STS-117: The Mirror Mission
Science fiction writers often fall back on a number of clichés -- like time travel, teleportation and faster-than-light speeds.
Image to right: The official STS-117 crew portrait features the crew standing in front of an artist’s rendition of the space station as it should look at the end of the mission. Credit: NASA
This spring's STS-117 space shuttle mission is not science fiction, but it may seem to involve another old science fiction theme: the mirror universe. Anyone who followed the last two shuttle missions will recognize the work of the STS-117 crew as a mirror version of tasks from those flights.
In September 2006, the crew of the STS-115 mission installed a new segment on the port, or left side, of the truss, the "backbone" of the International Space Station. Once the new P3/P4 segment was in place, solar arrays mounted on the element were extended. The STS-117 crew will install the "mirror" version of that segment, the S3/S4 element, which will extend the truss to the station's starboard, or right side. As on STS-115, once the segment is installed, new solar arrays will be extended.
In December 2006, during the STS-116 mission, one of the solar arrays at the zenith, or "top," of the station was retracted. Astronauts performed spacewalks to coax the port-side arrays back into their retracted position, making it possible for the solar arrays extended during STS-115 to swivel freely to face the sun. During STS-117, the zenith array on the starboard side will be retracted, allowing the new starboard arrays installed during the mission to rotate and enabling a future crew to relocate the zenith arrays to the port side of the truss.
Atlantis' commander of the STS-117 mission will be Rick Sturckow, a veteran of two previous visits to the space station, including the first space station assembly flight in 1998. Joining him on the STS-117 crew will be pilot Lee Archambault and mission specialists Jim Reilly, Steven Swanson, Patrick Forrester and John "Danny" Olivas. Archambault, Swanson and Olivas will be making their first spaceflights on this mission.
Image to left: The STS-117 mission patch highlights the S3/S4 truss segment and solar arrays that will be installed during the mission. Credit: NASA
International Space Station flight engineer Clay Anderson will join the crew for the flight up, but will remain on the station for Expedition 15. Suni Williams, who has been living on the station since December 2006, will return home with the STS-117 crew.
The S3/S4 truss segment that Atlantis will carry is 45 feet long, about the length of a school bus. The station's truss will eventually contain 11 segments and will span more than 300 feet, or the length of a football field. The solar arrays to be deployed will have a wingspan of almost 240 feet, longer than the wingspan of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. These arrays will provide about a quarter of the station's power when the space station is completed. On Earth, the S3/S4 segment weighs almost 35,000 pounds (about the weight of three large elephants), making it one of the heaviest payloads launched to the station.
The STS-117 mission will be another important step in preparing for the future of spaceflight. NASA is currently working to carry out the Vision for Space Exploration, a long-term plan to explore space and extend a human presence across the solar system. One of the first steps has been taken -- returning the space shuttle safely to flight. Now, NASA is working to fulfill plans to complete the space station by the time the shuttle fleet retires in 2010. The station serves as an important platform for learning about living and working in space, a vital stepping stone to future missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.
NASA is committed to building strategic partnerships and linkages between science, technology, engineering and mathematics formal and informal educators. Through hands-on, interactive educational activities, NASA is engaging students, educators, families, the public and all agency stakeholders to increase Americans' scientific and technological literacy.
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services