Nov. 29, 2000 Space Shuttle Endeavour and its five-member crew this week will open a new chapter in the saga of the International Space Station (ISS) with their launch, now set for 10:06 p.m. EST Nov. 30. On a mission of space-flight firsts, the crew of STS-97 will unveil a new star on the horizon by adding a pair of giant solar wings to the orbiting platform.
Endeavour will carry a 17-ton package of immense solar arrays and associated batteries, electronics and cooling equipment to the space station -- the heaviest and largest station elements flown to date. Once deployed on ISS, this first set of solar sails will measure 240 feet tip-to-tip, a wingspan greater than that of a 777 jumbo jetliner.
"When all the solar arrays are fully deployed, they will generate enough power to run 15 average-sized homes on Earth," said W. Michael Hawes, Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Development at NASA Headquarters. "People will be able to look up and see the brightest new star in the sky. Only the Moon and star Sirius will shine brighter."
Folded into two boxes only 20 inches thick for launch, the solar arrays contain more than 64,000 individual power-generating cells. The sails being unfurled to their full length should be one of the most stunning scenes ever transmitted from Earth orbit.
Veteran astronaut Brent Jett (Cmdr., USN) will command the mission. Michael Bloomfield (Lt. Col., USAF) will serve as pilot. They will be accompanied by Mission Specialists Joe Tanner, Carlos Noriega (Lt. Col., USMC) and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Marc Garneau.
Astronauts Tanner and Noriega will serve as high-tech electricians, performing space walks to install the giant solar panels, connecting wires and cables. Special cameras affixed to their helmets will capture stunning views of their work in progress.
The current set of arrays will quintuple the amount of electrical power available on the station, paving the way for delivery of the first research laboratory, the U.S. Destiny module, on STS-98 in January. Once in orbit, the Destiny module will be the most sophisticated science laboratory ever launched into space.
The solar panels will provide a much-needed power boost to the station and its Expedition One crew, led by American Commander Bill Shepherd, allowing the crew to begin its first science experiments.
Experiments include a student project that will study the effects of weightlessness on soybean and corn seeds; an experiment sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Air Force that will study control mechanisms for future satellites; cameras and equipment that will be used to track environmental changes and other areas of scientific interest around the world as part of continuing Earth observations by the station crew; and several medical evaluations that will study the operation of the treadmill and resistive exercise equipment on the station.
Endeavour also will be the first shuttle to visit the Expedition One crew since it arrived at the station Nov. 1, and the crew of STS-97 will drop off additional supplies.
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