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Module to Get Home in Space
I'm Scott Higginbotham
, NASA's payload manager for the Permanent Multipurpose Module.
For many years, NASA and the Italian Space Agency have been looking at the potential of turning one of the multipurpose logistics modules into a permanent module to fly and attach to the station and leave behind.
Efforts to actually conduct the conversion got serious in the summer of 2009 when we started studies to understand specifically what modifications would be necessary to make the conversion from a temporary visiting vehicle to a permanent vehicle.
There are three basic types of modifications that were performed to make the conversion from the MPLM to the PMM. The first has to do with weight. We tried to reduce the weight of the module as much as possible by eliminating hardware that we didn't need for the long-duration stay on orbit to allow us to carry more useful cargo up to space on STS-133.
The second type of modification was associated with trying to make the interior of the module a little bit more useful for the astronauts during this long duration stay. For example, we have modified some of the panels inside the vehicle so that they are much easier for the astronauts to open and close during a flight.
And then last and probably most importantly, we had to look at a series of changes to make the vehicle compatible for its new long-duration stay on orbit. The MPLMs were really only designed to be in space for about a week and a half, and now we have a vehicle that we're trying to leave in space for ten years. So we had to go back and recertify all the equipment, all the hardware, to make sure that it would be compatible in a space environment for that long, and that involved both analysis and actually physically swapping out some parts with newer parts that would be able to last that duration of the mission. And then probably most significant, we had to armor the exterior of the module so that it can withstand the micrometeoroid and hypervelocity debris impacts over the 10 years that it'll be on the station.
Rather than modify the external shields, which are made of metal, which was going to be heavy and expensive, the clever idea that both we and the Italians came up with was to install a micrometeoroid mattress, which is basically a bullet-proof vest for the station that lies underneath the metallic shield and on top of the pressure vessel. This mattress is made up of Kevlar and Nextel fabric woven together and attached to our multi-layer insulation that lies between the pressure vessel and the external shields.
The majority of the modifications to transform Leonardo from an MPLM to a PMM have been performed by Thales Alenia Space. This is a company in Europe contracted by the Italian Space Agency to perform the modifications.
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