STS-129/ISS-ULF3 MISSION ARCHIVE (Final)
Updated through: 11/27/09

By William Harwood
CBS News/Kennedy Space Center

The following copy originally was posted on the Current Mission space page at http://cbsnews.com/network/news/space/current.html. Comments, suggestions and corrections welcome!

TABLE OF CONTENTS


10:05 AM, 11/27/09, Update: Shuttle Atlantis lands in Florida (UPDATED at 1 p.m. with quotes from commander, NASA management; UPDATED at 4:15 with Stott comments; Bresnik departure)

The shuttle Atlantis dropped out of a crystal clear Florida sky and glided to a "picture-perfect" landing at the Kennedy Space Center Friday to close out a successful 11-day space station mission, bringing astronaut Nicole Stott back to Earth after 91 days in space.

With commander Charles Hobaugh at the controls, Atlantis executed a sweeping right overhead turn to line up on runway 33, pilot Barry Wilmore deployed the ship's landing gear and the shuttle settled to a tire-smoking touchdown at 9:44:23 a.m. EST.

"Houston, Atlantis, wheels stopped," Hobaugh radioed as the orbiter rolled to a halt on the runway centerline.

"Roger, wheels stopped, Atlantis, that was a picture-perfect end to a top-fuel mission to the space station," replied astronaut Chris Ferguson from mission control at the Johnson Space Center. "Everybody, welcome back to Earth, especially you, Nicole."

The view from pilot Barry Wilmore's cockpit window during final
approach to runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center.
(Photo: NASA TV)

Atlantis lines up on the runway. (Photo: NASA TV)

A runway camera captures Atlantis seconds before touchdown.
Photo: NASA TV)

Atlantis touches down on runway 33. (Photo: NASA TV)

Mission duration was 10 days 19 hours 16 minutes and 13 seconds, covering a distance of 4.4 million miles and 171 complete orbits since blastoff from pad 39A at 2:28:10 p.m. on Nov. 16.

"This was just an amazing mission," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief of space operations. "An on-time launch, on-time landing ... just a phenomenal team effort across the board. ... The folks did great, the vehicle did good, the folks who did all the processing down here did a great job giving us a very good vehicle."Hobaugh, Wilmore, flight engineer Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik doffed their pressure suits for a traditional runway inspection about an hour after touchdown.

"We really had truly an amazing mission," Hobaugh said on the runway. "It was not us, it was not any single group, but it was just an incredible team from all around the nation.

"We were lucky, I mean, part of it's luck and part of it's just pure, great skill, workmanship in processing Atlantis, getting it ready for us. We had no hitches, we went off on time, we landed on time. ... Nicole came back with us, she's doing great, she's headed back to see her family."

Launched to the lab in August, Stott made the trip back to Earth resting on her back in a recumbent seat on the shuttle's lower deck to ease her return to gravity after 91 days in orbit.

Flight surgeons were standing by to help her off the shuttle and carry out initial medical checks before accompanying her to crew quarters for a more detailed exam. Looking comfortable and in good spirits, she told a NASA interviewer a few hours later that while her vestibular system had not yet re-adapted to gravity, she was in good shape and glad to be home.

"As you move, everything else seems to be moving around you," she said. "And it's not a spinning, dizzy feel, it's more if I get up, then everything else seems to want to move up. ... But other than that, the main thing was when they opened the hatch, it smelled like fresh, clean, fall air. And that was really nice."

The Atlantis astronauts posing in front of the shuttle. (Photo: NASA TV)

Her husband and 7-year-old son were on hand to welcome her back to Earth and "I have the promise of a Coca-Cola with crushed ice in a styrofoam cup and some good food, Thanksgiving left overs, waiting for me upstairs. There are also nice, warm showers here so that's a definite luxury I think I will enjoy for some time."

Stott, Hobaugh, Wilmore, Melvin, Foreman, and Satcher planned to fly back to Houston early Saturday. Bresnik, whose wife Rebecca gave birth to the couple's second child on Saturday, flew home right away aboard a NASA training jet to meet his daughter for the first time.

Stott is the last space station crew member to launch and land aboard a space shuttle. With just five more shuttle missions before the fleet is retired next year, all future U.S. station astronauts will fly to and from the lab complex aboard Russian Soyuz capsules.

Stott's former station crewmates face a busy weekend in orbit preparing for the Dec. 1 departure and landing of Expedition 21 commander Frank De Winne, cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk, who were launched to the lab May 27. They are scheduled to land in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz TMA-15 capsule around 2:16 a.m. EST Tuesday to close out a 188-day stay in space.

Expedition 22 commander Jeffrey Williams and cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, who arrived at the lab complex in October, will have the outpost to themselves until Dec. 23 when three fresh crew members - cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, astronaut Timothy Creamer and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi - are scheduled to arrive.

In the midst of departure preparations, flight controllers were tracking a piece of debris from a Delta rocket body that was expected to pass by the station Saturday evening. The station crew may be asked to carry out an avoidance maneuver rocket firing if additional tracking indicates the debris might pass too close.

Hobaugh and his shuttle crewmates delivered nearly 15 tons of spare parts and equipment to the space station, including two pallets loaded with large components as a hedge against failures after the shuttle is retired.

The gear included two orientation control gyroscopes, a spare pump module, nitrogen pressurization tank and ammonia coolant for the lab's external cooling system, equipment for the mobile transporter that carries the station's mechanical arm, a new latching end effector, or hand, for the space crane, and equipment for the lab's electrical system.

Atlantis on final approach. (Photo: Steven Young/Spaceflight Now)

The astronauts also carried out three spacewalks to prepare the complex for the attachment of NASA's final major module in February and the eventual arrival of additional spare parts and equipment that will be ferried up next year. In addition, a high-pressure oxygen tank was attached to the station's Quest airlock module.

For the trip back to Earth, the shuttle carried 2,100 pounds of station gear, including a urine distillation centrifuge that failed shortly before Atlantis took off. A replacement will be carried aloft on the next shuttle mission in February.

Atlantis' mission was one of the most trouble free in recent memory and re-entry Friday went off without a hitch.

Flying upside down and backward over the southern Indian Ocean, Hobaugh and Wilmore fired the ship's twin orbital maneuvering system for two minutes and 47 seconds starting at 8:37 a.m., slowing the ship by 211 mph to drop it out of orbit.

After a half-hour free fall, Atlantis plunged into the discernible atmosphere 400,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean around 9:13 a.m., its nose pitched up to a 40-degree angle of attack for the onset of atmospheric heating.

Following a southwest-to-northeast trajectory, the shuttle's computer-controlled entry carried it above Central America and just off the extreme western tip of Cuba before a descent across southern Florida to the Kennedy Space Center.


5:30 AM, 11/27/09, Update: Atlantis astronauts set for landing

Expecting good weather, shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh and his crewmates rigged Atlantis for re-entry and landing Friday at the Kennedy Space Center, at 9:44 a.m. EST, to wrap up an 11-day space station mission, bringing flight engineer Nicole Stott back to Earth after 91 days in space.

The astronauts were awakened at 1:28 a.m. EST with a recording of "Home Sweet Home" by Motley Crue beamed up by mission control.

"Good morning, Atlantis," called Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. "That song was for the whole crew."

"And the whole crew says thank you very much. Especially this one!" replied Stott.

"You're welcome, and we look forward to seeing you on deck pretty soon."

Joining Hobaugh and Stott aboard Atlantis were pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and new dad Randolph Bresnik, whose wife Rebecca gave birth to the couple's second child last Saturday.

As with all returning station fliers, Stott will make the trip home resting on her back in a recumbent seat on the shuttle's lower deck to ease her return to gravity after three months in the microgravity of space. Flight surgeons will be standing by at Kennedy to assist her as needed and assess her re-adaptation.

"I'm sure you're looking forward to your trip home today," astronaut Chris Ferguson radioed from mission control.

"I am, it's going to be nice to see the family," Stott said.

"I think they're out there looking for you."

Along with a family reunion, Stott said earlier that she was looking forward to a Coke with crushed ice and possibly a pizza.

Stott is the last space station crew member to launch and land aboard a space shuttle. With just five more shuttle missions before the fleet is retired next year, all future U.S. station astronauts will fly to and from the lab complex aboard Russian Soyuz capsules.

While NASA's shuttle flight control team worked through the deorbit timeline, space station flight controllers were assessing the track of a Delta rocket body (catalog No. 25619) from the 1999 launch of NASA's Stardust probe that initial projections showed might pass within about 320 feet of the lab complex Saturday at 6:05 p.m.

Flight controllers are considering a debris avoidance maneuver at 3:47 p.m. Saturday to change the station's orbit slightly and increase the miss distance.

The Atlantis astronauts delivered nearly 15 tons of spare parts and equipment to the space station, including two pallets carrying large components as a hedge against failures after the shuttle is retired. For the trip home, the shuttle is carrying 2,100 pounds of station gear, including a urine distillation centrifuge that failed shortly before Atlantis took off. A replacement will be carried aloft on the next shuttle mission in February.

Today's flight plan calls for the astronauts to close the ship's payload bay doors around 6 a.m. Hobaugh and Wilmore plan to fire Atlantis' twin braking rockets at 8:37:10 a.m. for two minutes and 48 seconds, slowing the shuttle by about 211 mph. That will drop the far point of the orbit down into Earth's atmosphere.

After a half-hour free fall, Atlantis will plunge into the discernible atmosphere 400,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean around 9:13 a.m. Following a southwest-to-northeast trajectory, the shuttle's computer-controlled entry will carry it above Central America and just off the extreme western tip of Cuba before a descent across southern Florida to the Kennedy Space Center.

The shuttle Atlantis' projected entry ground track. (Credit: NASA)

The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center in Houston is calling for a clear sky and winds out of 320 degrees at 14 knots with gusts to 21. That translates to a crosswind of just 3.2 knots and a headwind of up to 21 knots, four knots below NASA's 25-knot limit.

Here's the timeline for today's deorbit activity (in EST; events after completion of the deorbit burn reflect NASA's initial ignition time of 8:37:50 a.m., which is 40 seconds later than the updated burn time):

EST...........EVENT

04:37 AM......Deorbit ops in work
04:52 AM......Radiator stow complete
05:02 AM......Mission specialists seat installation
05:08 AM......Computers set for deorbit prep
05:12 AM......Hydraulic system configuration
05:37 AM......Flash evaporator checkout
05:43 AM......Final payload deactivation
05:57 AM......Payload bay doors closed
06:07 AM......Mission control 'go' for OPS-3 entry software transition
06:17 AM......OPS-3 transition
06:42 AM......Entry switchlist verification
06:52 AM......Deorbit maneuver update
06:57 AM......Crew entry review
07:12 AM......Commander/pilot don entry suits
07:29 AM......Inertial measurement unit alignment
07:37 AM......Commander/pilot strap in; mission specialists don suits
07:54 AM......Shuttle steering check
07:57 AM......Hydraulic system prestart
08:04 AM......Toilet deactivation

08:17 AM......MCC 'go' for deorbit burn
08:23 AM......MS seat ingress
08:32 AM......Single APU start

08:37:00 AM...Deorbit ignition
08:39:48 AM...Deorbit burn complete

09:12:50 AM...Entry interface
09:17:43 AM...1st roll command to left
09:28:07 AM...1st roll left to right
09:31:10 AM...C-band radar acquisition
09:37:46 AM...Velocity less than mach 2.5
09:39:58 AM...Velocity less than mach 1
09:40:23 AM...Right turn to runway 33
09:44:10 AM...Landing

If the weather doesn't cooperate, or if a technical problem crops up, Hobaugh and his crewmates will have another chance to land in Florida one orbit later, with a deorbit rocket firing at 10:12 a.m., setting up a landing at 11:19 a.m.

