by Jason Rhian on February 9, 2011 at UniverseToday.com
If a proposal by United Space Alliance is approved the shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis could continue to fly until at least 2017. Photo Credit: NASA
She is the youngest orbiter in NASA’s fleet – and she is being looked at to keep her country in space during a period when the U.S. will lack the capability to do so. Both Endeavour and her sister Atlantis are part of a proposal to keep the shuttles flying into 2017. United Space Alliance (USA) submitted the proposal in the latter part of 2010 as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Round 2 ( CCDev2).
NASA asked aerospace firms for concepts and ideas to advance the cause of commercial crew transportation. NASA has offered to provide funding to companies to look into various manned space flight systems. USA submitted the Commercial Space Transportation System (CSTS) – an adapted version of the shuttle’s Space Transportation System title.
USA wanted to make sure that all options for crew transportation to orbit were on the table. That included keeping the orbiters Atlantis and Endeavour in service until 2017. If this plan succeeds, the shuttles could conduct missions as quickly as by the year 2013. They would have to wait for new external tanks to be produced. Two flights annually would cost approximately $1.5 billion.
Although some are calling the proposal a “long shot” the plan has some very tangible merits. It would limit the “gap” between the end of the end of the shuttle era and when commercial space-taxis could begin ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Keeping the shuttles in service would also help to significantly decrease dependence on the Russian Soyuz for access to the orbiting outpost.
“The CSTS could provide a near-term U.S. solution for crew transport until a new system is ready. It could provide a low-risk approach to bridging the gap in human spaceflight since the program has been flying since 1981 and is well understood,” USA spokesperson Tracy Yates told Universe Today. “It could also provide redundancy for human access to the ISS and therefore ensure the continued viability of an important national asset. The concept has the potential to offer a proven vehicle operated by a seasoned workforce at a market-driven price. It preserves down-mass capability, stabilizes a larger portion of the human spaceflight workforce for future NASA programs and keeps more crew transport dollars at home.”
For the Space Coast this proposal would also have the added benefit of staving off the crippling unemployment that has come as part of the one-two punch of the end of the shuttle era and the cancellation of the Constellation Program.
Although the CSTS has a specific date (2017) mentioned – it is capable of remaining in effect until the new commercial systems come online. This proposal would allow NASA to utilize a proven space vehicle and the overall idea of a “commercial shuttle program” is actually nothing new – the idea has been bandied about since the 90s.
However, while the cost is less than the $3 billion the shuttle program cost in 2010, it is basically the same amount that NASA is paying Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) for 12 missions to the space station. The NewSpace firm has stated that four manned flights would cost approximately $550 million.
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has stated that a flight on the manned version of the Dragon spacecraft would cost about $140 million. Image Credit: SpaceX
“The main thing that this program has going against it is this, what does the shuttle offer that the HTV, ATV, Soyuz and soon commercial craft can’t offer,” said noted space historian David M. Harland. “In today’s economic climate it makes more sense to pay $50 million or so for a seat on Soyuz.”
› Meet the STS-129 Crew
Astronauts Complete First Spacewalk
Mission Specialists Mike Foreman and Robert Satcher wound up a six-hour, 37-minute spacewalk at 4:01 p.m. EST. It was the first of three spacewalks scheduled for Atlantis’ mission to the International Space Station, a flight devoted largely to bringing sizable spare parts to the station to be attached to its exterior.
The spacewalk officially began at 9:24 a.m. when Foreman and Satcher switched their suits to internal power. Their first task was to install a spare S-band antenna structural assembly on the station’s Z1 truss. That was completed about an hour ahead of schedule.
The spacewalkers then separated. Foreman installed cables for a space-to-ground antenna on the Destiny laboratory and replaced a handrail on the Unity node with one having a bracket to route an ammonia cable for the Tranquility Node to be delivered next year. He also successfully connected a cable on the Unity Node, which in September had defied efforts by STS-128 astronauts.
Satcher lubricated the latching end effector on the Japanese robotic arm and a similar attachment device on the station’s mobile base system. They were almost two hours ahead when the last scheduled task was completed.
A get-ahead task involved installation of a Payload Attach System (PAS). It was one of three such jobs planned for the second spacewalk. Installation of this PAS, on the Earth-facing side of the Starboard 3 truss, had been scheduled as a 1.5-hour job on Saturday's spacewalk.
SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHED ON SCHEDULE AT:
2:28:10 PM EST MONDAY NOVEMBER 16
IN HOT PURSUIT: Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center yesterday
to begin an 11-day supply mission to the International Space Station.
Photographer Peter P. Lardizabal was 22 miles from the launch pad, but he still got an eye-full:
"I took these pictures from the Canaveral National Seashore
using a 130mm telescope and a
Atlantis is now orbiting Earth in hot pursuit of the ISS.
When the two spacecraft dock on Nov. 18th,
The Shuttle-ISS combo is very bright in the night sky. Check
the Simple Satellite Tracker for flybys
› Meet the STS-129 Crew
Flawless Launch for Atlantis
The STS-129 mission is commanded by Charles O. Hobaugh and piloted by Barry E. Wilmore.
Mission Specialists are Robert L. Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin.
Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik are making their first trip to space.
