Sep. 8, 2000 This week's launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis begins an odyssey unique in the history of human space flight. If all goes as planned, at 8:45 a.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 8, five American astronauts and two Russian cosmonauts will soar into orbit and begin preparations necessary to declare the International Space Station -- the largest building in space -- open for business.
The mission includes a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk by Astronaut Ed Lu and Cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko to a point 100 feet above the Shuttle's cargo bay, the farthest any tethered spacewalker has ever ventured.
Under the watchful eye of spacewalk choreographer Dan Burbank, the two spacewalkers will ride as far as possible on a Canadian-built "arm," then use tethers and handrails. They will install a six- foot long magnetometer and a boom that will serve as a three- dimensional "compass" for the station, and connect telemetry, electrical, and communications cables.
"NASA, with its international partners, has managed to bring the world together under one roof in space," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "The vision and cooperation needed to create this unique global village, and the scale of the construction project are unprecedented in the chronicles of any space program."
The Shuttle mission also includes:
a kidney cell experiment designed to explore how human genes respond to the unique environment of space;
a test run of a miniaturized sensor to take real-time measurements of the Shuttle's environmental and life support systems;
a host of student experiments including one called "The Pittsburgh Steelers in Space," designed by students at the DePaul Institute for the Deaf in Pittsburgh, PA, to determine the effects of microgravity and radiation on the oxidation of various types of steel and the minerals involved in the manufacture of steel.
While researchers and scientists look forward to the day the station has full-time occupants, the crew of Atlantis first have to complete some down-to-Earth tasks. Those include stocking the space station with supplies, unpacking gear, and hooking up equipment needed by the its first permanent residents, who are scheduled to be launched in November.
Among the supplies being unloaded this mission are laptop computers, vacuum cleaners, a color printer, clothing, food warmers for the "kitchen," trash bags, critical life support systems, television cables, and even the first space station toilet.
"We've got a framework and a solid foundation," said pilot Scott Altman, who compared the mission with building a house in orbit at 17,500 miles per hour. "It's now up to us fix the pipes, run the cables, and try to have it ready for the next crew to move in by the time we come home."
The astronauts will also unload equipment for the space station's "health clinic," including its first exercise equipment -- a specially outfitted bicycle and treadmill that won't disturb the sensitive microgravity experiments on board.
Once fully outfitted and permanently staffed, the International Space Station will be a research laboratory unparalleled by anything on Earth. After two decades of science aboard the Space Shuttle, scientists will now have a more advanced, round-the-clock orbiting outpost.
"When you're up there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, you can get a lot done," said NASA Chief Scientist Kathy Olsen. "You don't have to try to cram everything into a two- or three-day window, or have to spread your research over a number of flights."
Included on this Shuttle flight is an experiment that will examine how microgravity alters gene expression in kidney cells, which enables kidneys to develop and function normally. This experiment will increase our understanding of how the human body adapts to space, which ultimately may advance our knowledge of human disease processes.
The two tiny sensors tested by NASA on this flight make real-time measurements in the Shuttle's environmental and life support systems, thanks to breakthroughs in miniaturization that have led to the introduction of a 1-inch in diameter wireless system that can send temperature measurements to a laptop computer for five months. This new technology will significantly reduce the time it takes to obtain on-orbit temperature measurements and will increase the capability to monitor temperatures over long periods of time.
"This mission truly represents the beginning of a long and fruitful adventure for NASA and the international space community," added Goldin. "The space program has led to thousands of new technologies, new breakthroughs in medical research, new medicines, new discoveries that have literally changed the lives of people all over the world. I can't wait to get started."
The launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis can be seen on NASA Television, which is located on GE-2, Transponder 9C, at 85 degrees West longitude, vertical polarization, with a frequency of 3880 MHz, and audio of 6.8 MHz.
You can also see the launch on your computer at home or office. Details can be found at:
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