STS-129: Continuing the Countdown
The crew of STS-129 in their orange launch and entry suits

Members of the STS-129 crew are (front row, from left) Commander Charlie Hobaugh (left) and Pilot Barry Wilmore, and (back row, from left) Leland Melvin, Mike Foreman, Robert Satcher and Randy Bresnik, all mission specialists. Image Credit: NASA

And then there were six.

Including the STS-129 mission of Atlantis, only six flights remain before the end of the Space Shuttle Program.

With the International Space Station now only months from completion, most of the work to assemble it is done. While remaining shuttle missions will continue to build the station, missions like STS-129 have another focus. Atlantis' crew will prepare the space station to fly successfully without support from the shuttle.

Currently, the shuttle is used to deliver large payloads to the station. After the shuttle is retired, payloads will still be delivered via the Russian Progress vehicle, the European Automated Transfer Vehicle and the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle. NASA is exploring other options for cargo delivery after the shuttle's retirement. In the meantime, however, the agency is working to deliver payloads with the shuttle to ensure the station is stocked for the future.

One of the major focuses of the STS-129 mission will be three spacewalks during which spare parts will be installed outside the station. Two spare gyroscopes will be available if something goes wrong with the system that controls the station's orientation in orbit. An extra latching device and an umbilical system for the transporter that moves the station's robotic arm can be used if problems develop with the arm's systems. Spare nitrogen tanks, an ammonia tank, a high-pressure gas tank and two pump modules also will be placed on the station's exterior in case they are needed in the future.

Astronaut Charlie Hobaugh will be Atlantis' commander for the STS-129 mission. He has visited the International Space Station twice before, as pilot of STS-104 in July 2001 and of STS-118 in August 2007. The STS-129 pilot is Barry Wilmore, who is making his first spaceflight.

STS-129 crew patch

The depiction of Earth on the STS-129 patch recognizes the NASA workforce -- spread throughout the United States -- that makes the agency's missions possible. Image Credit: NASA

Mission specialists for the flight are Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnick, Mike Foreman and Robert Satcher. Melvin previously flew on the STS-122 mission, which delivered the European Columbus laboratory to the space station in February 2008. Foreman was a member of the STS-123 crew in March 2008, which delivered the Canadian robot hand Dextre and part of the Japanese Kibo laboratory module to the station. Both Bresnik and Satcher will be making their first spaceflights. Bresnik, Foreman and Satcher will conduct the mission's three spacewalks.

Joining the STS-129 crew for the return flight to Earth will be astronaut Nicole Stott, who has served aboard the International Space Station as a member of its Expedition 20 and 21 crews. Stott has been living in orbit since the launch of the STS-128 shuttle mission in late August 2009. Stott's return on STS-129 will mark the last time the shuttle is used to transport station crew members to or from the orbital laboratory. Astronauts will travel to and from the station on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The STS-129 mission is an important step in preparing for the future of spaceflight. NASA is working to carry out a long-term plan that will lead to human exploration of the solar system. Currently, NASA is working to complete the International Space Station by the time the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010. The station is an important platform for learning how to live and work in space and will be vital to exploration as human space travel extends farther from Earth.

NASA is committed to building strategic partnerships and links 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 scientific and technological literacy in the United States.

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David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services