Atlantis and its crew are delivering two control moment gyroscopes, equipment and
EXPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 and 2 to the International Space Station. The mission
will feature three spacewalks.
The mission also will return station crew member Nicole Stott to Earth and is slated
to be the final space shuttle crew rotation flight.
STS-129 Additional Resources
› STS-129 Mission Overview
› STS-129 Press Kit (15.5 Mb PDF)
› Mission Summary (518 kb PDF)
› More about STS-129 Crew
› Remaining Shuttle Missions (730Kb)
› About the Orbiters
Written by Nancy Atkinson From UniverseToday.com
Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos head Anatoly Perminov said
earlier today in Moscow that he hopes that the US space shuttle program
will be prolonged, adding he has been informed of the possibility of
shuttles flying beyond 2011. "We have received information from certain
sources that the use of space shuttles could be extended beyond 2011,"
Perminov was quoted in Interfax, adding that this information arrived through unofficial channels.
As of now, NASA plans only six more shuttle missions, with the program ending by late 2010 or early 2011 after the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) is complete.
But Perminov said he would prefer to see additional shuttle missions to the ISS.
"Then the situation would change substantially and it would be possible to work jointly with the Americans, unlike now, when the main burden (for the ISS) lies with the Russian side," he said.
He added that NASA's new chief and former astronaut Charles Bolden would visit Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome on September 30 in his first foreign trip.
While the Augustine Commission review NASA's future has only outlined a preliminary report, no strategy has been announced by NASA or the Obama administration.
Source: InterfaxSpace Shuttle
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STS-127 (ISS assembly flight 2J/A) is the current space shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It is the twenty-third flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour. The primary purpose of the STS-127 mission is to deliver and install the final two components of the Japanese Experiment Module: the Exposed Facility (JEM EF), and the Exposed Section of the Experiment Logistics Module (ELM-ES).
When Endeavour docks with ISS, it will set a record for the most humans in space at the same time in the same vehicle, the first time thirteen people will have been at the station at the same time. It will also tie the record of thirteen people in space at any one time.
The first launch attempt on June 13, 2009, was scrubbed due to a gaseous hydrogen leak observed during tanking. The Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) on the external fuel tank experienced a potentially hazardous hydrogen gas leak similar to the fault that delayed the Space Shuttle Discovery, mission STS-119 in March 2009. Since a launch date of June 18, 2009 would have conflicted with the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)/Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), NASA managers discussed the conflict issues with both the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project, as well as the Air Force Eastern Range that provides tracking support for rockets launched from Florida, and looked at options for launching the shuttle, without affecting the LRO project significantly. A decision was made to allow the shuttle to attempt a second launch on June 17, 2009 and LRO would launch on June 18, 2009.
The second launch attempt on June 17, 2009 was also scrubbed due to hydrogen leak issues seen from the GUCP. Due to conflicts with the launch of the LRO, and with a solar heating in space constraint, the next available launch opportunity was scheduled for July 11, 2009. A successful tanking test for leak checks performed on July 1, 2009 with modified GUCP seals allowed launch to proceed as then scheduled. Because of lightning strikes near the launch pad during the evening of July 10, 2009, NASA scrubbed the launch for the third time and rescheduled for July 12, 2009. Due to a RTLS (Return To Launch Site) weather violation on the evening of July 12, 2009, NASA scrubbed the launch for the fourth time.
STS-127's fifth launch attempt on July 13 was also scrubbed due to anvil clouds and lightning within 10 nautical miles of the launch site, violating launch safety rules. STS-127's sixth launch attempt was successful, on July 15, 2009 at 6:03 p.m. EDT. Pieces of foam were observed falling off of the External Tank during launch, as happened when the space shuttle Columbia was lost. However, in this case Endeavour only received minor scuffs to the heat shield which are expected to be no obstacle to a safe reentry. 
Endeavour will carry a wide variety of equipment and cargo in the payload bay, with the largest item being the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility (JEM EF), and the Kibo Japanese Experiment Logistics Module - Exposed Section (ELM-ES). The exposed facility is a part of Kibo that will allow astronauts to perform science experiments that are exposed to the vacuum of space. The exposed section is similar to the logistics module on the Kibo laboratory, but is not pressurized. Once its payloads are transferred to the JEM EF, the ELM-ES will be returned to the payload bay.
Also inside the payload bay will be an Integrated Cargo Carrier that contains a variety of equipment and spare components for the station. The carrier contains six new batteries for installation on the P6 truss, that will be installed during two of the mission's spacewalks, as well as a spare space-to-ground antenna and a spare linear drive unit and pump module which will be stored on an external stowage platform on the station's truss during one of the spacewalks.
Two satellites will also be carried by the orbiter, for deployment at the end of the mission. The Dual Autonomous Global Positioning System On-Orbit Navigator Satellite, called DRAGONSAT, will gather data on autonomous spacecraft rendezvous and docking capabilities, and consists of two picosatellites, the AggieSat2, and PARADIGM (BEVO-1), which acquire GPS data from a device at NASA and send it to ground stations at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. After release, the two picosatellites will remain attached for two orbits to collect GPS data, and separate during the third orbit.
