NASA delighted by smooth lab activation
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
Posted: February 11, 2001
The Atlantis astronauts and the international space station's three-man crew floated into the $1.4 billion Destiny module for the first time today and sailed through the new laboratory's initial activation and check out.
To the surprise of many - including some on NASA's flight control team - the lab's major systems powered up and began operating with no major problems despite the complexity of the 15-ton module.
"This is a very complex vehicle, this is a very complex flight," said lead flight director Robert Castle. "I am very pleasantly surprised it has gone as well as it has.
"The lab systems have all come up very, very well. I don't think we have a single problem that people are tracking. There are a lot of things that people are looking at, which is what I characterize as learning how to operate the system and learning how it works.
"But it's worked flawlessly," he adeed. "Yes, I am a bit surprised it's worked so well."
The $1.4 billion laboratory module was attached to the international space station Saturday during a marathon seven-hour 34-minute spacewalk by astronauts Thomas Jones and Robert Curbeam.
Along with serving as a world-class research facility, Destiny also provides the computer horsepower needed to operate the station's main guidance and navigation system, including a quartet of massive gyroscopes installed by a shuttle crew last year.
Once the control moment gyroscopes are spun up and checked out, NASA will assume overall responsibility for space station operations, controlling the spacecraft's orientation without the need for experiment-jarring rocket firings.
Castle said the gyros, under control of computers in the lab module, will be spun up Monday for a complex series of tests before assuming day-to-day attitude control of the station.
The Destiny module's critical cooling systems and associated electronics were activated Saturday evening.
Because of higher-than-expected temperatures inside the module, the astronauts only had an hour or so to complete the task or they would have been forced to start shutting systems down to cool things off.
Castle told reporters during a briefing today the astronauts accomplished the task with time to spare.
"The so-called critical activation went off without a hitch last night," he said. "It took about 45 minutes, which is, I think, about as quick as we've ever done it. All the systems have come up normally and are working fine."
He said the combined shuttle-station crews spent the day "working hard in the module, they are relocating equipment, they are doing some lab outfitting tasks, which includes replacing some valves that were put in for launch foor the ones that will be used in orbit, they have changed some rack cooling equipment. All of that is going very, very good."
The hatch leading into Destiny from the multi-hatch Unity node was cranked open at 9:38 a.m. EST. Before floating into the roomy new module, Atlantis commander Kenneth Cockrell and station skipper William Shepherd took a moment to mark the occasion.
"We're in Node One for a really happy moment," Cockrell said, floating in front of Destiny's main hatch. "It's been a lot of hard work on thousands of people's parts and a long number of years getting ready to bring the Destiny laboratory to the international space station.
"It's finally here, it's gone through a lot of wickets, we've gone through a lot of effort to get it attached and now we'd like to turn it over to Shep so he and his crew and subsequent crews can begin the process of scientific research and better living in space."
Turning to Shepherd, Cockrell said "Shep, before we hand it over to you, we have a little paperwork for you. What we have here is a copy of the DD 250 by which the government took possession of the laboratory from the prime contractor. And Shep is signing it in the spot that says 'received by.'"
The astronauts then donned eye goggles as a precaution in case any fine debris had shaken loose in the lab during launch and floated into the pristine module.
"And Houston, Atlantis, broadcasting from Destiny!" Cockrell reported, floating in the module.
"Copy, a great first moment here," called astronaut Mario Runco from shuttle mission control.
"And the lab looks and feels and smells great and it looks like all the hard work really paid off, it's a beautiful piece of hardware in here," Cockrell said.
"And from Houston-station, we're watching it down here and it looks awesome and we hope you guys enjoy your new room on your house," called Sandra Magnus from the space station mission control room.
"Thanks, Sandy. And we do not see anything floating free in here, it's completely debris empty. So we're going to take off our goggles."
Video from inside the lab module showed the astronauts cavorting and spinning about in the brightly lighted lab, clearly enjoying the additional volume. A few moments later, they began turning their attention to the complex lab activation process.
Late this afternoon, hatches between the shuttle and space station were closed once again in preparation for a spacewalk Monday by Jones and Curbeam.
The hatches must be closed so the shuttle's air pressure can be lowered from 14.7 psi to 10.2 psi to help the spacewalkers avoid the bends when working in their low-pressure spacesuits.
The hatch closure was interrupted briefly when station commander William Shepherd found a shuttle camera on the station side. The hatches were reopened, the camera was passed through and the hatches shut again.
Shuttle cabin depressurization to 10.2 psi began around 5:40 p.m.
See the Status Center for full play-by-play coverage.