STS-116: ISS Gets Staying Power
The International Space Station is unlike any construction site on Earth. Instead of hard hats, workers wear space helmets. Robot arms take the place of giant cranes. Space shuttles and Russian Progress cargo ships are the "trucks" that deliver supplies.
Make no mistake. Even though it lacks the traditional Earth-bound trappings, the ISS is definitely a construction site. Like any other construction site, the space station relies on temporary solutions designed to fill in until permanent features are in place. Furthering that transition toward permanence is the goal of the STS-116 space shuttle mission, which is scheduled to launch in December 2006.
Image to right: The STS-116 crew includes five astronauts making their first flight. Credit: NASA
Currently, the electric power wiring on the station is one of those temporary solutions, configured for the limited power-generation resources that have been available so far. Discovery's STS-116 crew will reconfigure the wiring to support the massive solar array truss structure that is being added to the station over a series of shuttle launches.
In fact, the STS-116 mission will also be continuing that truss assembly. The truss serves as the "backbone" for the station, supporting the solar arrays and heat radiators, and housing a variety of wiring. The crew will add the third segment on one side, the P5 truss. This addition will make it possible for a future mission to relocate the solar arrays currently at the zenith (or "top") of the station to the main truss structure.
The STS-116 crew will perform a total of three spacewalks while docked with the space station. The first spacewalk will focus on the installation of the P5 truss. Each of the other two will involve rewiring one half of the station.
The commander of STS-116 is Mark Polansky, who previously flew into space on STS-98 in February 2001. On that mission, the crew delivered the U.S. laboratory module, Destiny, to the ISS. The station has grown substantially since Polansky's last visit, when it was still occupied by its first long-duration crew. Joining Polansky on the STS-116 crew are pilot Bill Oefelein and mission specialists Bob Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick and Christer Fuglesang of the European Space Agency. In addition, Sunita Williams will join the shuttle crew on the flight up and then become an ISS crew member. ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, who has been on the ISS since July, will ride back to Earth aboard Discovery.
The crew includes five astronauts making their first flight -- Fuglesang, Higginbotham, Oefelein, Patrick and Williams. Fuglesang will become the first astronaut from Sweden to orbit the Earth.
Image to left: The crew's patch features not only the shuttle mission number, 116, but also the station assembly mission designation, 12A.1. Credit: NASA
Williams said that the space station assembly work on this mission will provide further groundwork for the future of space exploration. "The space station's just a steppingstone to get us to understand space, and how to live and work in space, and then potentially get back to the moon," she said, adding that the knowledge gained from these missions "will take us to the next place, maybe Mars and then beyond."
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David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services