A second satellite, the Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment (ANDE-2), is part of a United States Department of Defense project flown by the Naval Research Laboratory to provide high-quality satellites, and will measure the density and composition of the low Earth orbit atmosphere while being tracked from the ground, to better predict the movement and decay of objects in orbit. ANDE-2 consists of two spherical microsatellites, ANDE Active spacecraft (Castor) and the ANDE Passive spacecraft (Pollux), and will be tracked by the International Laser Ranging Service (ILRS) network as well as the Space Surveillance Network (SSN). One of the satellites, Pollux, is running Arduino libraries, with its payload programmed and built by students.
A set of experiments to be deployed on the ISS will be carried by STS-127, namely Dosimetry for Biological Experiments in Space (ESA), Validation of Procedures for Monitoring Crew Member Immune Function, the student-made Image Reversal in Space (CSA/ISU), Nutritional Status Assessment (NASA), NASA Biological Specimen Repository and Tomatosphere-II (CSA).
The mission marks:
Endeavour served as the STS-400 rescue vehicle for STS-125, and was prepared for a possible liftoff from Launch Pad 39B on May 15, 2009, four days after the launch of STS-125. After Atlantis performed the late inspection and was cleared for re-entry, Endeavour was officially released from stand-by status on May 21, 2009, and preparations for STS-127 were initiated.
Endeavour moved from Launch Pad 39B to 39A on May 31, 2009 in preparation for STS-127. The crew of STS-127 arrived at Kennedy Space Center on June 2, 2009, for the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT) that concluded with a full launch dress rehearsal. The Flight Readiness Review (FRR), a meeting during which NASA managers assess mission preparations and officially set the launch date, concluded on June 3, 2009. For the first time, live status updates about the FRR were published periodically during the meeting via NASA's Twitter stream.
external tank during the first maintenance effort
The launch countdown began June 10, 2009, but on June 13, 2009, as tanking was underway, a gaseous hydrogen leak on a vent line near the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate was observed, and the June 13, 2009 launch was scrubbed at 12:26 a.m. EDT. As liquid hydrogen fuel is pumped in, some of it boils off as the extremely cold liquid enters the warm external tank. The vent line valve controls the resulting buildup of gas pressure by allowing excess gas to escape into a ground-side vent line, which leads to a flare stack at a safe distance away from the pad. A similar leak situation was seen during the first launch attempt of STS-119. NASA managers met on June 14, 2009 and June 15, 2009 and evaluated the leak, discussed steps that had to be taken, and set a new launch date of June 17, 2009, at 5:40 a.m. EDT.
During the second launch attempt on June 17, 2009, loading of the external tank with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen was delayed three hours due to poor weather around the launch site, but tanking began once the weather cleared. Approximately two hours after tanking began, engineers saw leak indications in the GUCP similar to those seen during the first launch attempt. The launch was officially scrubbed at 1:55 a.m. EDT.
Following the launch scrub, Chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team LeRoy Cain noted that engineers would work to understand the hydrogen leak issue and come up with a solution to the problem. Cain said managers were hopeful that the issue could be resolved in time for the next available launch opportunity on July 11, 2009. Due to the delay of STS-127, managers noted that it was likely that the launch of STS-128 on August 7, 2009, would be pushed back slightly.
On July 1, 2009, the shuttle managers conducted a new series of tanking tests to confirm a hypothesis that a misaligned vent port housing was the root cause of the leaks. The existing rigid seal was replaced with a flexible one in the hope that it would maintain a tight fix even under the cryogenic conditions that seem to cause the leak. The test was declared a success with no leaks detected on the GUCP. The mission was announced to be targeting a July 11, 2009 launch. On the evening of July 10, 2009 the launch pad region was hit by eleven strikes of lightning, which pushed back the July 11, 2009 launch time by at least 24 hours. Two of the strikes were strong enough to trigger an evaluation by NASA engineers. The inspections revealed that no damage had been done to the space shuttle.
NASA scrubbed Endeavour's July 12, 2009 launch attempt at T-minus 9 minutes and holding due to Cumulus clouds and lightning near the launch pad. During the final Go/No-Go polls, Mission Control in Houston declared a "No-Go" due to unacceptable weather forecast for a possible Return-To-Launch-Site (RTLS) abort, and planned for emergency scenarios when one or more engines shut down early leaving insufficient energy to reach the Transatlantic Abort Landing (TAL) sites. Similarly, during the July 13 attempt, RTLS weather was also "no go." Meanwhile, shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters informed the launch director, Pete Nickolenko, that the launch pad weather had changed to RED as the Phase-1 Lightning warning was issued for the Kennedy Space Center. The launch was scrubbed at T-minus 9 minutes and holding and was quickly reset for July 15 (a 48 hours scrub turn around) due to weather concerns on the 14th and the desire to replace the Tyvek covers over the forward Reaction Control System thrusters.
On July 15, 2009 at 6:03:10 p.m. EDT, the launch was finally successful. Upon reviewing the launch video footage, imagery analysts noted eight or nine instances of foam shedding from the External Tank. The pictures of the external tank taken when jettisoning showed loss of foam in the intertank ribbing. The chairman of the Mission Management Team was not concerned and felt that the Space Shuttle would be cleared for re-entry on its return voyage -- which it was a few days later. The payload doors were opened after reaching orbit followed by deployment of the Ku-Band antenna and activation of the Shuttle Robotic Arm.