Atlantis has enough on-board supplies to remain in orbit until Monday in a worst-case scenario. But with the shuttle in good shape and with good weather expected Friday and Saturday in Florida, NASA has no plans to activate its backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., until Sunday if necessary.


12:45 PM, 11/26/09, Update: Shuttle heat shield cleared for Friday landing; good weather expected

With good weather expected in Florida, the Atlantis astronauts packed up for landing Friday at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA's Mission Management Team, meanwhile, completed a review of heat shield inspection data collected Wednesday and concluded the shuttle was in good shape and ready for the trip home.

"Our thermal protection system has been cleared for entry," said Flight Director Bryan Lunney. "We did a late inspection yesterday and folks looked at the data and it looks really good, the system is in great shape for entry tomorrow."

Earlier today, commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore and flight engineer Leland Melvin tested Atlantis' re-entry systems, powering up a hydraulic power unit and exercising the spacecraft's elevons, body flap and rudder/speedbrake. After navigation and control system checks, the astronauts test fired the steering jets that will be used during the initial stages of the descent.

"Everything in the flight control system checked out really, really well, that system is in great shape," Lunney said. "In addition, we did our reaction control system hotfire. We fired all 38 thrusters twice, verified they all look really good and they're performing exactly as we expect. So those 38 thrusters  are ready for entry as well."

Atlantis is scheduled to land at 9:44 a.m. EST Friday on runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center. A second opportunity is available one orbit later at 11:19 a.m.

Lunney said the crew has enough on-board supplies to remain in orbit until Monday in a worst-case scenario. But with Atlantis in good shape and good weather expected Friday and Saturday, NASA has no plans to activate its backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., until Sunday if necessary.

"We have consumables to support end-of-mission-plus-three (days), so for Friday and Saturday we're only going to try for KSC," Lunney said. "For Sunday, that's our weather extension day, what we call our pick 'em day when we would bring up our other sites in addition to KSC. Then Monday we reserve for our systems waveoff. So again, for Friday and Saturday, we're only looking at KSC. The weather at KSC is looking really great.

The only technical issue of any significance is a presumably clogged filter in the shuttle's waste water system that has prevented the crew from fully emptying accumulated urine. For a landing Friday, the issue is of no consequence at all. Engineers have developed a bypass procedure that may be implemented if the mission is extended past Friday.

The flight plan calls for Hobaugh and Wilmore to fire Atlantis' twin braking rockets at 8:37 a.m. EST. The two-minute 48-second rocket firing is designed to slow the shuttle by 211 mph, just enough to drop the far point of the orbit into Earth's atmosphere for a 9:44 a.m. touchdown on runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center in Houston is calling for just a few clouds and winds out of 320 degrees at 14 knots with gusts to 21. That translates to a crosswind of just 3.2 knots and a headwind of up to 21 knots, below NASA's 25-knot limit.

If the weather doesn't cooperate, or if a technical problem crops up, Hobaugh and his crewmates will have another chance to land in Florida one orbit later, with a deorbit rocket firing at 10:12 a.m., setting up a landing at 11:19 a.m.


6:00 AM, 11/26/09, Update: Astronauts test entry systems, prep for Friday landing

The Atlantis astronauts worked through a busy Thanksgiving in space Thursday, testing the shuttle's re-entry systems and packing up for landing Friday at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a successful space station delivery mission.

The Atlantis astronauts wish mission control a happy
Thanksgiving. (Credit: NASA TV)

Atlantis' flight is the seventh shuttle mission to be in orbit over Thanksgiving, but commander Charles Hobaugh said the crew had nothing special planned for dinner.

"You know, Thanksgiving isn't all about what you eat," Hobaugh said Tuesday. "It's the people you spend it with and this has become my second family. Of course, I have my main family back home, but these guys, and now (returning space station astronaut) Nicole (Stott), have been incredible to work with and we're just going to have a great time."

But mission control commentator Brandi Dean said a few traditional Thanksgiving items were packed before launch, including "turkey, of course, as well as green beans, mushrooms, cornbread dressing and candied yams."

An image of a turkey replaced the space shuttle on the tracking map in mission control and in the crew's flight plan, "meal" was replaced by "Thanksgiving feast."

"The season is whatever the season is, it could be Christmas, could be Thanksgiving, who knows?" Hobaugh joked before launch. "We're just always pleased to be in space and I don't care what they give us, it could be beef brisket, it could be tofu, it doesn't matter to me, we're going to enjoy ourselves no matter what we do."

A turkey replaces the shuttle on NASA's mission control
tracking map. (Credit: NASA TV)

Atlantis is scheduled to land at 9:44 a.m. Friday at the Kennedy Space Center. A second opportunity is available one orbit later at 11:19 a.m.

To prepare the ship for re-entry, Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore and flight engineer Leland Melvin tested Atlantis' re-entry systems early Thursday, firing up a hydraulic power unit, exercising the spacecraft's elevons, body flap and rudder/speedbrake. After navigation and control system checks, the astronauts planned to test fire the steering jets that will be used during the initial stages of the descent.

Commander Charles Hobaugh, left, Leland Melvin and pilot Barry
Wilmore test Atlantis' re-entry systems. (Credit: NASA TV)

Their crewmates - Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman, Randolph Bresnik and Stott - began packing up, stowing loose gear for the trip home. Later today, a reclining seat will be set up on the shuttle's lower deck to help ease Stott's return to gravity after 91 days in space.

Atlantis is bringing down about 2,100 pounds of no-longer needed space station hardware, experiment samples and other items, including a distillation assembly centrifuge from the lab's urine recycling system. The DA is the second such device to malfunction since the station's water processing system was activated late last year.

The DA and a Russian tank of urine are being returned aboard Atlantis for a detailed failure analysis. The original DA has been repaired and will be re-launched in February.

Space station commander Frank De Winne, holding the distillation
assembly centrifuge being returned aboard Atlantis. (Credit: NASA TV)

The astronauts will participate in a final round of media interviews at 9:13 a.m. A mission status briefing with entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and the crew plans to go to bed at 5:28 p.m. Here is an updated timeline for the remainder of the mission (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision M of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/26
01:28 AM...09...11...00...STS crew wakeup
04:31 AM...09...14...03...SEITE rocket firing
05:33 AM...09...15...05...Cabin stow begins
05:48 AM...09...15...20...FCS checkout
06:58 AM...09...16...30...RCS hotfire
07:13 AM...09...16...45...Deorbit review
07:43 AM...09...17...15...Crew meal
09:09 AM...09...18...41...SIMPLEX rocket firing
09:13 AM...09...18...45...PAO event
09:33 AM...09...19...05...Cabin stow resumes
09:38 AM...09...19...10...PILOT operations
09:38 AM...09...19...10...Wing leading edge sensor deact
10:38 AM...09...20...10...L-1 comm check
11:30 AM...09...21...02...Mission status briefing on NTV
12:28 PM...09...22...00...Ergometer stow
12:58 PM...09...22...30...Recumbent seat setup
01:28 PM...09...23...00...Launch-and-entry suit checkout
02:28 PM...10...00...00...KU antenna stow
02:38 PM...10...10...00...PGSC laptop computer stow (part 1)
05:28 PM...10...03...00...Crew sleep begins
06:00 PM...10...03...32...Daily highlights on NTV

11/27
01:28 AM...10...11...00...Crew wakeup
03:53 AM...10...13...25...Group B computer powerup
04:08 AM...10...13...40...Inertial measurement unit alignment
04:43 AM...10...14...15...Deorbit timeline begins

EST...........DD...HH...MM...SS...EVENT

08:37:50 AM...10...18...09...40...Deorbit ignition (rev. 171)
09:44:18 AM...10...19...16...08...Landing at KSC
10:13:50 AM...10...19...45...40...Deorbit ignition (rev. 172)
11:19:29 AM...10...20...51...19...Landing at KSC


01:35 PM, 11/25/09, Update: Engineers assess waste water discharge line blockage; astronauts inspect heat shield

The shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station early Wednesday, carried out a photo-documentation fly around and inspected the ship's critical nose cap and wing leading edge panels to make sure they haven't been damaged since a similar inspection the day after launch.

During a planned waste water dump to offload urine and condensate collected over the past week or so, the astronauts ran into a problem with an apparently clogged discharge line.

"The tank can hold 165 pounds and we only managed to get it down to about 80 pounds of liquid waste on board Atlantis," said Flight Director Mike Sarafin. "We believe there's a blockage in the line that basically vents the waste water out into space and the folks here on the ground are working on that."

A closeup view of the shuttle Atlantis' waste water nozzle, showing
no obvious signs of problems that might explain a presumed
blockage. (Credit: NASA TV)

With the tank only half full, the astronauts have no immediate problem and should be in good shape "as is" through Friday, when Atlantis is scheduled to land back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"I'm confident the team will come up with a backup plan should we need to offload that waste tank," Sarafin said. "Right now, we've obviously got some margin in the waste tank. We've done some rough calculations here on the ground and we know we can make it through landing day without having any problems or needing any contingency procedures or in-flight maintenance procedures. It's only if we extend past the planned landing day on Friday that we may have to take additional measures.

"Folks are obviously working those plans right now to see if we can't basically unclog the dump line and see if we can get that tank emptied tomorrow," he said. "The hope is we will be able to get it emptied."

The forecast for landing Friday in Florida calls for light clouds and winds down runway 33 out of 340 degrees at 14 knots with gusts to 21. That works out to a crosswind of just 4 knots or so and a headwind gusting to nearly 21 knots, 4 knots below NASA's limit. Conditions improve Saturday, with lighter winds.

"There's a pretty good chance that we'll come home on Friday," Sarafin said.

The astronauts, meanwhile, pressed ahead with a post-undocking heat shield inspection Wednesday, using a laser scanner and cameras on the end of a 50-foot-long robot arm extension to examine the shuttle's nose cap and wing leading edge panels, which experience the most extreme heating during re-entry.

A similar inspection was carried out the day after launch nine days ago and this final look, a routine feature of post-Columbia shuttle missions, was intended to find any damage that might have occurred due to meteoroid or space debris impacts over the course of Atlantis' mission.

"The folks are using the boom sensor system to sweep and scan up and down the reinforced carbon carbon surfaces on the port and starboard wing as well as the nose cap to make sure Atlantis is ready to come hom following the roughly week on orbit in the orbital debris environment," Sarafin said. "The team on the ground will review that imagery over the next 12 to 24 hours to make a final determination (that) all is well."


8:00 AM, 11/25/09, Update: Shuttle crew downlinks fly-around footage

Here are a few frame grabs from hand-held video shot by the Atlantis astronauts during Wednesday's fly-around of the International Space Station.

Atlantis pulls out in front of the space station. (Credit: NASA TV)

The view through the shuttle's overhead windows. (Credit: NASA TV)

The station crossing the coast of South America (Credit: NASA TV)

The station, directly below Atlantis. (Credit: NASA TV)

The station, directly in front of Atlantis. (Credit: NASA TV)


5:05 AM, 11/25/09, Update: Shuttle Atlantis undocks from space station (UPDATED at 6:00 a.m. with additional photos)

The shuttle Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station early Wednesday, leaving nearly 15 tons of equipment and supplies behind and giving flight engineer Nicole Stott a ride home after three months in orbit.

With pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore at the controls, Atlantis slowly pulled away directly in front of the lab complex at 4:53 a.m. EST as the two spacecraft sailed 215 miles above the Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia.

Flying Atlantis from the shuttle's aft flight deck, Wilmore plans to guide the ship through a full 360-degree lap around the station, passing directly above, behind and below the outpost before a rocket firing around 6:36 a.m. to leave the area for good.

The space station's shuttle docking port recedes as Atlantis departs.
(Credit: NASA TV)

Atlantis separates from the station in orbital darkness. (Credit: NASA TV)

"I just wanted to say again it was a real pleasure working with you guys," Stott radioed the station from Atlantis just before undocking. "I was blessed with a wonderful crew and I look forward to seeing you guys on the ground real soon."

