Japan lab section set for launch to space station
With the weather 90% favorable for launch, Endeavour's fuel cells were scheduled to be filled early Sunday morning as the shuttle faced clear sailing to launch early Tuesday morning.
On a mission to the International Space Station, the shuttle will deliver the first of three parts of a massive Japanese laboratory and will install a Canadian robot.
"We're tracking no issues," NASA test director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said Saturday.
Testing of a UHF radio showed that two low-power bands provide adequate redundancy, even with the failure of the radio's high-power mode, Blackwell-Thompson added.
Endeavour's radio had been borrowed from Atlantis, and while a working radio sits in Discovery at Kennedy Space Center, borrowing a second radio from an orbiter was rejected. At least one spare radio exists at Marshall Spaceflight Center in Alabama.
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"From a system perspective, there is adequate back-up in the low-power mode," Blackwell-Thompson said.
The radio is used to communicate with spacewalking astronauts and for air-to-air communication while the shuttle is landing.
The crew on adjusted sleep schedules will wake Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Commander Dominic Gorie and Pilot Greg Johnson were scheduled to practice landing in the Shuttle Landing Aircraft at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, preparing to return Endeavour to Earth in darkness after the 16-day mission.
Winds gusted to 44 mph at KSC on Saturday but were expected to be light from the northeast during Tuesday's 2:28 a.m. ET launch, shuttle weather officer Todd McNamara said.
"By launch day, we'll see the high pressure to the north of us," McNamara said.
Shuttle Is Set for an ‘Exciting Mission’
The shuttle Endeavour will light up the skies over Florida early Tuesday, kicking off a busy 16-day mission to the International Space Station.
If weather and the millions of parts that make up the shuttle cooperate, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will launch the shuttle at 2:28 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
The mission calls for astronauts to deliver the first section of a new Japanese laboratory known as Kibo to the station, as well as an eerily human-looking robot. That robot, a Canadian creation named Dextre, can sit on the end of the station’s robotic arm and perform some of the risky maintenance and service work that currently calls for a human touch.
“If you had to go to a drawing board and describe an exciting mission from scratch, I think you’d come up with STS-123,” Dominic L. Gorie, the flight commander and a retired Navy captain, said at a news conference in Houston last week, using the mission’s official name.
The mission does, in fact, have a little of everything: a dramatic night launching, five spacewalks and station construction with the first Japanese module, which means that components from all of the station’s international partners — the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan — will finally be joined in orbit. “For years we’ve been calling it an international space station,” Captain Gorie said, “and now we’re truly there.”
The portion of the Kibo module that is riding with the Endeavour will be put in a temporary position on the station until the main laboratory is taken up this spring. Takao Doi, a Japanese astronaut on the flight, will take part in installing the pressurized room — not much longer than a Mini Cooper automobile — and will be the first to enter it.
Other spacewalks will involve assembling the nine large pieces of Dextre and inspecting a damaged rotary joint that is supposed to turn half of the station’s immense solar panels to face the sun. The joint has been out of commission since last year, and NASA has a team dedicated full time to figuring out how best to get it moving again.
Another spacewalk is devoted to a bit of unfinished business after the loss of the shuttle Columbia five years ago: testing an orbital goo gun that could be used to fix minor damage to shuttle tiles during a mission.
The other members of the crew are the pilot, Col. Gregory H. Johnson of the Air Force; Dr. Richard M. Linnehan; Capt. Michael J. Foreman of the Navy; Maj. Robert L. Behnken of the Air Force; and Garrett E. Reisman, an astronaut who will be staying aboard the station for long-term duty. He will take the place of Gen. Léopold Eyharts, a French astronaut who has lived aboard the station since last month.
Colonel Johnson, Captain Foreman, Mr. Reisman and Major Behnken are rookies. This will be the fourth flight for Captain Gorie and Dr. Linnehan, and the second for Mr. Doi.
A forecast issued Friday at a space agency news briefing put the likelihood that weather conditions will allow launching at 90 percent. To avoid scheduling conflicts with an Air Force satellite launching at Cape Canaveral, NASA will only attempt launchings on Tuesday and, if there is a delay, on Wednesday before waiting until March 17.
At 16 days, this will be the longest mission devoted to station construction. It is also, however, part of the winding down of the shuttle program, which will have just a dozen missions more after this one to complete the station and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope before 2010.
This knowledge of an ending makes each mission somewhat bittersweet for those involved, Major Behnken said in an interview. “When I was a kid, I got to see the shuttle’s transit across the country” on the back of a 747, he said.
“It’s a little bit sad to see something that has been a part of your life” go into retirement, he said, “but it’s also kind of what needs to be done in order to move on.”
The fleet will be grounded to make way for the development of a new generation of spacecraft capable of taking people back to the Moon and beyond, which should be flying by 2015. During the gap between the old and the new, NASA will be dependent on the Russian space program for access to the station.
Major Behnken said, “I think it really is important for NASA to have something that goes beyond just low-Earth orbit, and so if it takes retiring the shuttles to move on, you need to rip that Band-Aid off” and press on.
Endeavour launch early Tuesday