The crews of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station successfully installed the U.S. Destiny Laboratory onto the station today in a dazzling display of robotics finesse and spacewalking skill.
Astronaut Marsha Ivins began the work, using Atlantis' robotic arm to remove a station docking port, called Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA 2), to make room for Destiny. The adapter was removed from the station's Unity module and latched in a temporary position on the station's truss. Then, at 9:50 a.m., astronauts Tom Jones and Bob Curbeam began a spacewalk that continued throughout the day, in tandem with Ivin's robotic arm work. Jones provided Ivins visual cues as she moved the adapter to its temporary position, and Curbeam removed protective launch covers and disconnected power and cooling cables between the Destiny lab and Atlantis.
Ivins then latched the robotic arm onto the Destiny lab at about 11:23 a.m. Central and began lifting it from Atlantis' payload bay. High above the bay, Ivins deftly flipped the 16-ton lab 180 degrees, moving it into position to attach to the station berthing port. At 12:57 p.m., the lab was latched into position on the station, and soon a set of automatic bolts tightened to hold it permanently in place for years of space research. The lab adds 3,800 cubic feet of volume to the station, increasing the onboard living space by 41 percent. The station's mass is now 112 tons. After the PMA 2 docking port is attached to the lab's end on Monday, the station will measure 171 feet long, 90 feet high and 240 feet wide. It will have a volume of more than 13,000 cubic feet, already a larger volume than any space station in history, including the U.S. Skylab launched in the 1970s and the Russian Mir space station. With the Destiny module secured to the station, Jones and Curbeam began connecting electrical, data and cooling lines. While Curbeam was attaching a cooling line, a small amount of frozen ammonia crystals leaked. However, the leak was quickly stopped. The ammonia dissipated and vaporized, and it posed no problems as the crew continued their work. Because of the leak, however, flight controllers followed a decontamination procedure, ensuring no ammonia would enter Atlantis' cabin. Curbeam remained in the sun a half-hour to vaporize any ammonia crystals on his spacesuit while Jones brushed off the suit and equipment. Then, the spacewalkers performed a partial pressurization and venting of the shuttle airlock to flush out any ammonia before a final repressurization. Then, as the airlock began exchanging air with the shuttle cabin, Commander Ken Cockrell, Pilot Mark Polansky and Ivins wore oxygen masks in the cabin for about 20 minutes as a protective measure, allowing any residual ammonia to be cleansed from the cabin by shuttle life support systems. In the end, the crew reported no contamination or smell of ammonia when the inside airlock hatch was opened and they were rejoined by Jones and Curbeam.
The decontamination procedures lengthened the spacewalk to a final duration of seven hours, 34 minutes, more than an hour longer than originally planned, and put the crew behind schedule for the remainder of the day's work. That work included reopening the hatches between Atlantis and the station, which occurred at 7:50 p.m. Central. About a half-hour later, Commander Ken Cockrell and International Space Station Commander Bill Shepherd began remotely powering up key Destiny laboratory systems and cooling equipment, sending commands via a laptop computer. The initial activation of Destiny was successful, and flight controllers will continue commanding to set up station systems during the night.
The crew had an extended day, beginning their sleep period almost two hours later than was first planned. As a result, flight controllers are planning to awaken the crew at 5:13 a.m. Central on Sunday, an hour later than originally planned. The crews of Atlantis and the station will work together throughout the day on Sunday, opening the hatch into Destiny for the first time at about 8:13 a.m. Central and continuing to activate its equipment. The Johnson Space Center newsroom will close at 10 p.m. Central and reopen at 5 a.m. Central on Sunday. The next mission status report will be issued about 7 a.m. Central time on Sunday.
- end -