"And we were equally as blessed having you on board with us," replied station commander Jeffrey Williams. "We'll miss you, but we're happy for you that you're now returning to your family. Thank you for a great mission."

The shuttle passes 600 feet directly above the space station. (Credit: NASA TV)

The space station through Atlantis' docking port camera. (Credit: NASA TV)

Atlantis, directly behind the space station.
(Credit: NASA TV)

Directly below the station, Atlantis passes 215 miles above Italy.
(Credit: NASA TV)


4:00 AM, 11/25/09, Update: Atlantis astronauts prepare for undocking

The Atlantis astronauts are gearing up to undock from the International Space Station today at 4:53 a.m. EST. Pilot Barry Wilmore will carry out a 360-degree photo-documentation fly-around before departing the area just after 6:30 a.m.

"It's a good day for the pilot the way we plan 'em out," he said in a NASA interview. "The pilot is actually the one who is on the controls as you undock from station. So we'll undock and I'll be doing the fly out, if you will, back out the V-bar (directly in front of the station) to about a 150, 200 feet thereabouts and then we'll affect some burns that will put us in a trajectory where we actually will fly all the way around the station and with our payload bay pointing at the station the whole way.

"We'll fly around about 600 to 650 feet. ... As we affect that maneuver coming all the way out, as we get back to where we started on that plus V-bar, we'll do a burn that will put us initially on a trajectory to leave station and start on our way home. So as I will do that burn going home, going home to my wife, Deanna, and our two girls, that'll be a neat time."

A post-undocking inspection of the shuttle's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels is scheduled to begin around 9:18 a.m. to look for any signs of damage that might have occurred since a similar inspection the day after launch. A mission status briefing is on tap at 11:30 a.m., followed by a Mission Management Team briefing at 3:30 p.m. The crew will go to bed at 5:28 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision L of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...SS...EVENT

11/25/09
01:28 AM...08...11...00...00...ISS crew wakeup
01:58 AM...08...11...30...00...STS crew wakeup
02:53 AM...08...12...24...50...US solar arrays feathered
03:23 AM...08...12...55...00...Group B computer powerup
03:28 AM...08...13...00...00...ISS daily planning conference
03:43 AM...08...13...14...50...Maneuver to undocking attitude
04:08 AM...08...13...40...00...Undocking timeline begins
04:39 AM...08...14...11...39...Sunset

04:53 AM...08...14...25...00...UNDOCKING

04:54 AM...08...14...26...00...Initial separation
04:54 AM...08...14...26...40...ISS holds attitude
04:58 AM...08...14...30...00...Range: 50 feet; reselect -X jets
05:00 AM...08...14...32...00...Range: 75 feet; low Z
05:11 AM...08...14...43...29...Sunrise
05:22 AM...08...14...54...00...Range: 400 feet; start flyaround
05:31 AM...08...15...03...30...Range: 600 feet
05:33 AM...08...15...05...30...Shuttle directly above ISS
05:40 AM...08...15...11...50...ISS maneuver to TEA attitude
05:41 AM...08...15...13...16...Noon
05:45 AM...08...15...17...00...Shuttle directly behind ISS
05:47 AM...08...15...18...50...US solar arrays resume track
05:56 AM...08...15...28...30...Shuttle directly below ISS
06:08 AM...08...15...40...00...Shuttle in front of ISS; separation burn 1
06:11 AM...08...15...43...03...Sunset
06:36 AM...08...16...08...00...Separation burn 2
06:43 AM...08...16...15...00...Post-undocking PGSC reconfig
06:58 AM...08...16...30...00...Group B computer powerdown
07:13 AM...08...16...45...00...Crew meal
08:13 AM...08...17...45...00...OBSS unberth
08:13 AM...08...17...45...00...EVA unpack and stow
09:18 AM...08...18...50...00...Starboard wing survey
09:43 AM...08...19...15...00...PST ISS EVA entry preps
10:58 AM...08...20...30...00...Nose cap survey
11:30 AM...08...21...02...00...Mission status briefing on NTV
11:48 AM...08...21...20...00...Port wing survey
01:33 PM...08...23...05...00...OBSS berthing
01:33 PM...08...23...05...00...LDRI downlink
02:33 PM...09...00...05...00...SRMS powerdown
03:30 PM...09...01...02...00...Post-MMT briefing on NTV
05:28 PM...09...03...00...00...STS crew sleep begins
06:00 PM...09...03...32...00...Daily highlights

11/26/09
01:28 AM...09...11...00...00...Crew wakeup


1:25 PM, 11/24/09, Update: Shuttle astronauts bid station crew farewell, move back aboard Atlantis for undocking Wednesday (consolidating earlier updates)

The Atlantis astronauts used the shuttle's maneuvering thrusters to boost the International Space Station's altitude by more than a mile early Tuesday, participated in a change-of-command ceremony aboard the lab complex and then bid their station colleagues farewell before closing hatches to set the stage for undocking Wednesday.

Shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin, Robert Satcher, Michael Foremanm, Randolph Bresnik and returning space station flight engineer Nicole Stott, wrapping up a three-month stay in space, joined the station crew a final time in the forward Harmony module around 12:30 p.m. EST.

"Working together as one team instead of two separate groups, it's a real testament to cooperation and everyone working toward a common goal," Hobaugh said. "So thanks."

Expedition 21 commander Frank De Winne of Belgium said "everything was very smooth, from the moment we opened the hatch until now that we transfer our last item, Nicole, over to you. Take good care of her. ... Thanks a lot for all the laughs and the joy you brought us and all the good work."

Stott, jokingly referred to as transfer item 914, embraced her former station crewmates and then was gently pushed across the module to the shuttle crew.

Shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh thanks the station crew in
a brief farewell ceremony. (Photo: NASA TV)

Departing flight engineer Nicole Stott shares a hug with her
station crewmates. (Photo: NASA TV)

Stott hugs each station crew member in turn, here with Frank
De Winne. (Photo: NASA TV)

Stott, transfer item 914, is formally "delivered" to the
shuttle crew. (Photo: NASA TV)

And with that, the seven shuttle fliers floated through the station's forward port and into Atlantis, sharing final hugs and handshakes as they departed. Hatches between the two spacecraft were closed at 1:12 p.m. If all goes well, Atlantis will undock from the station at 4:53 a.m. Wednesday.

The astronauts will carry out a final heat shield inspection and then spend Thanksgiving day testing Atlantis' re-entry systems and packing up for landing at the Kennedy Space Center around 9:44 a.m. Friday.

"Once the hatches are closed, we'll undock bright and early in the morning, we're going to do a one-lap fly around of the International Space Station to take imagery and gain engineering data on the exterior health of the space station," said Flight Director Mike Sarafin.

"We'll separate and do a waste dump to empty the tanks on the shuttle and then get right into the late (heat shield) inspecftion activities, which will wrap up flight day 10. After that, we'll prepare to bring Atlantis home, hopefully on Friday."

Over the course of the 129th shuttle mission, the Atlantis astronauts staged three spacewalks and delivered nearly 15 tons of spare components, equipment and supplies, including 1,400 pounds of fresh water to supplement the station's on-board supplies. The shuttle is bringing down some 2,100 pounds of gear from the station, including a centrifuge from the lab's urine recycling system that broke down before the shuttle's arrival.

The unit is the second distillation assembly to fail since the water recycling system was activated late last year. NASA plans to re-launch the first unit, which has been refurbished and improved, on the next shuttle flight in February. The unit being returned aboard Atlantis will be repaired and a third distillation assembly should be completed later this year.

The urine recycling system is critical to NASA's long-range plans to operate the station after the shuttle fleet is retired late next year. NASA plans to build six DAs in all to protect against failures down the road.

Earlier Tuesday, the combined crews held a space station change-of-command ceremony. Expedition 21 commander De Winne, a European Space Agency astronaut, was relieved by NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, who arrived at the station in October.

De Winne became ESA's first space station commander Oct. 9 when he relieved cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. De Winne, cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian astronaut Roberet Thirsk, launched to the station May 27, are scheduled to undock and return to Earth Monday, landing in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule to wrap up a 188-day stay in space.

"It has been an honor, a pleasure and a privilege to be able to work with this wonderful crew in Expedition 21," De Winne said. "But it's also been an honor and a pleasure to work with all the ground teams in the different control centers. The support that I've received both from my crew and from the control centers has been tremendous and magnificent.

"As the first European commander, it has been a great honor to be able to fulfill this role and I've only done this thanks to the help of all my colleagues as well at the European astronaut center and all the other European astronauts who have flown before me and have also shown excellence in their jobs."

Outgoing station commander Frank De Winne, left, is relieved
by NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams. (Photo: NASA TV)

Said Williams: "Frank, I'd also like to congratulate you on being the first commander of the space station that wasn't a Russian cosmonaut or a NASA astronaut. You've done a very good job, you have set the bar very high for me and also for all of those who follow us. So I want to congratulate you on that great achievement. You were the right person to transition us fully into six-crew (member) operations. So thank you for that and congratulations again."

Williams also praised De Winne's original two crewmates, Romanenko and Thirsk, as well as Stott, taking a moment to pin astronaut wings on her shirt as her first space mission draws to a close. A few moments later, he officially assumed command.

"Jeff, I'm ready to stand relieved," De Winne said.

"I relieve you of command," Williams replied.

"I stand relieved."

Wilmore then rang the ship's bell, the shuttle and station crews shook hands and the ceremony came to an end.

With the Monday departure of De Winne, Romanenko and Thirsk, Williams and cosmonaut Maxim Suraev will have the station to themselves until the arrival of another Soyuz Dec. 23 carrying cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, NASA flight engineer Timothy Creamer and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

The next shuttle visit is scheduled for launch around Feb. 6, a flight that will deliver one of the final U.S. pressurized modules to the lab complex. The station currently is about 86 percent complete, weighing some 760,000 pounds.

"The space station now is nearly complete," Thirsk said during a joint crew news conference earlier Tuesday. "If you think you've seen some pretty interesting expeditions aboard the space station, you ain't seen nothing yet. We're entering the golden era of the International Space Station program and science and technology demonstrations are going to take off from here."


02:30 PM, 11/23/09, Update: Spacewalk No. 3 ends

Astronauts Robert Satcher and Randolph Bresnik began repressuring the International Space Station's Quest airlock module at 2:06 p.m. EST to officially wrap up a five-hour 42-minute spacewalk, the third and final excursion planned for the shuttle Atlantis' mission.

The astronauts successfully attached a high-pressure oxygen tank to the airlock's hull, deployed a materials science experiment and carried out a variety of assembly get-ahead tasks.

"And Houston, this concludes STS-129's EVAs," astronaut Micheal Foreman radioed from inside the shuttle-station complex. "Hopefully, we came and left station in a better place than what it was before we got here."

Randy Bresnik, right, and Robert Satcher, left, prepare to
re-enter the space station's Quest airlock. (Photo: NASA TV)

Bresnik, whose wife Rebecca gave birth to a daughter Saturday in Houston, praised Foreman, who carried out to earlier spacewalks with both Bresnik and Satcher, for being a "phenomenal mentor and leader, that's why we arrived at the point where first-time fliers could take off the training wheels and (go out) for an EVA. Thank you, Mike.

"And everyone in Houston, I got to see my little girl for the first time yesterday and I know there were a myriad of people across a lot of disciplines at JSC and the hospital staff that worked to make that happen. They were just amazing. ... So thank you to my wondeful wife for bringing her into the world. It was the most wonderful thing I've seen since I left Earth."

This was the third and final spacewalk planned by the Atlantis astronauts. Total EVA duration was 18 hours and 27 minutes, pushing the total for station assembly to 849 hours and 18 minutes since assembly began in 1998.


