Friday, November 14, 2008

Weather looks good for shuttle launch

NASA says the weather is cooperating as the space shuttle Endeavour prepares to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. U.S. Air Force meteorological experts say that despite earlier fears that poor weather could cause a delay, Endeavour should be cleared for its launch time of 7:55 pm ET.

NASA's 27th mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will deliver a much needed expansion and allow astronauts to carry out repairs during the 13-day mission. Currently, the ISS can support three astronauts in space. However, the expansion module being delivered by the space shuttle Endeavour will allow six people to live aboard the station in upcoming missions.

"It's the most jam-packed logistics module we have ever carried up there," Commander Chris Ferguson said. "We're taking a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house and turning it into a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a gym."

Astronauts will also bring devices to help make the space station more self sufficient. According to NASA, a new regenerative life support system will allow astronauts to recycle urine and condensation into pure water that can be used for drinking or to cool the station's systems.

"Up until this point, the majority of the station's drinking water was coming up from the shuttle or the Russian's Progress vehicle," Mission Specialist Sarafin explained. "This sets us up for long-term sustainability of the station without the shuttle."

Led by STS-115 veteran Christopher J. Ferguson, the STS-126 crew consists of five male and two female NASA astronauts. In space, Ferguson will rely on a diverse crew. Pilot Eric Boe flew F-15s in combat over Iraq during the first Gulf War before joining NASA. Mission specialist Robert "Shane" Kimbrough also saw combat in the first Gulf War as an attack helicopter platoon leader before joining NASA in 2000. Mission specialist Stephen Bowen was selected by NASA to venture into space after proving himself with the U.S. Navy; in 2000 he became the first executive officer of the pre-commissioning submarine USS Virginia (SSN-774), the first of the new Virginia Class attack submarines.

Mission Specialist Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper brings and engineering background with salvage experience to the flight; she is also a veteran of STS-115 where she helped install a truss and two sets of solar arrays. Mission Specialist Donald Pettit was a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico before he joined NASA. He has already logged 161 days in space, including 13 hours worth of space walks when worked on STS-113.

Mission Specialist and ISS Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus was a stealth engineer for McDonnell Douglas and served on STS-112 which gives her experience installing a truss on the ISS. She will begin a tour aboard the ISS when Endeavour docks with the laboratory. Mission Specialist and ISS Flight Engineer Gregory Chamitoff is currently aboard the ISS, and will return to Earth when Endeavour comes home.

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