Volume: 05, Issue: 07 12/13/2006 
The STS-116 crew: William A. Oefelein, Joan E. Higginbotham, Mark L. Polansky, Robert L. Curbeam, Nicholas J.M. Patrick, Sunita L. Williams, and the European Space Agency's Christer Fuglesang. Photo credit: NASA.
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Mission Specialist Bob Curbeam participates in the first spacewalk of the STS-116 mission. Image credit: NASA TV.
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STS-116 Hatch opening and welcome for the ISS. Image credit: NASA TV.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
2006: The Year in Space
NASA Images Suggest Water Still Flows in Brief Spurts on Mars
NASA Unveils Its Global Exploration Strategy and Lunar Architecture
Space Exhibits to Visit While on Winter Break

NASA Discovery Mission STS-116

NASA's Discovery Mission STS-116 successfully launched on Saturday, December 9. The planned mission will include several spacewalks and a number of complicated manuevers. "What makes this one (mission) singularly unique is the fact that we're going to rewire the space station," Mark Polansky, Discovery's commander, said.

Since it went into orbit in 1998, the space station has been running on a temporary electrical system.

With the installation of two new electricity-generating solar array panels in September, all the pieces are now in place to switch to the permanent system.

The International Space Station grew December 12, 2006, when the STS-116 crew installed the P5 integrated truss segment. The construction work was performed by STS-116 spacewalkers Bob Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang and robot arm operators Joan Higginbotham and Sunita Williams. The P5 spacer segment’s attachment to the P4 set the stage for the relocation of the P6 and its set of solar arrays.

Discovery's crew worked on the retraction of the port P6 solar arrays that began on the afternoon of December 13, 2006. The bays have not been folding properly, and astronauts have been repeatedly retracting and deploying the panels in an attempt to properly align them.

The folding of this 115-foot long solar array, which has been unfurled for more than 6 years, will permit the activation of a rotary joint on the P4 truss. The Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, or SARJ, enables the solar arrays on the P4 to follow the sun as the station moves through orbital sunrise and sunset. Activation of the SARJ will follow the retraction. Two more spacewalks during STS-116's stay will rewire and redistribute power on the station.

Once automatic sun tracking is confirmed for the new P4 arrays, the stage is set for the second spacewalk, scheduled to begin later in the afternoon of December 14. Mission Specialists Bob Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang, who conducted the mission's first spacewalk, will perform the next excursion on December 14.

Curbeam and Fuglesang will again "campout" in the station's airlock to prepare for the spacewalk. During the overnight "campout" the pressure will be lowered in the airlock to the pressure normally found on Earth 10,000 feet above sea level. The procedure protects against decompression sickness as Curbeam and Fuglesang go to the even lower pressure of spacesuits on December 14.

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