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Space Shuttle Heading Home 62

Reuters is reporting that the shuttle has been prepping for a return to Earth, stowing gear and checking systems. Their expected return is tomorrow morning, around 9am EDT. From the article: "During tests on Sunday a leaking power unit for the shuttle flight control system appeared to be in good enough shape for landing and the jets that steer the spacecraft worked fine, NASA engineers said. The shuttle crew was still awaiting word on whether Discovery's heat shield had passed a final inspection performed on Saturday, but scans conducted with cameras and sensors throughout the flight had so far turned up no damage."
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Space Shuttle Heading Home

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  • Pointless mission? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If most of the mission is making sure that the shuttle they sent up can land safely (at least that's the impression we get from the news coverage), doesn't the whole ordeal become pointless?
    • You think they spent 12 days in space just looking at the thermal tiles? I know the main reason for the mission was to transfer supplies and a man to the ISS. Probably lots of other experiments as well. Unfortunately the news doesn't report on the mundane, just the dramatic, so you only hear about the possible problems with the tiles.
      • Isn't that what the media does for everything now-a-days anyways? I mean look at the whole middle east ordeal. All you hear is death, death, and more death, then a bombing sprinkled in. I know a lot of bad things happen over there, but I'm sure there's other things they can talk about that relate to the topic. I mean I'm all for remembering our fallen for the cause, but like I said, there's more things to discuss. A lot of it has to deal with shock factor now.
        • Isn't that what the media does for everything now-a-days anyways? I mean look at the whole middle east ordeal. All you hear is death, death, and more death, then a bombing sprinkled in. I know a lot of bad things happen over there, but I'm sure there's other things they can talk about that relate to the topic. I mean I'm all for remembering our fallen for the cause, but like I said, there's more things to discuss. A lot of it has to deal with shock factor now.

          I completely agree. Which is why I think TV news
    • by 9x320 ( 987156 ) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @03:03PM (#15729097)
      Yes, that's the impression you get from the news coverage, but there are many goals of the mission you could read about on the Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org]. I've linked to a specific revision so you won't have to worry about coming across a vandalized version.

      I'll save you the trouble of clicking on it. Equipment delivered to the ISS:

      1 new astronaut on board the ISS, Thomas Reitner from the European Space Agency, to stay with the current crew for six months.

      80 C Freezer: This freezer is known as the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). The French-built unit comprises four independent drawers which can be set to operate at different temperatures (image). Initially, temperatures of 80 C, 26 C, and +4 C will be used during on-orbit ISS operations. Both reagents and samples will be stored in the freezer. As well as storage, the freezer is designed to be used to transport samples to and from the ISS in a temperature controlled environment. The total capacity of the unit is 300 liters.

      The European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) for biological experiments. This consists of a gas tight incubator in which there are two centrifuges, each able to carry four experimental cartridges. Two "Ground controls"--exact copies of the equipment and experiments--will be run on the ground. One will be in Europe and one at NASA's Ames Research Center.

      New oxygen generation system. This device is considered a test for an equipment design with potential for use on postulated future long durations to the Moon and Mars. The system will initially run below its maximum capacity, though it is designed for enabling the ISS to support a crew of six in the future. It will supplement the Russian-built Elektron system operating in the Zvezda module.

      New cycling machine for the ISS crew. A Danish built device, the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS). (They have to exercise or else they'll dramatically lose bone mass due to lack of gravity, of course.)

      Replacement common cabin air assembly heat exchanger used to control the internal air temperature of the ISS.

      All of the above equipment is to be installed in the Destiny Laboratory Module. Additionally the orbiter and ISS computer printers will be swapped.
      • Wikipedia? Pish posh! Unless I see it in Britannica, it probably didn't happen!

        Thanks for the info.
      • Lets not forget, they fixed everything necessary to support the next two missions which each will add a 16 ton truss to the structure and new solar arrays which will give enough electricity to power the next science module that will be added. And, most importantly, the new tank foam changes have proven to work out well.
      • A printer? Even in space, where supplies are insanely expensive to deliver, the paperless office is a dream of the future!

        NASA probably wishes it could get normal (almost empty) ink cartridges for only $60.

        I bet the ISS is getting plastered with Dilbert cartoons.
      • 10.6 cubic feet
        79.3 gallons
    • by cyclone96 ( 129449 ) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @03:07PM (#15729115)
      If most of the mission is making sure that the shuttle they sent up can land safely (at least that's the impression we get from the news coverage)

      That's the problem...what the media focuses on and what the purpose of most of the mission is are entirely different things. Sure, many of the goals (and indeed, the highest priority goals) of this particular flight is to help establish on orbit inspection and repair techniques, but there are a lot of other things.

      In particular, within NASA I think the most significant part of this mission (besides the tank repairs and the on orbit inspection techniques) is the return of ISS to a three person crew. Even more significant, that third crew member is an European Space Agency astronaut and the orbiter dropped off a major European payload rack (MELFI, which is a giant low temperature freezer).