12:30 PM, 11/23/09, Update: Oxygen tank installed (UPDATED at 1 p.m. with additional details)

Astronauts Robert Satcher and Randolph Bresnik successfully mounted a new high pressure oxygen tank on the International Space Station's Quest airlock module Monday during the first half of a planned five-hour 45-minutet spacewalk.

The astronauts are now working on a variety of get-ahead items, reconfiguring ammonia coolant jumpers, installing insulation, stowing a large "cheater bar" tool and relocating a foot restraint. The work is going smoothly and the astronauts are well ahead of schedule.

A look down the station's right-side power truss with the Quest
airlock visible to the right. (Photo: NASA TV)

Astronaut Robert Satcher looks on as the new oxygen tank is
maneuvered to the Quest airlock.(Photo: NASA TV)

Robert Satcher, left, and Randy Bresnik, right, secure the
new oxygen tank. (Photo: NASA TV)

Randy Bresnik works to reconfigure ammonia coolant lines.
(Photo: NASA TV)

The view from Randy Bresnik's helmet cam of the Texas coast
220 miles below. (Photo: NASA TV)

"Hey, Bobby, take a look at the coastline we're going over now," Bresnik radioed.

"Oh, wow," Satcher marveled.

"Is this England and France and the English Channel?" Bresnik asked.

"It's Mexico, but you were close," Foreman replied from inside the shuttle.

"Oh! I was only half a world off," Bresnik laughed. "How close do we go to Houston on this pass?"

"Right over the top of Houston."


8:35 AM, 11/23/09, Update: Spacewalk No. 3 begins

Astronauts Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik, floating in the International Space Station's Quest airlock module, switched their spacesuits to battery power at 8:24 a.m. EST to officially begin a planned five-hour 45-minute spacewalk.

The start of today's EVA came an hour and six minutes behind schedule because of work to re-attach a valve in Satcher's spacesuit drink bag.

The space station's robot arm m oves into position to
grapple a high-pressure oxygen tank on a spare parts
pallet. (Photo: NASA TV)

This is the 136th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 17th this year and the third and final excursion planned by the Atlantis astronauts. It is the second spacewalk for Satcher and Bresnik.

The first half of today's excursion will be devoted to moving a new 1,240-pound oxygen tank from a spare parts pallet attached to the station Saturday to the Quest module where it will be bolted in place and connected to the system used to pressurize and depressurize the airlock.

Here is a bit of background from the NASA STS-129 press kit:

"High pressure oxygen onboard the ISS provides support for EVA and contingency metabolic support for the crew. This high pressure O2 is brought to the ISS by the high-pressure gas tanks (HPGT) and is replenished by the space shuttle by using the oxygen recharge compressor assembly (ORCA).

"There are several drivers that must be considered in managing the available high pressure oxygen on the ISS. The amount of oxygen the space shuttle can fly up is driven by manifest mass limitations, launch slips and on orbit shuttle power requirements. The amount of oxygen that is used from the ISS HPGTs is driven by the number of shuttle docked and undocked EVAs, the type of EVA prebreathe protocol that is used, contingency use of oxygen for metabolic support and emergency oxygen.

"The HPGT will be transferred from ELC-2 to the ISS airlock. The HPGT measures 5 feet by 6.2 feet by 4.5 feet and weights approximately 1,240 pounds of which 220 pounds is gaseous oxygen at 2,450 pounds per square inch of pressure. The HPGT was provided by Boeing."


6:25 AM, 11/23/09, Update: Spacewalk delayed an hour to replace suit drink bag valve

The start of today's spacewalk, originally planned for 7:18 a.m. EST, has been delayed by about an hour to fix a detached drink bag valve in astronaut Robert Satcher's spacesuit.


5:25 AM, 11/23/09, Update: Astronauts suit up for third spacewalk

Astronauts Robert Satcher and Randolph Bresnik prepared for a planned five-hour 45-minute spacewalk Monday to install an oxygen tank on the International Space Station's Quest airlock module, set up a materials science space exposure experiment and carry out a variety of station assembly get-ahead tasks.

In two earlier spacewalks, the Atlantis astronauts accomplished several of the tasks planned for the final excursion and flight planners revised the content of the third EVA to include additional get-ahead objectives.

This will be the 136th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 17th this year and the third and final excursion planned by the Atlantis astronauts. It is the second spacewalk for Satcher and Bresnik.

For identification, Satcher's suit is unmarked while Bresnik's features broken stripes around the legs.

"The major task we're going to do is installing the oxygen gas tank so we're bringing up some atmosphere for the space station," Satcher said in a NASA interview. "It comes up actually on ELC-2 (Express Logistics Carrier 2), which is going to be stored all the way out on the end of the space station, on the starboard end.

"So we got to go out, way out there, and get it, coordinate with the robotic arm. We have to take it off of ELC-2, hold it in position for the arm to grapple it and transport it all the way back over to the airlock where we will go and install it. Now, before we can install it there, there's some MMOD shields, which are micrometeorite debris shields, that we [have] got to move out of the way, so we'll be detaching those, moving them out of the way and then we can install the gas tank.

"The other major activity is we'll be deploying these material science experiments called MISSEs. Randy will be getting those out of the cargo bay of the shuttle and bringing those over to ELC-2 where they're installed and deployed."

The oxygen tank installation and MISSE-7 experiment set up are expected to take about three hours to complete. The rest of the excursion will be devoted to assembly get-ahead tasks.

Satcher will loosen a bolt on an ammonia tank assembly that will be replaced later and stow a long "cheater bar" tool outside the station while Bresnik works to connect ammonia fluid line jumpers in the station's cooling system. Satcher then will install insulation to protect power connectors on the railcar that moves the station's robot arm along the main power truss. He also will install a protective cover on a camera at the end of the robot arm. While that work is going on, Bresnik will relocate a foot restraint.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision K of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/23/09
02:28 AM...06...12...00...STS/ISS crew wakeup
03:03 AM...06...12...35...EVA-3: 14.7 psi repress/hygiene break
03:48 AM...06...13...20...EVA-3: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
04:03 AM...06...13...35...ISS daily planning conference
04:13 AM...06...13...45...EVA-3: Campout EVA preps
05:43 AM...06...15...15...EVA-3: Spacesuit purge
05:58 AM...06...15...30...EVA-3: Spacesuit prebreathe
06:48 AM...06...16...20...EVA-3: Crew lock depressurization
07:18 AM...06...16...50...EVA-3: Spacesuits to battery power
07:23 AM...06...16...55...EVA-3: Airlock egress/setup
07:48 AM...06...17...20...EVA-3: O2 tank transfer and MISSE 7 install
10:48 AM...06...20...20...EVA-3: Airlock debris shields
11:18 AM...06...20...50...EVA-3/Satcher: Ammonia tank bolt torque
11:18 AM...06...20...50...EVA-3/Bresnik: P1/P3 jumper install
11:38 AM...06...21...10...EVA-3/Satcher: Cheater bar stow
11:48 AM...06...21...20...EVA-3/Bresnik: S1/S3 jumper install
11:53 AM...06...21...25...EVA-3/Satcher: MSS insulation
12:18 PM...06...21...50...EVA-3/Bresnik: Foot restraint 3 relocate
12:33 PM...06...22...05...EVA-3: Contingency time
01:18 PM...06...22...50...EVA-3: Cleanup and ingress
01:48 PM...06...23...20...EVA-3: Airlock repressurization
02:03 PM...06...23...35...Spacesuit servicing
03:13 PM...07...45...00...Evening planning conference
03:30 PM...07...01...02...Mission status briefing on NTV
05:28 PM...07...03...00...ISS crew sleep begins
05:58 PM...07...03...30...STS crew sleep begins
06:00 PM...07...03...32...Daily highlights on NTV
11:30 PM...07...09...02...Flight director update


7:40 AM, 11/22/09, Update: Astronaut's wife delivers a baby girl (UPDATED at 4:20 PM with additional details)

Astronaut Randy Bresnik went to bed after a spacewalk Saturday awaiting word of the birth of his second child. Responding to a wake-up call from Houston early today, he delivered the news that his wife Rebecca had given birth, saying "good morning, Houston. Good morning, Rebecca, good morning, Wyatt, and good morning to our little girl."

"I just wanted to take this opportunity to report some good news," he said later in the morning. "At 11:04 last night, Abigail Mae Bresnik joined the NASA family and momma and baby are doing very well. I'm very thankful for everyone ... that's been so supportive and so helpful the last couple of days with everything that's been going on."

The shuttle crew's wakeup music, chosen by Bresnik's wife, was a song titled "Butterfly Kisses," which starts off with the lyrics: "There's two things I know for sure: She was sent here from heaven and she's daddy's little girl."

The baby weighed in at six pounds 13 ounces and measured about 20 inches. Photos and video were uplinked to the shuttle-station complex later Sunday for a private family conference.

"He was informed through a phone patch to Atlantis from the mission control center and the hospital after he woke up," according to a NASA spokesman. "Bresnik was also tied in through the station’s IP (internet protocol) phone to Dr. Smith Johnston, the STS-129 flight surgeon following his EVA Saturday evening during his wife’s labor until he needed to go to bed."

For medical reasons, Rebecca Bresnik was scheduled for delivery Friday, two weeks before her December due date. Her husband participated in a six-hour spacewalk Saturday and went to bed awaiting word of the birth.

"Like most parents, I would prefer to be there at the birth for sure, but we don't pick this timing," he said during a pre-launch NASA interview. "It'll be a little bit disappointing not to see her in person right when she enters the world, but fortunately through the wonders of modern technical advancements and our amazing communications systems on the ISS and space shuttle, hopefully I'll be able to see the pictures and maybe talk to her on the IP phone and see some video shortly thereafter. I'll be home only a few days afterwards."

Rebecca and Randy Bresnik discuss the pending birth of their
daughter in a pre-flight NASA interview. (Photo: NASA TV)

Rebecca said she, too, was "a little disappointed he won't be able to be there, but understanding that we don't choose the timing. I'm excited for him that he's doing what he's doing. He's trained one year for this mission, but really he's been here five, almost six years and I'm just real excited for him, excited for us, and just be gone basically a week beyond her being born."

She said the couple's son Wyatt "thinks he's naming the baby Nemo. He's just ready to be big brother, he's excited about the baby, he's always asking 'when is the baby going to come out and play?'"

"He goes up to her belly button and says 'baby, come out!'" said her husband.

"I say that too, sometimes," she joked.

"The amazing thing about him, you know, a year ago today we hadn't even met him yet," Bresnik said. "Within 48 hours of me being assigned to (shuttle mission) STS-129, we got the call saying we had a date to go to the Ukraine for our adoption.

"So we were over there 40 days last fall adopting him, came back in late December. So we've got this wonderfully happy, healthy little three-and-a-half-year-old boy who's life changed completely and he's gone from being in an orphanage on the other side of the planet to being in the space shuttle simulator here flying with his dad a couple of weeks ago.

"A miracle adoption as well as the miracle of childbirth, all in one year," he said. "We're just amazingly blessed."

Bresnik and his crewmates - commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin, Robert Satcher and Michael Foreman enjoyed a half-day of off-duty time Sunday while their space station colleagues took the entire day off.

