July 11th, 2007 06:16 EST
Mission marks first flight of teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan
Washington -- Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew are scheduled to continue the next phase of International Space Station assembly with an August 7 launch and an 11-day mission to the orbital outpost.
The mission, STS-118, will deliver another truss (backbone) to the station and mark the first flight of mission specialist Barbara Morgan, a teacher-turned-astronaut whose association with NASA began more than 20 years ago.
Endeavour and the seven-member crew also will deliver an external spare-parts platform and a SPACEHAB module containing 2,268 kilograms of cargo as well as install a new gyroscope. (See related article.)
"These missions to the International Space Station are very complex and very interrelated," said Matt Abbott, lead shuttle flight director for STS-118, during a July 10 press briefing from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Each builds on the next and, in addition to all the assembly tasks and resupply, we have to keep an eye on the vehicle we’re flying and operating and have a crew living on, and respond to changes in vehicle configuration as we go."
Veteran astronaut Scott Kelly will command the seven-person crew, which will include pilot Charles Hobaugh and mission specialists Tracy Caldwell; Richard Mastracchio; Alvin Drew Jr.; Dafydd (Dave) Williams, a Canadian Space Agency astronaut; and Barbara Morgan, the first educator chosen as a mission specialist astronaut.
Endeavour’s flight will be its first since 2002, and one of several modifications made to her systems connects into the electrical power system of the space station. This will let the shuttle stay on-orbit longer, provide more crew time for science activities and spacewalks, and let astronauts load and unload more cargo.
The Station-Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS) lets the space station supplement the orbiter's electrical power with space station solar arrays, so the shuttle uses less liquid hydrogen and oxygen. SSPTS also lets the orbiter spend more time docked to the station -- from six to eight or nine to 12 days, depending on the length of the mission.
SSPTS "is important for this flight and really important for the continued assembly of the international space station," said Kirk Shireman, deputy program manager for the International Space Station, "because having six or seven crew members onboard for a few extra days allows us to do a tremendous amount of work in terms of preparing the ISS to maximize the use of the remaining shuttle flights."
NASA plans to retire the space shuttle by 2010, replacing it with a new crew exploration vehicle whose main mission will be to support exploration of the Earth’s moon and other destinations.
STS-118 also sets the stage for the space station for the rest of 2007 and into 2008. In October, Harmony Node 2 will arrive to increase station living and work space, provide a passageway between three science experiment facilities on the station, and provide connecting ports for logistics modules, the Japanese H II transfer vehicle and a pressurized mating adapter for vehicles docking with the space shuttle.
Harmony also will be the connecting point for the European Columbus Laboratory in December and the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) in February 2008.
On the same flight will be the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, called Dextre, an essential tool for maintaining and servicing the space station. It has two arms for removing and replacing smaller components on the station’s exterior, where precise handling is needed. It will have lights, video equipment, a tool platform and four tool holders.
On the ground, Shireman said, "we’re ramping up the development of the hardware necessary to support a six-person crew." This includes more space toilets, a new oxygen generation system, water reclamation racks, a galley and crew sleep stations.
Twenty-two years after being named Christa McAuliffe’s backup in the Teacher in Space Project, Barbara Morgan will strap into Endeavour as a fully trained astronaut.
"Barb will be doing a lot of shuttle robotic arm operations," Abbott said, "and she’ll also be the primary load master -- the person responsible for the choreography of resupply -- and return cargo into and out of the Spacehab module and into the station."
Morgan trained side by side with McAuliffe and watched the 1986 Challenger accident that killed McAuliffe and six fellow crew members.
The Teacher in Space Project was suspended following that accident, but Morgan went on the visits McAuliffe would have made, talking to children and teachers all over the United States.
In 1998, Morgan was chosen to become a full-fledged astronaut. In 2002 she was chosen as the first educator to become a mission specialist astronaut as part of the Educator Astronaut Project that evolved from the Teacher in Space Project.
An educator astronaut is a fully qualified astronaut who brings expertise in kindergarten through 12th-grade education. With their education backgrounds, these astronauts will help NASA develop new ways to connect space exploration with the classroom and inspire the next generation of explorers.
More information about STS-118 and the International Space Station is available on the NASA Web site.
For more stories about space exploration, see Science and Technology.
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