STS-126 Crew is Busy at Work at the International Space Station

STS-126 marks the fourth and final shuttle mission of 2008 and is a very important one to the future of human spaceflight. Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew have delivered equipment to the International Space Station that will enable it to house six – instead of three – crew members for long-duration missions. Expanding the crew size is a key step to utilizing the space station to its full capability.

On the night of November 14, when the shuttle lifted off and lit up the sky in Florida, it carried 32,000 pounds of cargo, including two additional sleeping quarters, a second toilet system, and equipment to recycle urine into potable water. This water regeneration system will help to ensure the space station’s self-sufficiency, which is necessary before the space shuttle retires.

The STS-126 mission has been described as an “extreme home makeover,” but it’s really a home improvement that requires incredible coordination between the space station and space shuttle crews and ground teams. The servicing of the space station’s two Solar Alpha Rotary Joints (SARJ) is the focus of the flight’s four spacewalks. These wagon-wheel-shaped joints allow the space station’s solar arrays to rotate so that they’re always getting as much sun as possible. The SARJ on the space station’s starboard – or right – side has had very limited use for the past year. By lubricating both SARJs, we hope to extend the lives of the joints to ensure that the space station can generate the power for the larger station crews.

Due to their demanding work, the shuttle and station crews may not have time to celebrate an incredible milestone on November 20. But we here on the ground should do so. Ten years ago, the first element of the station, the Zarya module, was launched into space, kicking off the most complex engineering project ever.

The space station is now the size of a five-bedroom home and is a testament to the unique partnership among NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

There are thousands of people across this country and around the world who have worked to make this current mission not only possible, but also to make it the success it is turning out to be.

Launch of STS-123

STS-123 launchI participated in a number of events surrounding the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-123), the 25th Space Shuttle assembly mission to the International Space Station (ISS). In a spectacular night launch that lit up the coast of Florida surrounding Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Space Shuttle Endeavor lifted off very early on Tuesday morning. I gave the remarks at the pre-launch briefing and they can be found at the NASA home page.

Prior to the launch, I visited the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida.  I have met some of our rehabilitating soldiers and veterans at previous launches and these young people, with their amazingly positive attitudes, have had a great impact on me.

Visit to Veterans’ Hospital

In the last year, KSC has opened their hearts and facilities to soldiers, Marines, and their family members, as well as the staff of the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, by inviting them to be their special guests and view the Space Shuttle launches from the OSB II building at KSC.  On Monday, Mr. James (Jim) Hattaway, Associate Center Director for KSC; JuliAnna Potter, my Special Advisor; Tim Kopra, a flight engineer scheduled for the STS-127 mission in April 2009; and I took the opportunity to tour this hospital to meet with some of the soldiers and staff.

Jim Hattaway, Astronaut Timothy Kopra, and Shana Dale with a patient at the Veterans HospitalI asked Jim to share some of his thoughts after the tour on Monday. He was impressed by the quality of care provided to these men and women and we actually heard this sentiment echoed by numerous patients. He also noted that the members of the hospital staff care deeply about their patients and are also passionate about providing the appropriate medical and emotional support needed for these brave young men and women. Jim also indicated that although the men and women we visited were physically wounded, there was not a single complaint. Rather, it was a focus on rehabilitation, recovery, and continued service to country.

Jim said it made him proud to be an American and it actually made him focus his thoughts on the reality of the freedom we all enjoy, and, unfortunately, sometimes take for granted; however, this freedom is not free, but is paid for by the sacrifices of those who serve in our military. We can never adequately repay the young men and women or their families for their pain, suffering, and sacrifice, and as a nation, we owe them a great debt.  I heartily agree.

Astronaut Timothy Kopra with a patient at the Veterans HospitalFor the patients we visited, the highlight was getting to meet Tim Kopra. He had a wonderful touch with everyone he met and took pictures with most of the patients and staff. Everyone loves to meet an astronaut and I am very thankful that he could be there with us. Due to the pre-dawn liftoff of STS-123, these soldiers were unable to attend, but I look forward to seeing some of them in May for STS-124.

International Contributions to the Space Shuttle Launch

Several senior officials from the Governments of Japan and Canada attended the launch, including the President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Dr. Keiji Tachikawa; the Canadian Minister of Industry, the Honorable Mr. Jim Prentice; and the Canadian Space Agency President, Mr. Guy Bujold.

This mission is carrying the Japanese Logistics Module, the first of three components that make up the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), called Kibo, which means “Hope” in Japanese. It is also carrying the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, known as “Dextre.” The assembly of these two elements to the ISS, right on the heels of the European Space Agency’s Columbus module, which was launched to the ISS in February, is an exciting step toward the 2010 completion of what is becoming a truly “international” Space Station. Adding to the ISS partnership’s excitement, just two days earlier, the European Space Agency successfully launched the maiden voyage of their Automated Transfer Vehicle, called Jules Verne, to the ISS from their launch site in French Guiana. This unique cargo vehicle will carry both pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS.

Kibo is Japan’s first laboratory in space. It was built by JAXA and when fully assembled, will significantly enhance the Space Station’s research capabilities. Participating on the crew for this mission is JAXA astronaut Takao Doi, who will be one of the first crew members to enter the logistics module in the next few days. The next JEM elements, the Pressurized Module and the Robotic Arm, are scheduled to launch on Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-124) on May 25, and the final element, the Exposed Facility, is scheduled to launch on STS-127 in April 2009.  

The Canadian Space Agency’s Dextre robotic system is a two-armed manipulator designed to supplement another key robotic contribution by Canada to the ISS, Canadarm2, by performing fine maintenance tasks that normally would be accomplished by spacewalking astronauts.

Logistics module for the Japanese Kibo laboratory in Space Shuttle Endeavours payload bay, vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods   Space Shuttle Endeavour approaches the International Space Station during STS-123 rendezvous and docking operations
Backdropped by Earth’s horizon and the blackness of space, the logistics module for the Japanese Kibo laboratory in Space Shuttle Endeavour’s payload bay, vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods are featured in this image photographed by a STS-123 crewmember. (Photo credit: NASA)   Space Shuttle Endeavour approaches the International Space Station during STS-123 rendezvous and docking operations. Docking occurred at 10:49 p.m. (CDT) on March 12, 2008. The Canadian-built Dextre robotic system and the logistics module for the Japanese Kibo laboratory are visible in Endeavour’s cargo bay. (Photo credit: NASA)
Space Shuttle Endeavours payload bay is ready for closure of the doors for launch   Another view of space shuttle Endeavours payload bay as it is readied for closure of the doors for launch
On NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A, space shuttle Endeavour’s payload bay is ready for closure of the doors for launch. Seen at the bottom is the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory, the Experiment Logistics Module Pressurized Section, or ELM-PS. At the top is the orbiter docking system. Endeavour is targeted to launch March 11 at 2:28 a.m. EDT on the 16-day STS-123 mission to the International Space Station. Endeavour and its crew will deliver the ELM-PS and the Canadian Space Agency’s two-armed robotic system, Dextre. (Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)   Another view of space shuttle Endeavour’s payload bay as it is readied for closure of the doors for launch on NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A. (Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)
STS-123 cargo bay holding logistics module for Japanese Kibo laboratory
During their first full day in space, STS-123 crewmembers aboard the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Endeavour recorded and downlinked pictures of its cargo bay where the logistics module for the Japanese Kibo laboratory awaits being added to the growing International Space Station. (Photo credit: NASA)