The thermal protection system was inspected with the Shuttle Robotic Arm/Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS) and the voluminous data downlinked for analysis. The orbital maneuvering system pods were inspected for tile damage or protruding tiles. The extravehicular mobility units were checked in addition to the rendezvous system tests and centerline camera installation. In preparation for the docking, the docking ring was extended.
The shuttle successfully docked with the station 220 miles above Earth following a rendezvous pitch maneuver(RPM) photography of Endeavour’s thermal protection system by the Expedition 20 Crew. During this procedure, the shuttle flips over on its back to the station so that the station crew can capture high resolution imagery of the underside of the shuttle. The docking happened on the ISS’s PMA-2 (Pressurized Mating Adapter) on the Harmony module and the hatch was opened after leak checks. As part of the crew swap, station crew member Koichi Wakata was replaced with Tim Kopra. The two astronauts specially fitted seatliners were interchanged. As part of preparation for EVA 1, astronauts Wolf and Kopra camped out in the Quest airlock. A quick review of the RPM imagery showed no serious concerns beyond two instances of coating loss. Further analysis of the imagery will be done. A boost of the station was completed with the shuttles vernier thrusters to avoid a piece of space debris. The SRBs were retrieved and their camera imagery is expected to give more detail on the ET foam shedding.
EVA 1 started with astronauts Dave Wolf and Tim Kopra switching their spacesuit power to internal battery at 12:19 p.m. EDT. Despite a communication problem with the spacewalkers, the Japanese Exposed Facility was successfully installed on the Japanese Experiment Module by means of a complex series of steps involving the robotic arms of both the station and the shuttle. The JEF was first unberthed from the shuttle payload bay by the station arm following which the shuttle arm took the load. The station arm was then moved to the worksite on Node-2 (Harmony) from which it took the 4.1 ton facility back. The facility was then successfully latched on to the Experiment Module. As part of the EVA, the spacewalkers successfully deployed the port Unpressurized Cargo Carrier Attach System (UCCASS), which could not be completed during STS-119. During the prior mission, the deployment failed due to a jamming caused by a stuck detent pin. Engineers designed a custom tool to force the pin to release which was used to deploy the mechanism. Meanwhile the shuttle managers announced that there will be no need for a focused inspection of the heat shield. The nose cap and wing leading edge panels of the shuttle are cleared for entry as is but a reentry clearance was not given. Beyond one impact site having a gouge, the rest of the impacts were found to be mostly a loss of coating. The other activity scheduled for EVA 1, the deployment of a starboard side cargo carrier, was postponed for want of time. A fuel cell issue found before launch is still being analyzed, though it continues to function as expected with no impact to the mission.
The installation of the Integrated Cargo Carrier-Vertical Light Deployable (ICC-VLD) on the port side of the station was successfully completed with the use of both the shuttle and station robotic arms. The cargo pallet, containing spares and fresh batteries for the station, was lifted out of the shuttle bay by the shuttle arm and handed off to the station's Canadarm2 which maneuvered it to its position. The pallet's contents will be setup in upcoming EVAs. A malfunction in a new toilet in the Destiny laboratory caused the crew to use the one in the Russian segment while attempts were made to identify the fault. Meanwhile the shuttle was cleared for reentry.
A tradition for NASA human spaceflights since the days of Gemini, mission crews are played a special musical track at the start of each day in space. Each track is specially chosen, often by their families, and usually has a special meaning to an individual member of the crew, or is applicable to their daily activities.
Welcome Home! Image above: With Kennedy's Vehicle Assembly Building as backdrop, the drogue chute unfurls behind space shuttle Discovery completing a 13-day, 5.3-million mile journey on the STS-119 mission to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Chuck Tintera
› High-res image
Space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven safely touched down on runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:14 p.m. EDT Saturday March 28 (which was
as easy as Pi). The weather and winds cooperated, allowing the spacecraft to land on the second opportunity.
Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus also returned to Earth today with the STS-119 crew. Magnus spent 129 days aboard the International Space Station as flight engineer for Expedition 18. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata took her place on the orbiting laboratory and will return to Earth with the STS-127 crew.
The 13-day mission included three spacewalks, about 6-hours a piece, to install the S6 truss and enormous starboard-side solar arrays. They also unfurled the arrays and performed other get-ahead tasks.
Mission STS-119's crew of seven completed a successful mission aboard the International Space Station -- increasing the orbiting laboratory's power capacity and giving it the ability to accommodate additional crew members in the future.
High-definition video of space shuttle Discovery's flyaround of the International Space Station is now available on NASA's HD Video page.
› View video
SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY IS LAUNCHED AT 7:43 PM ON SUNDAY, MARCH 15 TO MEET THE ISS
Commander Lee Archambault leads Discovery's crew of seven, along with Pilot Tony Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, John Phillips, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold and Sandy Magnus on mission STS-119.
The STS-119 crew members flew the S6 truss segment and installed the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station. The S6 truss completes the backbone of the station and provides one-fourth of the total power needed to support a crew of six.
› View the shuttle and station crew members speaking with President Obama
› Listen to President Obama's call to the space station (19.2 Mb MP3)
Commander Lee Archambault leads Discovery's crew of seven, along with Pilot Tony Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, John Phillips, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata on mission STS-119 to the International Space Station.