This afternoon, Bresnik and Satcher will review plans for a final spacewalk Monday before going to sleep in the station's Quest airlock module to help purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision J of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/22/09
02:58 AM...05...12...30...Crew wakeup
04:38 AM...05...14...10...ISS daily planning conference
06:08 AM...05...15...40...Shuttle crew off duty
10:08 AM...05...19...40...Spacesuit swap
10:23 AM...05...19...55...Crew meals
10:38 AM...05...20...10...PAO event
11:23 AM...05...20...55...Transfer ops
12:08 PM...05...21...40...Equipment lock preps
12:08 PM...05...21...40...PAO event
12:53 PM...05...22...25...EVA-3: Tools configured
02:23 PM...05...23...55...EVA-3: Procedures review
03:43 PM...06...01...15...Evening planning conference
04:53 PM...06...02...25...EVA-3: Mask pre-breathe
05:33 PM...06...03...05...EVA-3: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
05:58 PM...06...03...30...ISS crew sleep begins
06:28 PM...06...04...00...STS crew sleep begins
07:00 PM...06...04...32...Daily highlights


5:20 PM, 11/21/09, Update: No word on Bresnik birth

Spacewalker Randolph Bresnik is still awaiting word on the expected birth of a daughter, his second child. Bresnik's wife, Rebecca, was scheduled for delivery Friday, two weeks ahead of her December due date. But as of Saturday afternoon, there had been no word on when an announcement might be expected.

"Nothing new to report, I'm sorry," space station Flight Director Brian Smith told reporters. "The Bresnik launch countdown clock has got some unpredicatable and variable holds in it, so it's very hard to predict. But nothing new for you today."

He said flight controllers were looking forward to news of a successful "deploy."

"It is a fantastic event for the Bresnik family," he said. "I'm friends with Randy and Rebecca from before this mission started. And so we certainly wish them all the best and hope that soon, their baby is born."


3:55 PM, 11/21/09, Update: Spacewalk No. 2 ends

Astronauts Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik began repressurizing the International Space Station's Quest airlock module at 3:39 p.m. EST to close out a successful six-hour eight-minute spacewalk.

Running well ahead of schedule, Foreman and Bresnik completed all of their planned work with no major problems and had enough time to complete a variety of get-ahead tasks, including deployment of a a final payload attachment mechanism that had been planned for the crew's final spacewalk Monday.

Mike Foreman and Randy Bresnik working near the Quest airlock
module. (Photo: NASA TV)

They even found time to enjoy the view from 220 miles up.

"OK, guys, we're coming over Houston in the next 10 seconds," spacewalk coordinator Bobby Satcher radioed from inside Atlantis.

"I can see my house from here," Foreman joked, looking down on cloud-covered Houston.

"I think I see mine, too," Bresnik said.

"Hello Houston!" Foreman exclaimed.

"That's pretty cool," Bresnik agreed.

The astronauts installed an antenna assembly on the station's Columbus lab module, relocated a device that measures the electrical environment around the lab complex, deployed one of two remaining payload attachment mechanisms and installed an external television camera to complete the planned objectives of the spacewalk.

At that point, Foreman and Bresnik were running about two hours ahead of schedule.

"They're really kicking butt on the timeline," shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh told mission control.

After returning to the Quest airlock to recharge their oxygen supplies, Foreman and Bresnik deployed the final payload attach mechanism, inspected suspect wiring for a newly installed antenna system and repositioned a tool stanchion and a foot restraint.

The Atlantis astronauts have now logged 12 hours and 45 minutes of EVA time through two spacewalks, boosting the station's total to 843 hours and 36 minutes since assembly began in 1998.


12:20 PM, 11/21/09, Update: Spacewalkers running an hour ahead of schedule; first two tasks complete

Astronauts Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik, running an hour or so ahead of schedule, have completed the first two objectives of today's spacewalk, installing an antenna assembly on the International Space Station's Columbus lab module and relocating a device that measures the electrical environment around the lab complex.

"You know, Mike, here on the end of Columbus, I don't think I've ever, other than seeing my wife for the first time, I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful sight," said Bresnik, making his first spacewalk. "This is amazing."

Before pressing ahead, both spacewalkers briefly returned to the station's Quest airlock module and recharged their oxygen supplies. Their next objective is to deploy another cargo attachment mechanism on the right side of the station's main power truss.

The shuttle Atlantis' empty payload bay after installation
of the ELC-2 spare parts pallet on the International
Space Station. (Photo: NASA TV)

Mike Foreman's legs extend from the Quest airlock as he and
Randy Bresnik pause to recharge their oxygen supplies. (Photo: NASA TV)

Bresnik, left, and Foreman, center, leave the airlock and
return to work. (Photo: NASA TV)

Bresnik, seen making his way out the station's starboard truss
segment. (Photo: NASA TV)


9:40 AM, 11/21/09, Update: Spacewalk No. 2 begins

Astronauts Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik switched their spacesuits to battery power at 9:31 a.m. EST, officially kicking off a planned six-hour spacewalk.

The goals of the excursion are to install an experimental antenna package on the Columbus research module, move an electrical monitor from the right side of the station's power truss to the left, deploy a payload attachment mechanism and mount an external TV camera.

This is the 135th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 16th so far this year and the second of three planned by the shuttle Atlantis' crew. Foreman is making his fifth spacewalk while Bresnik is making his first.

Earlier today, station flight engineer Jeffrey Williams and European Space Agency Commander Frank De Winne used the lab's robot arm to move a second Express Logistics Carrier pallet loaded with spare components to a mounting point on the right side of the station's power truss.

Installing the two ELCs was the primary goal of Atlantis' mission.


6:00 AM, 11/21/09, Update: Astronauts prep for second spacewalk

Astronauts Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik, presumably still awaiting word on the birth of his second child, adopted a revised spacewalk preparation timeline Saturday after overnight false alarms interrupted their normal low-pressure sleep protocol.

Both astronauts were camping out in the space station's Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams before a planned spacewalk today.

But for a second night in a row, a false depressurization alarm, apparently triggered by an issue with a new Russian module, interrupted the preparation protocol and flight controllers told the astronauts they would instead exercise early today wearing oxygen masks to accomplish the required nitrogen purge.

The shuttle crew was allowed to sleep an extra half hour. As a result of the changes, the spacewalk now is expected to begin at 9:38 a.m. EST, about an hour and a half later than originally planned, and will last six hours instead of six-and-a-half.

"It was almost the exact same signature as we had (Thursday) night," Flight Director Jerry Jason said early today. "Once again, there was a false, rapid depress annunciation, the vehicle went through its automatic response, shut off all its ventilation, shut down a lot of the environmental equipment that's associated with it.

"It was a little different from the standpoint that we had two crew members in the airlock doing what we call the camp out for the EVA that's going to be happening (Saturday). The idea is by doing the camp out, we're cutting down the amount of time they have to prebreathe in their suits, breathing pure oxygen, in order to make sure all the nitrogen's out of their system so they won't suffer any bends effects when they go outside with the very low pressure in their suits."

As part of the station's automated response to the depressurization alarm, "we automatically equalized the airlock and the rest of the vehicle ... the idea being the crew can get out in the event of an emergency situation," Jason said. "That automatically happened."

Foreman and Bresnik immediately donned oxygen masks in an attempt to maintain the pre-spacewalk protocol.

"Unfortunately, because of the amount of time it took for us to get the equipment started back up in the station, we ended up having the crew take the masks off eventually and we're going to do something different for the EVA prep (Saturday), which we call the exercise pre-breathe protocol," Jason said.

"We'll get the crew on oxygen masks and ... we'll have them do some exercise. The surgeons already know what amount of exercise it takes to get the crew's metabolic rate up to 75 and 90 percent ... get the heart rate up, they'll be breathing pure oxygen, so that's another way we do to have them get the nitrogen out of their systems."

Adding a bit of drama to the proceedings, Bresnik's wife, Rebecca, had been scheduled to deliver the couple's second child, a girl, on Friday, two weeks ahead of her December due date. But as of Friday afternoon, Flight Director Brian Smith said he had not received an update and there was no mention in the crew's daily "execute package" of instructions and timeline changes.

This will be the 135th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 16th so far this year and the second of three planned by the shuttle Atlantis crew,. Foreman will be making his fifth spacewalk while Bresnik will be making his first.

For identification purposes, Foreman's suit features solid red stripes around the legs while Bresnik's features broken stripes.

While Foreman and Bresnik are preparing for the crew's second spacewalk, Hobaugh and Melvin, operating the shuttle's robot arm, plan to pull a second spare parts pallet from its perch in the shuttle's cargo bay, the first step in a complex installation procedure.

The ELC-2 carrier holds a second spare control moment gyroscope on the pallet's upper surface, along with the 1,240-pound high-pressure oxygen tank and a cargo transport container housing spare remote power control module circuit breakers.

Another nitrogen tank assembly is bolted to ELC-2's lower side, along with another coolant system pump module and a spooled power line designed to play out and retract as the robot arm's mobile transporter moves along the front side of the station's solar power truss.

After Hobaugh and Melvin pull ELC-2 from the cargo bay, space station flight engineer Jeffrey Williams and commander Frank De Winne will lock on with the station's robot arm and maneuver it into place on the right side of the power truss. About halfway through the ELC-2 installation procedure, Foreman and Bresnik will begin the mission's second spacewalk.

"On EVA 2 we go outside and we get a couple of antennas that are going to be put on the outside of the Columbus (laboratory) module," Bresnik said in a NASA interview. "One of them is a (maritime navigation system) antenna that will go on the front side of the Columbus (module). The other one's essentially a ham radio antenna that'll go on the bottom side out of the starboard end of Columbus. So we're both going to go ahead and put the antennas in and string the cable, get it powered up.

"Then we head over and we're going to go ahead and take an antenna that is up on the starboard side that has to be maneuvered over to the port side to make room for the AMS, or Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, that's going to come up on the final shuttle mission."

Once that work is done, Foreman and Bresnik will make their way to the upper side of the S3 starboard truss segment to deploy another cargo mounting mechanism like the one used to anchor the ELCs. That will allow "other flights to come up and put their hardware on the cupboard, or the shelf of the space station for later use," Bresnik said.

"And then the last thing we're going to do is we're going to take an antenna that helps with the wireless video system when we're doing EVAs, we're going to take and install an antenna that was inside the airlock, we're going to take it out with us and install it back on the S3, back where we're doing the (payload attach system) system and put that out there so we've got better coverage when we have our crew members going out to do an EVA."

The spacewalkers originally planned to spend a half hour on another get-ahead task, but because of the overnight alarms and the altered schedule, that work was deleted.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision G of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/21/09
03:58 AM...04...13...30...Crew wakeup
05:13 AM...04...14...45...EVA-2: Exercise EVA prep
05:28 AM...04...15...00...ISS daily planning conference
06:48 AM...04...16...20...Shuttle arm (SRMS) unberths ELC-2
07:28 AM...04...17...00...Station arm (SSRMS) grapples ELC-2
07:38 AM...04...17...10...EVA-2: Spacesuit purge
07:43 AM...04...17...15...SRMS ungrapples ELC-2
07:53 AM...04...17...25...EVA-2: Spacesuit prebreathe
08:53 AM...04...18...25...EVA-2: Crew lock depressurization
09:38 AM...04...19...10...EVA-2: Spacesuits to battery power
09:48 AM...04...19...20...EVA-2: Airlock egress
09:43 AM...04...19...15...SSRMS installs ELC-2
10:08 AM...04...19...40...EVA-2: GATOR install
10:28 AM...04...20...00...SSRMS grapples MBS-1
11:23 AM...04...20...55...EVA-2: FPMU relocate
12:53 PM...04...22...25...EVA-2: S3 zenith PAS deploy
02:23 PM...04...23...55...EVA-2: CP1 WETA install
02:23 PM...04...23...55...SSRMS releases MBS-2
03:08 PM...05...40...00...EVA-2: Cleanup and ingress
03:38 PM...05...01...10...EVA-2: Airlock repressurization
03:53 PM...05...01...25...Spacesuit servicing
04:13 PM...05...01...45...Evening planning conference
06:28 PM...05...04...00...ISS crew sleep begins
06:58 PM...05...04...30...STS crew sleep begins
04:30 PM...05...02...02...Mission status briefing on NTV
06:28 PM...05...04...00...ISS crew sleep begins
06:58 PM...05...04...30...STS crew sleep begins
07:00 PM...05...04...32...Daily highlights


11 PM, 11/20/09, Update: Astronauts awakened again by false alarms

For the second night in a row, a false depressurization alarm woke the Atlantis astronauts and their space station colleagues Friday night, tripping two fire alarms and interrupting a low-pressure protocol being followed by spacewalkers Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik.

