Space station crew detaches shuttle's docking port
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: November 12, 2007
In a high-stakes transplant operation, the international space station's crew detached the lab's main shuttle docking port today, carefully moved it to the left side of the outpost and attached it to the new Harmony module.
With the station's robot arm locked onto pressurized mating adapter No. 2, sixteen motorized bolts were driven open and the 1.5-ton docking port was carefully pulled away from the front of the Destiny laboratory module at 5:12 a.m.
Television views from a camera mounted on the station's solar power truss showed PMA-2 on the end of the arm with the blue limb of an approaching sunrise in the background as arm operator Dan Tani slowly maneuvered the docking port away from Destiny.
"Houston, Alpha on two, I hope you guys are looking at camera nine," Tani called. "What a beautiful view."
About 45 minutes later, PMA-2 was successfully bolted to the multi-hatch Harmony module, which was launched aboard the shuttle Discovery last month and temporarily mounted on the left side of the central Unity module.
After internal connections between Harmony and PMA-2 are completed, the joined segments will be detached from Unity early Wednesday and Harmony, with the docking port extending from its far end, will be attached to the front of the Destiny module.
Tani and space station commander Peggy Whitson plan two spacewalks Nov. 20 and 24 to connect Harmony to the station's power and cooling systems. After additional internal outfitting, Harmony will be ready for attachment of the European Space Agency's Columbus research module, scheduled for launch around Dec. 6 aboard the shuttle Atlantis.
Atlantis was hauled to the launch pad Saturday, the day after Whitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko carried out a spacewalk to prepare PMA-2 for today's move. Shuttle program managers plan to review the status of launch processing Tuesday, but a firm launch date will not be set until the end of the month, after the work to move Harmony is complete.
The shuttle's launch window closes Dec. 13, but NASA managers are optimistic the station crew can complete preparations in time to get Atlantis and Columbus launched as planned.
Columbus will be bolted to Harmony's right-side port. A Japanese module scheduled for launch in February will be temporarily attached to an upward-facing port until the larger Kibo laboratory can be mounted on Harmony's left-side port in April. The smaller module then will be moved to a hatch on the far end of Kibo.
But first, PMA-2 and Harmony, also known as Node 2, must be moved.
"We can't just move the Node 2 and put it on the lab because this PMA-2 is in the way," Tani said in a NASA interview. "So we remove PMA-2. When I say remove PMA-2, it's a complex mechanism that involves 16 bolts and latches and we run that from the computer inside the space station. Peggy will run that mechanism and I will run the robot arm and we'll move the PMA-2 and mate it to the Node 2.
"Then we have to use another one of those complex mechanisms to attach it to the Node 2 and then a few days later, we'll take that entire bundle, the Node 2 and the PMA-2, and we will release it from the station and we'll move it over to its final location on the front of the lab and reattach it. So there are two big moves and four of these, we call them Common Berthing Mechanisms, CBM, mates and demates. That does the physical mating of the modules. Then we have some internal attachments to do for power, ventilation and data, and then we have to go outside, do some spacewalks and hook up the outside utilities."
That will clear the way for the long-awaited launch of the Columbus module.
"Theyıve been partners with us in the space station for all these years," Tani said. "It will be fantastic to see them deliver their laboratory to orbit. ... They've waited a long time to get their piece of space station on orbit and it'll be a thrill to be part of that."