The STS-119 crew members are flying the S6 truss segment and installing the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station (See Above). The S6 truss will complete the backbone of the station and provide one-fourth of the total power needed to support a crew of six.
MUCH MORE AT NASA PAGE AT LEFT MENU
WATCH THE REST OF THE MISSION LIVE ON NASA TV ON YOUR COMPUTER at:
http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/countdown/video/ ON CHANNEL 2 THEN
Image above: These seven astronauts take a break from training to pose for the STS-126 crew portrait. Astronaut Christopher J. Ferguson, commander, is at center; and astronaut Eric A. Boe, pilot, is third from the right. Remaining crew members, pictured from left to right, are astronauts Sandra H. Magnus, Stephen G. Bowen, Donald R. Pettit, Robert S. (Shane) Kimbrough and Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, all mission specialists. Image credit: NASA
Veteran space flier Navy Capt. Christopher J. Ferguson will command the STS-126 mission aboard Endeavour to deliver equipment to the International Space Station that will enable larger crews to reside aboard the complex. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric A. Boe will serve as the pilot. The mission specialists are Navy Capt. Stephen G. Bowen, Army Lt. Col. Robert S. Kimbrough, Navy Capt. Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper and NASA astronauts Donald R. Pettit and Sandra H. Magnus.
Magnus will remain on the station, replacing Expedition 17/18 Flight Engineer Gregory E. Chamitoff, who returns to Earth with the STS-126 crew. Magnus will serve as a flight engineer and NASA science officer for Expedition 18. Magnus will return to Earth on shuttle mission STS-119.
Endeavour will carry a reusable logistics module that will hold supplies and equipment, including additional crew quarters, additional exercise equipment, equipment for the regenerative life support system and spare hardware.
STS-126 is the 27th shuttle mission to the International Space Station.
+ Read the Nov. 21, 2007, press release
+ Read the Oct. 1, 2007, press release
Crew and Shuttle in Final Prep Stages
Image above: STS-126 Mission Specialist Shane Kimbrough, prepares to use virtual reality hardware in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center to rehearse some of his duties on the upcoming mission to the International Space Station. Johnson technician David J. Homan assisted Kimbrough. Photo credit: NASA/JSC
› View Hi-res Image
› Submit your comments on STS-126
Nov. 7, 2008
Beginning Friday night the crew for space shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 mission will be quarantined to their quarters at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to help minimize the possibility of getting sick before launch.
But that doesn't mean they are finished training and preparing for their upcoming flight to the International Space Station.
The astronauts will fly to NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday arriving at 4 p.m. EST, for final launch preparations before liftoff of Endeavour on Nov. 14 at 7:55 p.m.
In the few days before launch the crew will be reviewing mission tasks, checking the fit of their flight suits, making final pad inspections and attending weather, payload and safety briefings.
NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson commands the seven-person crew, including Pilot Eric Boe, Mission Specialists Donald Pettit, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Steve Bowen, Shane Kimbrough and Sandra Magnus.
During the week, Ferguson and Boe will take to the skies over Kennedy in NASA's shuttle training aircraft to practice landing procedures.
Meanwhile, technicians preparing space shuttle Endeavour for launch, step up the pace as work on the spacecraft continues over the weekend.
Countdown to liftoff officially begins Nov. 11 at 10 p.m. for NASA's 27th shuttle flight to the station.
› STS-126 Press Kit (4.4 Mb PDF)
› STS-126 Mission Summary (475 kb PDF)
› About the Crew
› Shuttle Launch Manifest
Nov. 14, 2008
(124th space shuttle flight)
51.6 degrees/122 nautical miles
27th station flight (ULF2), Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM)
+ Mission Archives
Launching ISS Expedition 18 Crew
Landing ISS Expedition 18 Crew
Number in parentheses indicates number of spaceflights by each individual prior to, and including this mission.
Originally scheduled to fly was Joan E. Higginbotham, who was a mission specialist on STS-116. On November 21, 2007, NASA announced a change in the crew manifest, due to Higginbotham's decision to leave NASA to take a job in the private sector. Stephen Bowen was originally assigned to STS-124 but was moved to STS-126 to allow the shuttle to rotate an ISS crew member.
STS-126 is scheduled to be a 15-day mission with four spacewalks, largely dedicated to servicing and repair of the Solar Alpha Rotary Joints. The starboard SARJ has showed anomalous behavior since STS-120, and its use has been minimized pending diagnosis and repair. Both the starboard and port SARJs will be serviced. In addition to lubricating both bearings, the remaining 11 Trundle Bearings in the right SARJ will be replaced. STS-126 will also include the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) that will hold supplies and equipment, including additional crew quarters, additional exercise equipment, equipment for the regenerative life support system and spare hardware.
Space Shuttle Endeavour was moved from its Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-2) to the Vehicle Assembly Building on September 11, 2008. Roll out to Launch pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center took place overnight September 18-19 and was completed at 7am EDT on September 19, 2008.
Endeavour was originally moved to launch pad 39B ahead of the normal schedule to be on standby as the Launch on Need (LON) flight for STS-125. In the event that something happened to Atlantis during its flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope, a rescue flight could be performed with Endeavour. With both Atlantis and Endeavour on the pads, it was the 18th time that two flight-ready orbiters were in position at both launch pads at the same time.