Foreman and Bresnik were sleeping in the International Space Station's Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10.2 pounds per to help purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams, a routine procedure to help prevent the bends after working in NASA's low-pressure spacesuits.

But the depressurization alarm, apparently the result of an unresolved problem with a new Russian module, triggered automatic procedures that brought the airlock back up to the station's normal pressure of 14.7 psi. Because of time needed to reset various systems, Foreman and Bresnik were told to forego the normal protocol and to sleep wherever they liked, at the station's normal pressure.

In the morning, the spacewalkers will exercise wearing oxygen masks to purge the nitrogen that normally would have been dealt with by a night's sleep at 10.2 psi.

A rapid depressurization alarm Thursday also woke the astronauts. The station's computer system automatically shut down ventilation fans as a precaution and as a result, a fire alarm sounded in the European Space-products in the absence of ventilation.

Engineers later determined the false depressurization alarm was the result of a problem in the Russian Poisk module, which arrived at the space station earlier this month. The station's air pressure remained normal throughout.

A similar problem developed Friday night when a rapid depressurization alarm sounded at 9:53 p.m. EST. This time around, two fire alarms were triggered, one in Columbus and one in the Quest airlock module.

Because of the interruption and the time that would have been lost re-establishing the 10.2-psi protocol, Foreman and Bresnik were told to sleep where they liked and to plan on an exercise protocol early Saturday, before starting a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk.

But flight controllers agreed to delete a planned "get-ahead" task from the spacewalk timeline and to let the astronauts sleep an extra half hour to make up for the lost sleep. Crew wakeup is now targeted for 3:58 a.m. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin around 8:18 a.m.


7:25 PM, 11/20/09, Update: Crew goes to bed with no word on Bresnik birth

Astronaut Randolph Bresnik, spending the night in the International Space Station's Quest airlock module to prepare for a spacewalk Saturday, headed to bed awaiting word of his wife Rebecca's planned delivery Friday, two weeks before her due date, of a girl, the couple's second child.

"No word yet," Flight Director Brian Smith told reporters Friday afternoon. Then he joked, "When I last talked to the flight surgeon, he said nothing yet. And so I told him, don't the doctors and Rebecca realize this is NASA and I've got a very well-thought-out, well-planned, meticulous timeline and they are not abiding by it?

"But I am not going to be able to control that situation," he smiled. "I wish the Bresnik's all the best. This is a very exciting time for Randy and Rebecca. ... but there's no news yet."

Asked what NASA might do if the birth occurred during Bresnik's planned spacewalk Saturday and how the astronaut might be informed, Smith said "we will discuss that with the flight surgeon when the situation arises, and with our management, and we'll make a decision that's appropriate at the time."

"Randy is going to be 100 percent focused on this spacewalk," Smith said. "That's going to be our number-one priority, the safe and successful execution of that spacewalk."


7:55 AM, 11/20/09, Update: Astronauts work inside station; Bresnik awaits word of daughter's birth

The Atlantis astronauts are working through a busy day in space, transferring equipment from the shuttle to the International Space Station and making preparations for a second spacewalk Saturday. Shuttle flight engineer Randolph Bresnik, meanwhile, awaited word from Earth on the birth of his second child, a girl, scheduled for delivery Friday two weeks ahead of his wife's December due date.

"While I'm sad, I'm disappointed, to miss the birth, I'm hoping she'll forgive me later on when I tell her why I wasn't there when she was born," Bresnik told CBS News in a pre-flight interview. "Miracles happen and miracle childbirth is certainly something we've been astounded by the past nine months and we're not going to complain about the timing of it. It's just unfortunate these two amazing life events happen all at the same time.

"I just look forward to getting the call that mother and baby are safe and healthy," Bresnik said. "We ought to be able to see a video conference with them and talk to them afterwards. That'll be great."

The shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station.
(Photo: NASA TV)

Shuttle pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore said Friday that Bresnik was in good spirits as the crew pressed ahead with the mission.

"He's doing great," Wilmore said. "He's focused on the mission, certainly he's keeping in communication with what's taking place back there as far as his daughter who is supposed to be born today. He's excited by that, so are we. It's a great thing to share with him in this environment.

"He certainly wishes his timing could have been better, he'd certainly like to be there for the birth of his daughter. But timing is what timing is, he's here and his wife, Rebecca, is there and he's going to make the best of it. That's just the way he is. But he is excited."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision F of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/20/09
04:28 AM...03...14...00...Crew wakeup
05:28 AM...03...15...00...ISS daily planning conference
06:08 AM...03...15...40...PAO event
07:28 AM...03...17...00...Node 1 preps for Node 3 attachment
07:28 AM...03...17...00...PAO event
07:53 AM...03...17...25...Post-EVA conference
08:03 AM...03...17...35...Japanese robot arm stowed
08:43 AM...03...18...15...Spacesuit swap
09:48 AM...03...19...20...Crew meals begin
10:48 AM...03...20...20...Node 1 preps for Node 3 attachment
10:48 AM...03...20...20...EVA-2: Equipment lock preps
11:33 AM...03...21...05...EVA-2: Tools configured
01:08 PM...03...22...40...Node 1 preps for Node 3 attachment
03:23 PM...04...55...00...EVA-2: Procedures review
04:33 PM...04...02...05...PAO event
05:03 PM...04...02...35...Evening planning conference
05:15 PM...04...02...47...Mission status briefing on NTV
05:53 PM...04...03...25...EVA-2: Mask pre-breathe protocol
06:33 PM...04...04...05...EVA-2: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
06:58 PM...04...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
07:28 PM...04...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
08:00 PM...04...05...32...Daily highlights on NTV


9:15 PM, 11/19/09, Update: Station, shuttle crews awakened by false fire, depressurization alarms

The crews of the shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station were awakened Thursday night by what flight controllers quickly concluded was a false alarm indicating a sudden depressurization. That false alarm caused ventilation fans to shut down, resulting in a fire alarm tripping in the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory module.

But after checks on the ground and in orbit, flight controllers concluded the station was safe. While the cause of the initial false depressurization alarm was not immediately clear, officials said the crews were in no danger.

"It appears a false indication of a rapid depressurization led to the automatic shutdown of ventilation fans through the station, which in turn led to a false smoke detection in the Columbus laboratory," said mission control commentator Kelly Humphries. "The crew is in no danger, there is no rapid depressurization, there appears to be no smoke, just some dust that got into one of the smoke detectors in the Columbus lab as a result of the ventilation fans being shut off.

"Everything is looking good on board the station so far, but the team is continuing to step through their emergency procedures just as a precaution."

The initial depressurization alarm tripped at 8:36 p.m. EST, waking the astronauts and kicking off a flurry of calm-but-hurried troubleshooting. It was quickly apparent the station's internal pressure was stable, but flight controllers in the United States, Europe and Russian worked through a series of checks to make sure there was no threat to the station.

"Station, Houston, on the big loop. So Frank, with those readings we concur with you, atmosphere is good," Ryan Lien radioed from mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"We believe this was a false fire (alarm) due to the lack of ventilation in Columbus as well as lack of ventilation throughout the stack that was probably caused by that false rapid depress indication. We did not see a depress event on the ground, we just started seeing caution-and-warning events. So we're going to stand down from the emergency at this point and work on recovery and examination of that depress event. Believed to be a false alarm at this point."

Lien later told station commander Frank De Winne the initial alarm might have originated with a new Russian docking module that was attached to the station earlier this month.

"Everything we're seeing right now, ISS, the whole stack is in a stable and safe config first and foremost," he said. "Everything is shut down, the vehicle followed its depress response based on what we think was maybe the MRM-2 (mini-research module). Telemetry to confirm that source being MRM-2 is a little hazy right now, we're trying to get those words."

Lein said it would take another hour or so to reactivate the ventilation system.


7:05 PM, 11/19/09, Update: Shuttle's heat shield cleared for entry; managers pleased with spacewalk

The shuttle Atlantis' heat shield has been cleared for re-entry as is after an exhaustive review of data and imagery that showed no problems of any significance with the ship's protective tiles, its reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels, NASA officials said Thursday.

The Damage Assessment Team, or DAT, presented a final summary to NASA's Mission Management Team, concluding the reinforced carbon carbon components, which experience the most extreme heating during entry, are "in great shape."

"For the TPS (thermal protection system tiles and blankets), only four areas required further analysis," the MMT said in a summary message to the Atlantis astronauts. "These four areas were all very minor and cleared with standard analysis techniques."

A block of time had been reserved Friday for a focused inspection if any problem areas were found that warranted additional scrutiny. Commander Charles Hobaugh and his crewmates were informed earlier Thursday that a focused inspection would not be required. Station Flight Director Brian Smith said the crew would put the extra time to good use.

"We launch a certain quantity of items on the shuttle that need to get transferred to the space station," he said. "We estimated on this flight we needed about 35 hours of that time. ... We build a baseline plan that doesn't accommodate much of that transfer time on flight day five (Friday) because we need to preserve that time for robotic operations associated with focused inspection.

"With those robotic operations deleted, we'll just pull some of that transfer time ahead and we'll get ahead of the game on that. Not all that exciting, but for those of us who worry about transfer at the end, because we're always racing at the end to get it done, we're very happy to see a lot of that time get put on flight day five. It's going to put us in a good posture."

Saving time on another front, astronauts Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher completed the objectives of the crew's first spacewalk Thursday some two hours ahead of schedule. That allowed time for them to deploy a cargo mounting mechanism on the station's right-side solar power truss that had been scheduled for the crew's second spacewalk Saturday.

Lead spacewalk officer Sarah Kazukiewicz Korona said a similar mechanism scheduled for deployment during a third and final spacewalk Monday will be moved up to Saturday and that a similar task scheduled for a future mission will be added to the final spacewalk.

Satcher and Foreman mounted a spare S-band antenna assembly on the station to begin Thursday's spacewalk, finishing well ahead of schedule. Satcher then lubricated the latching snares used to secure payloads to a Japanese robot arm and the station's mobile transporter while Foreman completed an electrical connection left over from an earlier mission and routed antenna cables needed by a future assembly crew. He also installed an ammonia coolant line bracket and secured debris shields that had been temporarily tethered in place during an earlier mission.

"It was a fantastic EVA," said Kazukiewicz Korona.

While the spacewalkers were busy outside the station, the lab crew was busy inside making preparations for the attachment of a new module in February. The module, known informally as node 3 and formally as Tranquility, originally was to be attached to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module. It will be attached instead to Unity's left-side hatch.

"So all the plumbing and the fluid lines, power and data lines, that were built down into the nadir location in node 1, we have to move all that to the port location which is where node 3's going to be attached," Smith said.

"So we brought up two huge bags worth of hardware that will help us route all the fluid lines, the air ventilation lines, power and data lines from the nadir location over to the port location. That work the crew was doing today and they got pretty far ahead on that. They're going to work a lot on that tomorrow and also on flight day six."


4:05 PM, 11/19/09, Update: Spacewalk No. 1 ends

Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher began repressurizing the International Space Station's Quest airlock module at 4:01 p.m. EST to wrap up a successful 6-hour 37-minute spacewalk, the first of three planned by the Atlantis astronauts.

Foreman and Satcher completed their planned objectives two hours ahead of schedule and after conferring with flight controllers, pressed ahead with the deployment of a payload attachment mechanism on the right side of the station's solar power truss.

