.
Reisman will remain on the station as a resident crew member, replacing Eyharts, who will return home on Endeavour. Eyharts launched to the station on Atlantis Feb. 7.
STS-123 is the 122nd space shuttle flight, the 21st flight for shuttle Endeavour and the 25th flight to the station.