On September 29, 2008, NASA announced that due to a problem with the Hubble telescope, they would be revising the manifest to postpone STS-125 until 2009, so a solution to the new issue with the telescope could be implemented into the flight plan.
The payload for STS-126, including the MPLM Leonardo, arrived at launch pad 39A early on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 22.
Space Shuttle Endeavour began moving off of launch pad 39B at 8:28am EDT on Oct. 23, and was secured on launch pad 39A at 4:47pm EDT. The move took about 7hrs and clears the way for the final steps in its processing for launch on STS-126 in November.
The mission will mark:
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE US MANNED SPACE PROGRAM AFTER THE LAST SPACE SHUTTLE IN 2010?
Constellation is a NASA program with the stated goal of gaining significant experience in operating away from Earth's environment, developing technologies needed for opening the space frontier and conducting fundamental science.  Constellation was developed through the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, which determined the best way for NASA to pursue the goals laid out in President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration and the NASA Authorization Act of 2005.
NASA plans to develop a host of spacecraft and booster vehicles in order to replace the Space Shuttle and return astronauts to the Moon and possibly send them to Mars. Currently, NASA is in the process of designing two boosters, the Ares I and Ares V. Ares I will have the sole function of launching mission crews into orbit. Ares V will be designed to launch other hardware for use on missions and will have a heavier lift capacity than the Ares I booster. In addition to these two boosters, NASA is designing a set of other spacecraft for use during Constellation. These will include the Orion crew capsule, the Earth Departure Stage and the Altair lunar lander.
Orion is being designed as the crew compartment for the Constellation program. Orion will consist of two main parts, a Crew Module (CM) similar to the Apollo Command Module capable of holding four to six crew members, and a cylindrical Service Module (SM) containing the primary propulsion systems and consumable supplies. The Orion CM will be reusable for up to 10 flights, allowing NASA to construct a fleet of Orion crew modules.
NASA is currently planning on developing different Orion capsules tailored for specific missions. The Block I Orion will be employed for International Space Station crew rotation and resupply and other Earth orbit missions. The Block II and III variants will be designed for deep-space exploration.
Altair (formerly known as the Lunar Surface Access Module, LSAM) will be the main transport vehicle for lunar-bound astronauts. Like its Apollo Lunar Module (LM) predecessor, Altair consists of two parts: an ascent stage which houses the four-person crew, and a descent stage which has the landing legs, the majority of the crew's consumables (oxygen and water), and scientific equipment. Unlike the Apollo LM, Altair is to touch down in the lunar polar regions favored by NASA for future lunar base construction. Altair, like its Apollo predecessor, is not reusable and is discarded after use.
The Altair descent stage will be powered by four RL-10 rocket engines that are currently used for the Centaur upper stage used on the Atlas V rocket . Unlike the current RL-10 engines in use, the newer RL-10s would be able to throttle down to as low as 10% rated thrust (the current specifications allow for 20%), thus allowing the use of Altair for both the lunar orbit insertion (LOI) and landing stages of the lunar mission. The ascent stage will be powered by a single engine, likely a hypergolic engine similar or identical to the main engine of the Orion CSM, using the descent stage as a launchpad, and as a platform for future base construction. There remains a small possibility that the original plan of using LOX/CH4 - fueled engines onboard the Block II (lunar) Orion CSM and Altair ascent stage will come to pass; however, this appears very unlikely.Earth Departure Stage
The Earth Departure Stage (EDS) is the main propulsion system that will send the entire Orion/Altair stack from low Earth orbit to the Moon. It will be launched on an Ares V rocket; Orion spacecraft will launch separately, rendezvous and dock with the EDS/Altair combination, which will then be configured for the journey to the Moon. This method, known as Earth orbit rendezvous, was considered by NASA for the Apollo program in the early stages of planning, but was dropped in favor of the lunar orbit rendezvous approach.
As currently envisioned, the Orion spacecraft will be launched into a low earth orbit using the proposed Ares I rocket (the "Stick"). Formerly referred to as the Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), the Ares I consists of a single Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) derived from the boosters used in the Space Shuttle system, connected at its upper end by an interstage support assembly to a new liquid-fueled second stage powered by an uprated Apollo-era J-2X rocket engine.
The Ares V will incorporate five RS-68 engines (five Space Shuttle Main Engines were originally planned for the Ares V, but the RS-68 engines are more powerful and less expensive than the SSMEs) with assistance from a pair of five-segment SRBs. The Ares V will fly for the first eight minutes of powered flight, while the EDS will place itself and the Altair spacecraft into low Earth orbit while awaiting the arrival of the Orion.
Based on the S-IVB upper stage of the Saturn V rocket, the EDS is in essence an enlarged S-IVB with larger LOX/LH2 tanks and is powered by the same J-2X engine already being planned for the Ares I. The EDS, while primarily being designed for its lunar role (and eventual Mars role), can also launch large modules that cannot be launched with the Russian Proton booster in support of the International Space Station, or even a Skylab-class or Mir-class space station in an ISS-like orbit. It can also, with the Altair removed and a docking collar added, allow a CEV to change its orbital inclination (either the standard 29-degree orbit or the 51.5-degree ISS orbit) to that of a Sun-synchronous, Clarke, or near polar orbit in a manner originally planned for the Apollo Applications Program. The EDS, teamed with an Altair-derived or even a Centaur upper stage, could also be used to launch large space probes in the same weight class as Galileo and Cassini-Huygens to Uranus, Neptune, and any trans-Neptunian object (TNO) using direct-trajectory profiles similar to that used on the Voyager spacecraft. For instance, it could have easily launched the now canceled JIMO mission directly to the moons of Jupiter.