Foreman returns to the Quest airlock module at the end of
today's spacewalk. (Photo: NASA TV)

This was the 134th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998 and the 15th so far this year. It was Foreman's fourth EVA and Satcher's first. More than 90 astronauts and cosmonauts have now logged 837 hours and 28 minutes of spacewalk time building the International Space Station.


3:00 PM, 11/19/09, Update: Astronauts complete planned tasks ahead of schedule; work on get-aheads

Running well ahead of schedule, spacewalkers Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher completed their planned work early today before turning their attention to get-ahead tasks, using a hammer at one point to free a jammed bolt preventing the deployment of a payload attachment mechanism.

The recalcitrant bolt was the only hangup of any significance during today's spacewalk. Earlier, the astronauts moved a spare S-band antenna assembly from the shuttle Atlantis to the space station, completed an electrical connection left over from a previous shuttle assembly mission and lubricated the gripping snares on a Japanese robot arm and a payload capture device on the lab's mobile transporter.

All of that work was completed without incident and flight controllers radioed up a list of possible get-ahead tasks to fill out the rest of the EVA. But Satcher and Foreman ran into problems deploying a payload mounting mechanism on the station's right-side solar power truss.

After unsuccessful attempts to free a tight bolt, the astronauts resorted to a rubber-tipped hammer and by hitting the bolt and jiggling the mechanism, they were able to work it free.

Here are snapshots from earlier in the day:

The view from Robert Satcher's helmet cam. (Photo: NASA TV)

Satcher helmet cam view of the end effector on a Japanese robot
arm. Satcher lubricated snares in the device. (Photo: NASA TV)

A helmet cam view from Foreman as he successfully completed
a wiring repair on the Z1 truss. (Photo: NASA TV)

Satcher and Foreman make their way along the S3 truss to a
payload attachment mechanism. (Photo: NASA TV)

Satcher and Foreman run into problems freeing a tight bolt
in the payload attachment mechanism. (Photo: NASA TV)

The astronauts use a hammer to successfully free a stuck bolt.
(Photo: NASA TV)


9:35 AM, 11/19/09, Update: Spacewalk No. 1 begins

Astronauts Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher, floating in the International Space Station's Quest airlock module, switched their spacesuits to battery power at 9:24 a.m. EST to officially begin a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk.

The first item on the agenda after setting up safety tethers and tools will be to move a spare S-band antenna from the shuttle Atlantis' cargo bay to a storage location on the station's Z1 truss.

Astronauts Robert Satcher (foreground) and Michael Foreman
begin a 6.5-hour spacewalk. (Photo: NASA TV)

Foreman works in the shuttle Atlantis payload bay. (Photo: NASA TV)

This is the 134th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 15th so far this year and the first of three planned by the Atlantis astronauts. Foreman is making his fourth spacewalk while Satcher, an orthopedic surgeon with a doctorate in chemical engineering, is making his first.

Going into today's excursion, astronauts and cosmonauts had logged 830 hours and 51 minutes of spacewalk time building the International Space Station.


8:40 AM, 11/19/09, Update: No focused inspection required for shuttle heat shield

Engineers evaluating the shuttle Atlantis' heat shield have decided an additional, "focused" inspection will not be needed Friday, freeing up time that had been set aside in case any problems were found that warranted closer scrutiny.

"We have no focused inspection tomorrow," Stan Love radioed the astronauts just after wakeup early Thursday. "It took us a little longer than usual to reach that conclusion because we had to use analysis to augment the imagery on the ET (external tank propellant line feed-through) doors. The imagery wasn't quite what we were hoping for. We're now replanning flight day five to fill the focused inspection time block with other activities."

As with all post-Columbia shuttle missions, engineers have spent the past three days studying ascent imagery, data from wing leading edge impact sensors, laser scans of the shuttle's nose cap and leading edge panels and digital images of the heat-shield tiles on the shuttle's belly that were shot by the station crew during Atlantis' final approach Wednesday.

The analysis is not yet complete, but so far Atlantis' heat shield appears to be in good shape and no problem areas have been found that warrant additional inspection.

"Good morning Atlantis - congrats on a beautiful rendezvous and docking!" flight controllers said in the crew's morning package of instructions. "We all look forward to the first EVA of the mission today. And, NO FOCUSED INSPECTION is required!"


6:25 AM, 11/19/09, Update: Astronauts gear up for spacewalk

Astronauts Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher are gearing up for a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk to install a spare S-band antenna assembly on the International Space Station, work on cable runs and connections and lubricate robotic snares used to grip payloads and equipment.

The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 9:18 a.m. EST when Foreman and Satcher, floating in the station's Quest airlock module, switch their spacesuits to battery power.

This will be the 134th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 15th so far this year and the first of three planned by the Atlantis astronauts. Foreman will be making his fourth spacewalk while Satcher, an orthopedic surgeon with a doctorate in chemical engineering, will be making his first.

"That's going to be the highlight of the flight for me," Satcher said in a NASA interview. "Going out ... and seeing the vastness of the view of the Earth and the space station and the shuttle and then, of course, out beyond. That is going to be spectacular.

"So, I don't know that I can fully anticipate what that's going to be like. I hear people describe it and they all say that it has a significant impact on their perspective over all and it's a life-changing event. I've heard a lot people say that. There aren't too many things in my life that I've experienced like that, so I'm really looking forward to it and just taking it all in."

For identification, Foreman's suit features red stripes around the legs while Satcher's is unmarked. Leland Melvin and pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore will operate the station's robot arm during the spacewalk while Randolph Bresnik will serve as the spacewalk coordinator.

The first item on the agenda is to install a spare S-band antenna assembly. With Satcher anchored to the end of the station's robot arm, Foreman will unbolt the antenna assembly from its mount on a sidewall in the shuttle's cargo bay and hand it to his crewmate. Satcher then will then carry it up to a storage point on the central Z1 truss that houses the station's four control moment gyroscopes.

"It's a really cool ride for Bobby, he's going to have a good time," said station Flight Director Brian Smith.

Both spacewalkers then will bolt the antenna into place.

"Our first task is to take another spare part out of the space shuttle's payload bay, the SASA payload, which is S-band Antenna Support Assembly, which is basically a spare S-band antenna for the space station," Foreman said in a NASA interview. "It's an antenna that failed on orbit. They brought it back, refurbished it, now it's ready to go and we'll put it back into the spare location.

"So I will go out of the airlock, go over to the payload bay and start getting that thing ready to hand off to Bobby. Bobby's going to go out, get into the robotic arm and they'll maneuver him over into the payload bay on the end of the arm. He'll grab that thing after I unbolt it and he'll ride the arm back to Z1 where it gets installed in the spare location and I'll translate back over there and help him install it."

At that point, the two spacewalkers will split up.

"After we get (the SASA) installed, I will also pick up a set of cables from our tool box in the back of the payload bay, take those over to the Z1 location also and start stringing those things up for a future mission to use while Bobby continues to ride the arm and he goes into his lube-job-man role as the lubricator of a couple of the latching end effectors, the POA latching end effector and the JEM RMS latching end effector."

The former is a payload attach fitting on the robot arm's mobile transporter while the latter is the latching end of a Japanese robot arm attached to the Kibo laboratory module. Both latching systems utilize snares that rotate closed to lock onto a payload's grapple fixture. Because of past issues with the snares, regular lubrication is a now standard operation.

"He'll go and apply some grease to the snares inside those latching end effectors to make sure that they don't have a problem later in life," Foreman said. "So he's doing some preventive maintenance basically on those while I do that spare cable task. And then I go over to Node 1 and there's a slide wire over there, a safety slide wire, that is no longer usable, so I'm going to take that off, bring that back in and we'll also have a handrail to swap out over there. I take one handrail off, install a different handrail that actually has some ammonia line cable connectors on it that will be used on a future mission."

The spacewalk is scheduled to end around 3:48 p.m. A mission status briefing is planned for 5:30 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision D of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/19/09
04:28 AM...02...14...00...Crew wakeup
05:03 AM...02...14...35...EVA-1: 14.7 psi repress/hygiene break
05:48 AM...02...15...20...EVA-1: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
05:58 AM...02...15...30...ISS daily planning conference
06:13 AM...02...15...45...EVA-1: Campout EVA preps
07:43 AM...02...17...15...EVA-1: Spacesuit purge
07:58 AM...02...17...30...EVA-1: Spacesuit prebreathe
08:48 AM...02...18...20...EVA-1: Crew lock depressurization
09:18 AM...02...18...50...EVA-1: Spacesuits to battery power
09:23 AM...02...18...55...EVA-1: Airlock egress/setup
09:43 AM...02...19...15...EVA-1: Spare S-band antenna install
12:33 PM...02...22...05...EVA-1/Satcher: POA snare lube
12:33 PM...02...22...05...EVA-1/Foreman: S-band cable install
01:23 PM...02...22...55...EVA-1/Foreman: Ammonia line bracket install
01:58 PM...02...23...30...EVA-1/Satcher: JEM RMS snare lube
02:03 PM...02...23...35...EVA-1/Foreman: Node 1/FGB MMOD shield
02:48 PM...03...20...00...EVA-1/Foreman: S0 1/4 cable
03:03 PM...03...35...00...EVA-1/Satcher: Cleanup and ingress
03:18 PM...03...50...00...EVA-1/Foreman: Cleanup and airlock ingress
03:48 PM...03...01...20...EVA-1: Airlock pressurization
04:03 PM...03...01...35...Spacesuit servicing
05:13 PM...03...02...45...ISS evening planning conference
05:30 PM...03...03...02...Mission status briefing on NTV
07:28 PM...03...05...00...ISS crew sleep begins
07:58 PM...03...05...30...STS crew sleep begins
08:00 PM...03...05...32...Daily highlights


12:05 PM, 11/18/09, Update: Shuttle Atlantis docks with space station (UPDATED at 1:45 p.m. with hatch opening)

Commander Charles "Scorch" Hobaugh piloted the shuttle Atlantis to a gentle docking with the International Space Station Wednesday after a spectacular back-flip maneuver 220 miles above the Atlantic Ocean that allowed the lab crew to photograph the ship's heat shield in a now-routine inspection.

The shuttle Atlantis passes above the Brazilian rain forest directly
below the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA TV)

Atlantis passes above the northeast coast of South America as it
flips about for a heat shield inspection. (Photo: NASA TV)

Approaching from directly in front of the 670,000-pound lab complex, the shuttle's docking mechanism engaged its counterpart on the station at 11:51 a.m. EST to cap a two-day rendezvous as the two ships orbited southeast of Australia.

"Station, Houston, Atlantis, capture confirmed," a shuttle astronaut radioed.

A few moments later, after waiting for residual motion to damp out, the docking mechanism pulled the two spacecraft firmly together. A series of leak checks then were conducted before hatches were opened around 1:28 p.m.

Atlantis, docked to the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA TV)

The Atlantis astronauts are welcomed aboard the space station.
(Photo: NASA TV)

European Space Agency commander Frank De Winne of Belgium, cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Roman Romanenko, NASA astronauts Jeffrey Williams and Nicole Stott and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk welcomecd Hobaugh and his shuttle crewmates - pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik - aboard the lab complex, greeting them in the forward Harmony module.

Facing a busy afternoon in space, the two crews shared brief hugs and handshakes before a mandatory safety briefing and the start of equipment transfers from the shuttle to the station.

Along with delivering 15 tons of spare components and supplies to the space station, Atlantis will bring Stott back to Earth after three months in space. With Atlantis docked to the station, Stott is now considered a shuttle crew member and will start sleeping aboard the orbiter.

"And Scorch, I think I have my ticket all ready and stamped, waiting for you guys when you get here," she radioed before the docking.

"Who is this?" Hobaugh teased.

"It's your favorite passenger," Stott replied.

"All right, looking forward to it, Nicole, good to be talking to you."

