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The Ultimate Construction Project and More
They started out creating a working space station. But along the way, five space agencies continue to build something else that is invaluable: international cooperation.

Heads from the space agency partners meet at Kennedy Space Center. "As you can see, the most important result of this International Space Station is partnership." said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director-General of the European Space Agency, after a successful meeting of the space station partner agencies on March 2 at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The meeting of space-agency heads from NASA, Russian, Europe, Canada and Japan led to an updated flight schedule aimed at finishing the construction of the International Space Station before the space shuttle is retired.

Image at Right: Leaders participation in the International Space Station Heads of Agency meeting held at Kennedy Space Center pause in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building. From left are Canadian Space Agency Vice-President Space Science, Technology and Programs Virendra Jha; Russian Federal Space Agency Head Anatolii Perminov; European Space Agency Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain; NASA Administrator Michael Griffin; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency President Keiji Tachikawa. The purpose of the meeting was to review International Space Station cooperation and endorse a revision to the station configuration and assembly sequence. Image credit: NASA

"What you are seeing today as the output of this heads of agency meeting is the result of 10 months of work between the United States and our partners," NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said.

The partners reaffirmed the commitments of their agencies to meet their mutual obligations and to establish a six-person crew on the station in 2009. Their plan is based on an adequate number of shuttle flights to complete the assembly of the station by the end of the decade.

The Node 2 module is pictured in the Space Station Processing Facility. Image at Left: NASA's Node 2 module is lowered toward a payload canister inside the Space Station Processing Facility. When installed, Node 2 will increase the living and working space inside the station to approximately 18,000 cubic feet and allow the addition of international laboratories from Europe and Japan to the station. Node 2 will provide a passageway between four station science experiment facilities and connecting ports for Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules, the Japanese H II Transfer Vehicle and the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 to which space shuttles dock. The space station robotic arm, Canadarm2, can also operate from a powered grapple fixture on the exterior. Node 2 is scheduled for launch on shuttle mission STS-120, station assembly flight 10A. Image credit: NASA

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"The decision to put together an assembly sequence that allows us to have very high confidence that we will finish the space station assembly by the time the shuttle must be retired," said Griffin. "We are trying to fly out the shuttle in an orderly and disciplined way to retirement. We are trying to use that asset while we have it to complete the assembly of the station in concert with our partners, who have invested much."

The crew will increase to three members with the upcoming launch of STS-121, when Discovery will deliver European Space Agency Astronaut Thomas Reiter to the station. This will be the first three-person crew since the Expedition 6 crew returned to Earth May 4, 2003.

The P3/P4 Truss for the International Space Station. Future launches of key space station elements will include three additional power trusses to support the overall station needs, as well as US. Japanese, European and Canadian modules. These elements will bring to fruition the partnership's goal of operating and using a permanently inhabited civil International Space Station.

Image at Right: In the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, technicians rotate the P3/P4 Truss to the upper deck position in preparation for installation of the upper deck solar array wing. The truss is scheduled to launch on mission 12A, STS-115, to the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA

Inside the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy, all of the components will undergo preflight processing before being launched aboard the space shuttle. This includes their last earthbound checkout before their installation on the station.

Griffin summed up the goals the new assembly schedule will help to accomplish: "We look forward to future success in returning the shuttle to flight, completing the assembly of the space station, and using the space station to generate the kind of data and information that will enable our program of exploration to return to the moon and continue on to Mars."

Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center