It could also support a Mars Sample Return mission with direct descent and ascent from Mars surface, without the complication and technical challenge of a rendezvous in Mars orbit.
Like that of the Apollo Program, Project Constellation will involve its main vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, flying missions in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), with an emphasis of servicing the International Space Station and, in conjunction with the Altair lunar lander and Earth Departure Stage, on flights to the polar regions of the Moon. As of 2008, there are no well-defined plans for a manned flight to Mars, as flights to the Red Planet will most likely not occur before 2030, but a mission to a Near-Earth asteroid is in the initial planning phases next.
After being brought together at the Kennedy Space Center from various parts of the country (Utah and Louisiana for the Ares I booster, and various Lockheed Martin facilities in the Southern U.S. for the Orion spacecraft) and completion of major testing, including spacecraft integrity testing in a vacuum chamber, the components of the Orion/Ares I stack is assembled in the Vehicle Assembly Building in a manner similar to that of the stacking and assembly of both the Space Shuttle and Saturn IB/Saturn V rockets.
Once assembly is completed and a launch date is set, the Crawler-Transporter picks up and transports both the assembled Orion/Ares I stack, its launch tower, and the new Mobile Launcher Platform they are sitting on out to Launch Pad 39B, which is currently slated to be the primary launch platform for all Orion/Ares I launches. Once the Crawler-Transporter reaches the pad, the Ares I and its platform is left in place and the Crawler-Transporter is taken to a safe, yet reasonable distance in order to facilitate pickup of the platform for an equipment rollback to the VAB.
After final checks, the ground crew then fills up the second stage with liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX), with the crew, suited up in new all-purpose spacesuits, entering the spacecraft only three hours before liftoff. Once locked in and all systems are cleared by controllers at both the Cape and Mission Control in Houston, the Ares I is then launched, with staging occurring in a little over two minutes and orbital insertion only 4.5 minutes later. A second, circularization burn, using the onboard J-2X engine on the Ares I second stage, places the Orion spacecraft on a proper course to the International Space Station.
After a two-day chasedown, the Orion spacecraft meets up with the International Space Station, and then, after getting the go ahead from Houston, docks with the ISS. The six-man crew, the largest number that can fly on an Orion spacecraft, then enters the station and performs numerous tasks and activities for the duration of their flight, usually lasting six months, but can be shortened to four or lengthened to eight, depending upon NASA's goals for that particular ISS Expedition. Once completed, the crew then reenters the Orion, which has been kept attached to the station as an emergency "lifeboat," seals off the hatches between it and the ISS, and then undocks from the station.
Once the Orion reaches a safe distance from the ISS, the spacecraft will turn around so the main engine faces forward and fire its single Aerojet AJ-10 engine. After the deorbit burn has been completed, the service module is then jettisoned, allowing it to burn up in the atmosphere while the crew module re-enters in the same manner as all NASA spacecraft prior to the Shuttle, using the ablative heat shield to both deflect heat from the spacecraft and to slow it down from a speed of 28,000 km/h (17,500 mph or Mach 25) to 480 km/h (300 mph or Mach 0.5). After reentry is completed, the forward assembly is jettisoned, and two drogue parachutes will be released, followed at 20,000 feet by three main parachutes and airbags filled with nitrogen (N2), which does not combust when exposed to heat, allowing the spacecraft to splashdown. The Orion CM is then returned to Kennedy Space Center for refurbishment for a later flight. Unlike the Apollo CM, which was used only for one flight, an Orion CM can be used up to 10 times under normal operating conditions.See Also: Lunar sortie and Lunar outpost (NASA)
Unlike the Apollo flights, when both the Apollo Command/Service Module and the Apollo Lunar Module were launched together on the Saturn V rocket, the first phase of a lunar mission will occur with the launch of the Shuttle-derived Ares V. Like the Ares I, the Ares V will be assembled at the VAB, but upon approaching the launch date, the Ares V would then be transported to Launch Pad 39A, the same launch pad used by NASA to launch the Apollo 11 spacecraft on its history-making mission. Upon giving the clearance to launch, the five RS-68 engines will ignite and upon verification by the on-board computer, the twin five-segment SRBs will ignite. At the same time, the EDS swing arms and Ares V core stage collect "chocks" will retract, and the booster will then lift off from the pad.
After clearing the tower, the Ares V will perform a roll maneuver and travel due east from the launch pad so that the orbital inclination is the same as the latitude of Cape Canaveral, 28.5 degrees. This launch profile has the twin five-segment SRBs jettison at 2½ minutes into the flight and the main engines shutting down approximately 8½ minutes later, followed by the jettisoning of the core stage and launch shroud. The spent core stage and its RS-68 engine cluster will then burn up in the atmosphere over the Indian Ocean west of Australia. The EDS, powered by its single J-2X motor, will steer the Altair/EDS combination into a stable 360 km (approx. 225 mi) high circular orbit.
