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Published:September 17th, 2007 05:57 EST
October Mission To Ready Space Station for International Partners

October Mission To Ready Space Station for International Partners

By SOP newswire

Washington -- In October -- the month that marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, and the space age -- space shuttle Discovery and its crew will begin a 13-day journey to the International Space Station.

The mission, STS-120, is scheduled for launch October 23 to continue construction of the orbital outpost, adding a U.S. module called Harmony, or Node 2, that will serve as a port for installing more international laboratories.

In the early days of the "space race,` as we called it then, " Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale said during a September 14 NASA briefing from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, it was a competition between the great nations of the world. "

Today, he added, we are in cooperation with many international partners, including many of our former rivals and other allied nations, in a great expedition to build and complete construction of the first permanent outpost in space. "

Hale congratulated Japan and its Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on the September 14 launch of their lunar orbit explorer Kaguya. One hundred kilometers above the moon, the orbiter will pass over both poles during its yearlong mission, while its two small satellites execute different elliptical orbits.

It is a great step forward in the exploration of space, " Hale said.

THE SPACE STATION

Built in Italy for the United States, Harmony is a high-tech hallway and industrial hub. It is a 7-meter-by-4-meter passageway that will connect the U.S. segment of the station to the European Columbus Laboratory in December and to the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module in January or February 2008.

Harmony is the gateway to the international partners," said Derek Hassman, lead station flight director, and the final piece of the U.S. portion of the space station that allows us to start including the international partner modules in the overall architecture. "

During its October flight, Discovery`s commander will be Pamela Melroy, a veteran shuttle pilot and the second woman to command a shuttle. U.S. Marine Corps Colonel George Zamka will pilot the shuttle. Mission specialists are Scott Parazynski, U.S. Army Colonel Douglas Wheelock, Stephanie Wilson, and Paolo Nespoli, a European Space Agency astronaut from Italy.  The flight also will carry space station crew member Daniel Tani.

Tani will stay aboard the station for several months and return on Atlantis in December with the STS-122 crew. Current station Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson will return to Earth aboard Discovery.

THERMAL PROTECTION

The 13-day mission could be extended by one day and a spacewalk, said Hale, who recommended the extension to give the crew time to practice on-orbit repairs of the shuttle`s heat-shield tiles, part of the craft`s thermal protection system.

Two tiles on the underside of the orbiter were damaged by foam debris that broke loose during the August 8 launch of Endeavour, but engineering analysis and test data showed that the tiles did not need repair.

Shuttle and space station managers will make a joint decision about the extension September 17.

The insulating foam debris came from the liquid oxygen feedline brackets on the outside of the external tank, and the problem was fixed, Hale said, but foam loss on ascent to orbit is inherent in the external tank design.

We will lose foam off the external tank to the very last flight, " he added. However, we are working on each of those areas so that we are mitigating the hazard, and the last tank we fly will be the safest tank we ever fly. "

NATIONAL LABORATORY IN SPACE

NASA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) signed an agreement September 12 that will help American scientists use the space station to answer questions about human health and diseases.

Congress designated the U.S. segment of the space station a national laboratory in May, opening the station to partnerships with other government agencies and private companies to conduct research aboard the station. (See related article.)

"The station provides a unique environment, " NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said in a September 12 statement, where researchers can explore fundamental questions about human health issues -- including how the human body heals itself, fights infection or develops diseases such as cancer or osteoporosis."

Since the start of the space program, for example, researchers have known that long periods of weightlessness cause bones and muscles to deteriorate. On the station, scientists can study the molecular basis of these effects for the eventual benefit of people who suffer from weak, fragile bones or muscle-wasting diseases.

Microgravity also affects other biologic systems in people and other organisms. An explanation for observed changes in microbe infectivity and human immunity during prolonged space travel could offer new hope to people who have difficulty fighting infections on Earth.

More information about the space shuttle and the space station is available at the NASA Web site.

For more stories about the space program, see Science and Technology.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Source: By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer

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