      Unfortunately, that really doesn't come up in the coverage, it's very much geared towards "so, what happened today that could have killed the crew". The spin of "constant danger" the press puts on the mission is what gets people to watch, not the fact that we just dropped off a German guy on the Space Station. The press conferences and coverage are dominated by what is almost excruciatingly detailed discussions of what are in reality very minor problems. It's what gets people to watch.
  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Sunday July 16, 2006 @02:54PM (#15729071) Homepage
    SpaceFlightNow has a detailed timeline [spaceflightnow.com] of the re-entry - not sure if it will still be dark enough to capture a glow across the Western US with the 9:14AM EDT first landing time ... but my guess is a LOT more camera's will be watching it come back into the atmosphere.
  • by Datalanche ( 987331 ) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @03:07PM (#15729114)
    I, for one, applaud anyone with the bravery and skill to be a part of the space program. Also, it makes me sad that we never hear about any of the good progress anymore. All we hear is tile this, re-entry that. How about a news story about some of the unique experiments and projects have happened in space, or the international cooperation that goes into building the space station? It's also amazing how the media plays off images from Mars as a trip to the park. Shame on people. This stuff is paving way for the future. When we do screw up this planet for good, there's only one way to go and that's up. I guess since it's not all shiney lights and space babes like Star Trek, no one seems to care.
    • When we do screw up this planet for good, there's only one way to go and that's up.

      Because at that point the lush forests of Mars and the pristine atmosphere of Venus will prove irresistable targets.

      KFG
    • For the coming years, I would not get your hopes up too high. Besides, if we even cannot keep a very friendly habitat like earth occupied, what would happen in space? If we even manage to mess up down here, we're history. And it sure looks like we're managing to screw things up for certain.
    • When we do screw up this planet for good, there's only one way to go and that's up.

      Yup - AND, at a cost of a bazillion $$$ for each group of half a dozen or so: prepare to be disappointed.

      I guess since it's not all shiney lights and space babes like Star Trek, no one seems to care.

      Even better [zortic.com]: purple space chickies, green-skinned heroes, cyclopean space engineers, and, occasionally, sitcom TV show themes and 80's pop lyrics!

    • "When we do screw up this planet for good, there's only one way to go and that's up."

      Apparently, Earth is at the bottom of the universe.
  • Nice to know that they want all of us to realize what the shuttle is doing every step of its journey like something bad is going to happen. I mean really, the anticipation is just nuts...

    "This just in, shuttle is to do a barral roll in space for up comming landing... Now watch as the shuttle goes through the atmosphere, drama unfolds in the cockpit as the astronauts try to reassure NASA that everything is okay... Now lets play the landing in slow motion so as to gather info on a leaky brake... Now we will p
  • Beam me up (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 16, 2006 @04:06PM (#15729293)
    From the article:
    They repaired a broken transporter on the station which will be needed to complete construction of the half-finished $100 billion complex and also tested shuttle repair techniques.
    Now that that's fixed, they can just beam stuff up and won't have to worry about foam falling off the fuel tank.
  • by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @04:11PM (#15729308)

    One of the mission goals was to set up a -80 C freezer on the ISS. We have a couple in our lab (most bio labs do) -- they're primarily used to store biological samples. The -20 C freezer and 4 C refridgerater are also standard operating equipment in biology (or chemistry, I suppose), so it looks like they're gearing up to do some life sciences work.

    Now, this brings up an interesting issue -- How do you operate refrigeration equipment in space? Especially that -80 C...it's a real power hog and probably outputs a lot of heat (in a closed air environment, is this a problem?). Does anyone know how cooling is done in space? Is it still based on condenser coils? Can they somehow utilize the "cold" of space for this purpose?

    • I am not an engineer, but I imagine it wouldn't be too great a hurdle to vent that heat into space somehow and away from the interior of the station. Or I could be completely wrong.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        The problem with space is that it doesn't have a temperature. Its a vaccum. Its not really "cold" or anything, its just undefined because theres nothing there.

        Nothing there to take the heat... So you can discharge superheated gasses or something. Until you run out of gas.
    • "Can they somehow utilize the "cold" of space for this purpose?"

      That's it! the -80C freezer is a screen door!
    • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @04:49PM (#15729451)
      You apply the heat to a black object exposed to space, and it radiates heat away -- unlike the "radiator" in your car, which actually dumps most of its heat by conduction to the surrounding air.

      A space radiator is very effective: it can get things extremely cold just by circulating the fluid without any active refrigeration (i.e, no compressor, no phase changes). The only hitch is that you have to keep sunlight off it, by a combination of sunshades and spacecraft attitude control.

      We tend to lose sight of how effective radiation is here on Earth where we have air redistributing heat, but the moon is a good example: its surface temp is about 110C on the dayside and -180C on the nightside.

      rj
    • You just let the heat dissipate through radiators outside the station.
    • Does anyone know how cooling is done in space?

      The payload racks in the US segment laboratory are water cooled, there are two internal water cooling loops in the laboratory that circulate through the racks. The internal water system dumps heat through a heat exchanger to an external ammonia loop, which gets rid of the heat through the radiators you can see deployed as some of the external ISS appendages. Basically, they are the big white panels that aren't solar arrays.
  • What did they do (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fireman sam ( 662213 ) on Sunday July 16, 2006 @05:44PM (#15729626) Homepage Journal
    Does it appear to anyone else that most of the time the astronauts are in space is spent determining if they can get back to Earth?

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