Approximately 90 minutes after the Ares V launch, the Orion/Ares I stack, on Pad 39B and transported approximately a day after the Ares V stack, will lift off from the adjacent launch pad at the same orbital inclination, allowing the manned Orion CSM to dock with the Altair/EDS combination already in low-Earth orbit. After the systems are configured for lunar flight, the EDS will fire for the five-minute translunar injection (TLI) burn, which will accelerate the spacecraft stack from 28,000 km/h (17,500 mph) to 40,200 km/h (25,000 mph). Unlike the Apollo/Saturn TLI burn, the Orion/Altair/EDS TLI burn will be done in the same "eyeballs out" fashion (with the astronauts being "pulled" from their seats) similar to that envisioned with the Manned Venus Flyby missions planned during the Apollo Applications Program in the late 1960s. After the TLI burn, the EDS is jettisoned, and either enters into an orbit around the Sun or steers into a slightly different trajectory to crash into the lunar surface (similar to that employed by the S-IVB stages from Apollos 13 to 17). During the remaining Orion/Altair combination's trans-lunar coast, which will last 3 days, the four-man crew will monitor the Orion's systems, inspect their Altair spacecraft and its support equipment, and, if necessary, change their trajectory to allow the Altair to land in a near-polar landing site suitable for a future lunar base.
Three days after TLI, the Orion/Altair combination, approaching the lunar far side, will orient the Altair's engines in the proper direction for the lunar orbit insertion (LOI) burn to begin. Once in orbit, the crew will refine the trajectory and configure the Orion CSM for unmanned flight, then all crew members will transfer to the Altair, undocking from the Orion CSM after receiving clearance from Houston. Ground controllers will next perform an inspection of the Altair using a remote, near-time (a signal takes approximately 3 seconds total to go to and from the Earth and Moon due to the distance) TV camera; formerly this was performed by the Apollo Command Module Pilot (CMP). Once the subsequent separation maneuver is completed, the unmanned Orion CSM is placed in a 95 to 110 km (approx. 60 to 70 mi) high circular orbit to wait for the Altair's return.
After the crew receives approval from Houston, the four RL-10 engines on the Altair's descent stage will fire again, and like that of Apollo LM, the crew will land their Altair in a pre-determined landing spot that was scouted out before by unmanned spacecraft. Upon landing, the crew will don their moonwalking spacesuits and commence the first of five to seven lunar EVAs collecting samples and deploying experiments.
After completing their lunar deployment operations, the crew will enter the Altair's ascent stage and lift off from the Moon's surface, powered by a single ascent engine, likely a hypergolic engine similar to that used on the Orion CSM, using the descent stage as a launchpad (and as a platform for future base construction), then dock with the Orion CSM in lunar orbit. Once the crew transfers the samples and photographs over to the Orion CSM, the Altair will be jettisoned to crash into the lunar far side, and the Orion CSM will then ignite its single engine (Trans Earth Injection – TEI) for the return trip to Earth. Upon reaching Earth, the service module is jettisoned and a special reentry trajectory is established; the reentry trajectory is designed to both slow the vehicle from its speed of 40,200 km/h (25,000 mph) to 480 km/h (300 mph) and allow for a West Coast landing. The Orion CM will then splashdown in the same manner as an ISS-bound flight. Like that of the ISS-bound missions, the Orion CM will be flown back to KSC for refurbishment and reuse on another flight, while the lunar samples are flown to JSC for analysis at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory.
As the Orion spacecraft is the "nucleus" of Project Constellation, its design would most likely be used for a possible flight to a near-Earth asteroid. At the same time, NASA has also been looking into using the Ares V to launch an 8-meter successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope to the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point (SEL2), where the telescope, not being interfered by the Earth, can carry out uninterrupted searches for Earth-like planets around Sun-like or red dwarf stars.
The ultimate mission, a manned mission to Mars, would most likely occur after 2030. Such a mission would most likely follow a "split-sprint" profile in which a return vehicle, with an Orion-derived spacecraft capable of high-speed reentry, would take a slow route to the Red Planet, touching down in a predetermined spot on the Red Planet, while another ship, carrying a six-person crew and their equipment, would then follow on a faster trajectory that would see all six astronauts land on the planet six months after launch, with a total stay time of 2 years, during which a reactor utilizing the Sabatier reaction with the available materials found on the planet will keep the six astronauts alive (by making breathing oxygen from the available carbon dioxide found in the planet's atmosphere) and produce fuel for the return trip home.
After leaving Mars, the crew will most likely make a flyby of Venus during the return trip, with the Orion-derived landing capsule separating from the return vehicle and making a high-speed reentry for a Pacific Ocean splashdown, ending a mission lasting a total of 3 years and culminating in a goal that, if not deferred by the domestic and international issues of the 1960s and 1970s, would have occurred in 1985 as an off-shoot of the Apollo Applications Program.
In January 2007, NASA announced that a different launch vehicle design, the Ares IV, was being studied for the program. The Ares IV combines an Ares I upper stage with an Ares V first stage and could be used to reach the Moon.
The DIRECT launch vehicle concept, which uses existing shuttle components, such as the solid rocket boosters and the external tank, with minimal development of new hardware.