Volume: 05, Issue: 01 08/30/2006 
The crew of STS-115: Jett, Jr. and Ferguson, commander and pilot. The mission specialists are Stefanyshyn-Piper, Tanner, Burbank, and MacLean, who represent the Canadian Space Agency. Image credit: NASA.
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Atlantis heads back to Launch Pad 39B where it will ride out Tropical Storm Ernesto. Image credit: NASA.
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STS-115 astronauts train inside a vehicle simulator with full-sized simulations of the Earth and the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Pluto No Longer a Planet
New Horizons Continuing on to Pluto, Planet or Not
NASA Galaxy Hunter: Huge Black Holes Stifle Star Formation
Participate in Science Events

Atlantis Headed Back to Launch Pad

NASA Mission Managers decided to return Atlantis to Launch Pad 39B. The decision came as Tropical Storm Ernesto was predicted to skirt further west than first expected, allowing a sufficient decrease in winds to permit the shuttle to ride out the storm at the pad. Atlantis had begun its trek to the Vehicle Assembly Building, atop the crawler-transporter, on the morning of Tuesday, August 29, 2006. NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency continue to discuss the timing of Atlantis’ mission and the Soyuz spacecraft, which will send the next crew to the Station in September. Atlantis requires eight days of launch preparations once at Launch Pad 39B.

The STS-115 crew consists of Commander Brent W. Jett Jr., Pilot Christopher J. Ferguson, and Mission Specialists Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, Joseph R. Tanner, Daniel C. Burbank, and Steven G. MacLean, who represent the Canadian Space Agency. Aboard the mission, the crew will install a second set of solar arrays on the space station, doubling the station’s ability to generate power from sunlight and adding 17.5 tons to its mass. It is a mission they have had four years to train for, and it is still no cakewalk.

“It’s a very busy flight,” Commander Brent Jett said. “We’ve never had to fit so many activities back to back on consecutive days.” Atlantis’ mission will include all the safety features tested on the past two shuttle flights: improved imagery during launch, heat shield inspections in orbit, and a shuttle backflip as it approaches the station. But beyond those now standard shuttle practices, the mainstay of Atlantis’ flight will require robotics operations, three spacewalks, and multiple ground-controlled checkouts as intricate as any done for station assembly.

Jett’s crew must use the shuttle’s robotic arm to inspect Atlantis’ heat shield on the second day of the mission while they are on the way to the station, a shuttle safety enhancement. As soon as they dock to the complex on their third day in space, Atlantis’ astronauts must unload the school-bus sized package of solar panels, batteries, and electronics. The crew will be going almost nonstop for seven days straight. “Flight day two, we have a very, very full day with the inspection,” Jett said. “The day before docking is now a full day of robotics work. So we go from launch day, right into flight day two inspections, right into flight day three docking and unberth, then the first spacewalk, the second spacewalk, solar array deploy, and then another spacewalk. The timeline is a big challenge.”

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