Astronauts enjoying bonus day added to their mission
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 16, 2008
The Atlantis astronauts and their space station crewmates are working through an extension day in orbit today, concentrating on work to activate the European Columbus science laboratory. Atlantis commander Steve Frick plans to oversee a reboost operation this morning, firing Atlantis' rocket thrusters to increase the station's altitude, and the combined crews will hold a joint news conference at 8:40 a.m. to discuss the progress of the flight.
"As you can expect, anytime you move to a new location or, in this case, the new location is added to your existing home, you've got a lot of unpacking to do," said space station Flight Director Ron Spencer. "In this case, a lot of that is science equipment (in the Columbus module). So the crew is still setting up the science equipment and checking out the instruments, making sure the computers can command to the instruments and that they function properly in anticipation of firing these up for science activities as soon as the shuttle leaves.
Atlantis' mission was extended two days, once to replan a spacewalk and then to give the crew additional time to commission Columbus. Today is the second extension day and the crew will spend part of its day setting up science racks in the new lab module.
"These activities were scheduled for next week after the shuttle had left, so we're getting significantly ahead in the timeline," Spencer said. "They should be able to start doing science operations a lot earlier than we'd originally planned inside the Columbus module. So even though we added two extra days to the mission, we're really getting a lot more ... because of the fast pace of the crew's work."
In addition to the Columbus outfitting, the shuttle crew plans to fire Atlantis' rocket thrusters for 36 minutes starting just before 7:20 a.m. to boost the station's altitude.
"We're also going to transfer some of the extra oxygen from the space shuttle to the space station to help fill up our tanks so that we can support additional spacewalks after the shuttle leaves," Spencer said.
Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision J of the NASA television schedule):
EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT 02/16/08 02:45 AM...08...12...00...Crew wakeup 04:45 AM...08...14...00...ISS daily planning conference 05:00 AM...08...14...15...Columbus outfitting continues 05:15 AM...08...14...30...Flight director update on NASA TV 05:55 AM...08...15...10...Spacewalk tools deconfigured 07:16 AM...08...16...31...Reboost operations 08:40 AM...08...17...55...Crew news conference 09:20 AM...08...18...35...Joint crew photo 09:40 AM...08...18...55...Logistics transfers 09:40 AM...08...18...55...Post-spacewalk transfers 10:00 AM...08...19...15...Crew conference replay with translation 10:50 AM...08...20...05...Joint crew meal 11:50 AM...08...21...05...Logistics transfers 11:50 AM...08...21...05...Crew off-duty time begins 01:00 PM...08...22...15...Mission status briefing on NASA TV 05:15 PM...09...02...30...ISS crew sleep begins 05:45 PM...09...03...00...STS crew sleep begins 06:00 PM...09...03...15...Daily video highlights reel on NASA TVThe reboost operation will raise the space station's altitude and help set up the proper rendezvous and docking conditions for the next assembly mission, a flight by the shuttle Endeavour that is scheduled for launch March 11. An additional reboost is planned after Atlantis departs, using Russian thrusters on the station, to fine-tune the orbit in preparation for Endeavour's rendezvous and an upcoming Soyuz docking with a fresh station crew.
"It may seem like everything's weightless up there in space and it'll stay up there forever, but really there's still (atmospheric) drag going on and over many months, the space station's orbit ends up getting lower and lower," Spencer said. "And so we have to reboost it occasionally to keep it in orbit.
"So a lot of the shuttle missions, we'll take advantage of their extra gas before they leave to do that and then when the shuttle's not there, we'll use the Russian propellant to do that. But we like to save as much of that as possible, so we make use of the shuttle's extra resources. That's what we're doing today."
Atmospheric drag is responsible for the slow decay of the orbit of a crippled U.S. spy satellite that is plunging back to Earth. The U.S. Navy is finalizing plans to fire a missile at the satellite in an attempt to break it up and disperse its load of toxic hydrazine rocket fuel to prevent any possible ground contamination.
The dramatic shoot-down will not be attempted until after Atlantis lands. The shuttle is scheduled to return to Florida on Wednesday and NASA officials announced Friday that the agency also will staff its backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to "ensure we land at the earliest opportunity. The reason is to give the military the biggest possible window and maximum flexibility to ensure the success of the satellite intercept."