STS-120: Bigger and Better
When the space shuttle Discovery arrived at the International Space Station on the STS-120 mission, space station commander Peggy Whitson was waiting.
Image to right: The members of the STS-120 shuttle crew are (from left) Pam Melroy, Daniel Tani, George Zamka, Doug Wheelock, Scott Parazynski, Stephanie Wilson and Paolo Nespoli. Credit: NASA
The Expedition 16 space station mission is something of a homecoming for Whitson. In 2002, she spent almost six months on the space station as its first NASA science officer. Since her last stay, many things have changed. New truss segments have been added, more power is being produced and the station's outside appearance has changed dramatically. Previous shuttle missions have delivered new equipment to the space station. But one thing remained the same -- the livable area inside the space station was no larger than when Whitson was last there.
With the STS-120 mission that has changed. The mission is the first since 2001 to add a pressurized module to the space station. Assembly flights since then have focused on expanding the backbone truss, including the solar arrays that provide electrical power for the space station. Those arrays now provide more power than the station currently needs, and make it possible to add new modules. STS-120 is the first in a series of upcoming flights that will expand the living and working area inside the space station.
Image to left: The STS-120 mission patch reflects the role of the mission in the future of the space program. In addition to showing the Harmony node in the space shuttle, the patch shows the moon and Mars. The constellation Orion symbolizes the new crew exploration vehicle. Credit: NASA
In fact, STS-120 carried a payload that will make that future expansion possible. Aboard Discovery was the U.S. connecting module known as Harmony. When it was attached to the station during the mission, Harmony added 2,666 cubic feet of pressurized volume. This addition brings the space station's total livable space to 18,000 cubic feet, about the size of a three- or four-bedroom house. Harmony will also make it possible for new European and Japanese laboratory modules to be added in the future. Its role in bringing together modules from different nations gives Harmony its name, which was chosen by students through a NASA competition.
In addition to installing Harmony, the STS-120 crew will perform other major tasks during their time on the space station. Most notably, the crew is relocating the space station's first set of solar arrays. The P6 arrays have been attached to the zenith, or "top," of the space station for seven years. During the mission, those arrays are being moved to the port, or left, side of the space station's truss.
The commander of STS-120 is astronaut Pam Melroy, who became the second woman to command a space shuttle mission. George Zamka is the pilot, along with mission specialists Scott Parazynski, Doug Wheelock, Stephanie Wilson and European Space Agency's Paulo Nespoli. Daniel Tani joined the crew on this flight and will stay as a crew member of Expedition 16. Expedition 15 crew member Clayton Anderson, who has lived aboard the station since June, will return to Earth on Discovery.
The STS-120 mission is an important step in preparing for the future of spaceflight. NASA is currently working to carry out a long-term plan that will lead to humans' returning to the moon and beyond. Currently, NASA is working to complete the International Space Station by the time the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010. The space station serves as an important platform for learning how to live in space and will be vital to exploration as human space travel extends farther from Earth.
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David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services