NASA Ready for Next Shuttle Launch

In what will be the fourth space shuttle flight of the year, NASA says Atlantis will be ready for a December 6th launch on an eleven day mission to the International Space Station. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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Shuttle Discovery returned from an eventful mission to the ISS a little more than a week ago and NASA says it's already in the final planning stages for STS-122, a mission that will deliver the European-made Columbus module to the ISS. The 23-by-15 foot science lab is an important part of the European Space Agency's contributions to the Space Station. This is ESA's Danielle Laurini.

"It's a really state-of-the-art facility, Columbus. We are providing a very good environment for the crew. They will be able to work in a very quiet environment. We have very stringent noise requirements. I think they will be happy in Columbus."ξξξ

This will be the first time the shuttle has docked with the so-called "node two" on the ISS, a newly installed area that includes the Harmony module that was put in place during the last mission. Lead Shuttle Flight Director Mike Sarafin says he expects the maneuver to go smoothly.

"We always plan for the worst and hope for the best. We've done a thorough review of the systems and all the things that could go wrong associated with the first docking to Node 2. We've got all our contingencies in place and we've practiced those in simulations with our crews and our ground control teams and we're ready to go."ξξ

NASA is taking a close look at reinforced carbon carbon panels on the leading edge of shuttle wings after engineers noticed protective silicon carbide coating burned off during two missions in 2000 and 2001. The damage was minimal, but NASA wants to know if it needs to find a better way to detect damage below the surface of the RCC panels. Shuttle program director Wayne Hale.

"We believe that we are well-covered from a safety standpoint. We believe we have good rationale to go fly, but we have this interesting engineering data that we would like to understand better. Because we don't understand this perfectly, we have a little bit of risk, but we believe it's bounded and we are working as hard as we can in a number of facilities all around the agency to understand this."ξξ

STS-122 will be the 24th flight to the ISS as NASA begins a gradual shut-down of the shuttle program, which is expected to end in September of 2010.


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