Approaching the station from behind and below, Hobaugh paused at a distance of roughly 600 feet directly below the lab complex as the two spacecraft passed high above South America. He then kicked off a computer-controlled 360-degree back-flip maneuver, exposing heat shield tiles on the orbiter's belly to the space station.

Stott and Williams, looking down through portholes in the Russian Zvezda command module, then snapped hundreds of digital images using powerful telephoto lenses to help engineers assess the health of the shuttle's heat shield.

Atlantis' belly comes into view during the rendezvous pitch maneuver.
(Photo: NASA TV)

A zoomed-in view of the shuttle's heat shield tiles midway
through the back-flip maneuver. A space station antenna is
visible in the foreground. (Photo: NASA TV)

The shuttle's payload bay returns to view after the rendezvous
pitch maneuver. (Photo: NASA TV)

Spectacular television images from the station showed Atlantis slowly flipping about as the shuttle passed over the coast of northeastern South America and out over the Atlantic Ocean. Zoomed-in views of the shuttle's belly revealed no obvious problems, but engineers will base their assessment on the digital images shot by Stott and Williams.

After the rendezvous pitch maneuver was complete, Hobaugh guided Atlantis up to a point directly in front of the space station before the final approach to docking. Piloting the shuttle from the aft flight deck, Hobaugh then flew the 140,000-pound spaceplane to a flawless docking at a relative velocity of just one-tenth of a foot per second.

The primary goal of the 129th shuttle mission is to deliver some 15 tons of spare components and equipment to the station to protect against failures after the shuttle is retired next year. The equipment is mounted on two Express Logistics Carrier pallets in Atlantis' cargo bay.

"Flight day three is the busiest day of the mission," said station Flight Director Brian Smith. "The crew, as soon as they get done with the safety briefing, they're going to get right into the ELC-1 installation ops."

Two-and-a-half hours after docking, Bresnik and Melvin, operating the shuttle's robot arm, will carefully lift ELC-1 from its perch in the shuttle's cargo bay just in front of ELC-2. The first cargo carrier will be maneuvered to a position on the left side of the shuttle where the station's robot arm, operated by Wilmore and Williams, will latch on and take over.

After the shuttle arm lets go, ELC-1 will be moved to the Earth-facing side of the port three (P3) truss segment on the left side of the station's power truss and locked into place.

Mounted on ELC-1's upper deck are a 600-pound control moment gyroscope, a solar array battery charge-discharge unit, a device to prevent electrical arcing between the station and the space environment and a latching end effector for the station's robot arm. Mounted on the lower surface are a 550-pound nitrogen tank assembly, a 780-pound external cooling system pump module and a 1,700-pound ammonia coolant tank.


6:50 AM, 11/18/09, Update: Shuttle crew closes in on space station

The Atlantis astronauts closed in on the International Space Station Wednesday, working through the final steps in a complex rendezvous procedure that began with liftoff Monday.

If all goes well, commander Charles Hobaugh, flying Atlantis from the shuttle's aft flight deck, will guide the spaceplane to a docking on the front end of the space station around 11:53 a.m. as the two spacecraft sail 220 miles above the Tasman Sea east of Tasmania at five miles per second.

"Two vehicles in close proximity doing 17,500 miles an hour and trying to dock within a couple degrees of attitude error misalignment or less in three inches of positional error," Hobaugh said in a NASA interview. "It's actually done quite well and the vehicles are very controllable. I'm eager to try it for the first time myself."

Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik were awakened to begin flight day three just before 4:30 a.m. by a recording of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" beamed up from mission control. At that point, the shuttle was trailing the space station by about 50 miles. By 9:05 a.m., when the terminal phase of the rendezvous begins, Atlantis will be just 9.2 miles behind and below the station.

"They'll perform two more burns that'll put us on what's essentially a controlled course to the International Space Station," said lead Flight Director Mike Sarafin. "The second and final burn is the terminal initiation burn, and that'll put us within hundreds of feet of the International Space Station. Then there are four small mid-course correction burns, just to kind of slow the profile and make sure we kind of ease up to the International Space Station."

At a distance of about 600 feet directly below the lab complex, Hobaugh will initiate a computer-controlled 360-degree back-flip called a rendezvous pitch maneuver, or RPM, to expose the shuttle's belly to the station. As Atlantis slowly flips over, the station crew will photograph the ship's underside using digital cameras with 400-mm and 800-mm telephoto lenses to look for any signs of heat shield damage.

"Then the crew will stop the back-flip maneuver after a full 360-degree rotation and maneuver Atlantis up in front of the International Space Station on what we call the velocity vector, again at a range of about 400 to 600 feet," Sarafin said. "Then they'll come in the docking corridor, a very narrow, roughly 3-degree corridor, and close in at about a tenth of a foot per second in the final feet."

After leak checks to make sure the two spacecraft are firmly locked together, hatches will be opened and the six-member station crew - European Space Agency commander Frank De Winne of Belgium, cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Roman Romanenko, NASA astronauts Jeffrey Williams and Nicole Stott and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk - will welcome their shuttle colleagues aboard around 1:48 p.m.

The primary goal of the 129th shuttle mission is to deliver some 15 tons of spare components and equipment to the station to protect against failures after the shuttle is retired next year. The equipment is mounted on two Express Logistics Carrier pallets in Atlantis' cargo bay.

"Flight day three is the busiest day of the mission," said station Flight Director Brian Smith. "The crew, as soon as they get done with the safety briefing, they're going to get right into the ELC-1 installation ops."

Two-and-a-half hours after docking, Bresnik and Melvin, operating the shuttle's robot arm, will carefully lift ELC-1 from its perch in the shuttle's cargo bay just in front of ELC-2. The first cargo carrier will be maneuvered to a position on the left side of the shuttle where the station's robot arm, operated by Wilmore and Williams, will latch on and take over.

After the shuttle arm lets go, ELC-1 will be moved to the Earth-facing side of the port three (P3) truss segment on the left side of the station's power truss and locked into place.

Mounted on ELC-1's upper deck are a 600-pound control moment gyroscope, a solar array battery charge-discharge unit, a device to prevent electrical arcing between the station and the space environment and a latching end effector for the station's robot arm. Mounted on the lower surface are a 550-pound nitrogen tank assembly, a 780-pound external cooling system pump module and a 1,700-pound ammonia coolant tank.

While ELC-1 is being installed, Foreman and Satcher will be reviewing procedures for a spacewalk Thursday, the first of three planned for Atlantis' mission. Foreman and Satcher will spend the night in the station's Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help prepare them for a day of work in NASA's low-pressure spacesuits.

The astronauts are scheduled to go to bed at 8:28 p.m.

Today's mission status briefing is planned for 2:30 p.m., followed by a post-Mission Management Team briefing at 5 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision C of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/18/09
04:28 AM...01...14...00...00...STS/ISS crew wakeup
05:48 AM...01...15...20...00...Group B computer powerup
06:03 AM...01...15...35...00...Rendezvous timeline begins
06:03 AM...01...15...35...00...ISS daily planning conference
07:34 AM...01...17...06...17...NC-4 rendezvous rocket firing
07:53 AM...01...17...25...00...Spacesuits removed from airlock
09:05 AM...01...18...37...47...TI burn
09:44 AM...01...19...16...18...Sunset
10:04 AM...01...19...36...23...Range: 10,000 feet
10:13 AM...01...19...45...03...Range: 5,000 feet
10:18 AM...01...19...50...32...Range: 3,000 feet
10:20 AM...01...19...52...20...Sunrise
10:22 AM...01...19...54...41...MC-4 rendezvous burn
10:26 AM...01...19...58...41...Range: 1,500 feet
10:31 AM...01...20...03...41...Range: 1,000 feet
10:34 AM...01...20...06...41...KU antenna to low power
10:35 AM...01...20...07...41...+R bar arrival directly below ISS
10:41 AM...01...20...12...53...Range: 600 feet
10:48 AM...01...20...19...59...Noon
10:52 AM...01...20...23...59...RPM start window open
10:52 AM...01...20...24...00...Start pitch maneuver
10:56 AM...01...20...28...07...RPM full photo window close
11:00 AM...01...20...32...00...End pitch maneuver
11:02 AM...01...20...34...36...Initiate pitch up maneuver (575 ft)
11:04 AM...01...20...36...30...RPM start window close
11:14 AM...01...20...46...06...+V bar arrival; range: 310 feet
11:15 AM...01...20...46...56...Range: 300 feet
11:15 AM...01...20...47...38...Sunset
11:19 AM...01...20...51...06...Range: 250 feet
11:23 AM...01...20...55...16...Range: 200 feet
11:25 AM...01...20...57...46...Range: 170 feet
11:27 AM...01...20...59...26...Range: 150 feet
11:31 AM...01...21...03...36...Range: 100 feet
11:34 AM...01...21...06...36...Range: 75 feet
11:38 AM...01...21...10...46...Range: 50 feet
11:42 AM...01...21...14...06...Range: 30 feet; start stationkeeping
11:47 AM...01...21...19...06...End stationkeeping; push to dock
11:51 AM...01...21...23...26...Range: 10 feet
11:51 AM...01...21...23...39...Sunrise

11:53 AM...01...21...25...07...DOCKING

12:13 PM...01...21...45...00...Leak checks
12:13 PM...01...21...45...00...Video playback
12:33 PM...01...22...05...00...Post docking laptop reconfig
12:43 PM...01...22...15...00...Orbiter docking system prepped for ingress
12:43 PM...01...22...15...00...Group B computer powerdown
01:03 PM...01...22...35...00...Hatch open
01:48 PM...01...23...20...00...Welcome aboard!
01:58 PM...01...23...30...00...Safety briefing
02:28 PM...02...00...00...00...Shuttle arm (SRMS) unberths ELC1
02:30 PM...02...00...02...02...Mission status briefing on NTV
02:33 PM...02...00...05...00...Spacesuits moved to ISS
02:38 PM...02...00...10...00...EVA-1: Tools configured
03:08 PM...02...00...40...00...Station arm (SSRMS) grapples ELC1
03:33 PM...02...01...05...00...SRMS ungrapples ELC1
03:43 PM...02...01...15...00...SSRMS moves ELC1 to install point
04:08 PM...02...01...40...00...EVA-1: Equipment lock preps
04:23 PM...02...01...55...00...EVA-1: Procedures review
04:33 PM...02...02...05...00...SSRMS installs ELC1
05:00 PM...02...02...32...00...Post-MMT briefing on NTV
05:33 PM...02...03...05...00...ISS evening planning conference
06:53 PM...02...04...25...00...EVA-1: Mask/pre-breathe
07:33 PM...02...05...05...00...EVA-1: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
07:58 PM...02...05...30...00...ISS crew sleep begins
08:28 PM...02...06...00...00...STS crew sleep begins
09:00 PM...02...06...32...00...Daily highlights
11:00 PM...02...08...32...00...HD highlights


7:00 PM, 11/17/09, Update: Early assessment shows no problems with shuttle heat shield; analysis continues

A preliminary assessment of ascent imagery and data beamed down during an inspection of the shuttle Atlantis' nose cap and wing leading edge panels shows no signs of any significant heat shield damage, the chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team said Tuesday.

"Atlantis and the Atlantis crew are doing exceedingly well," LeRoy Cain told reporters. "We couldn't be more pleased with how this mission is going so far."

During Atlantis' climb to orbit Monday, engineers only spotted about three "debris events" in which foam insulation could be seen falling from the shuttle's external tank. In all three cases, the debris pulled away after the shuttle was out of the dense lower atmosphere, which can result in impact velocities high enough to damage the shuttle's fragile heat shield.

The Atlantis astronauts spent about six hours Tuesday using a laser scanner on the end of a 50-foot-long robot arm extension inspecting the orbiter's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels, which experience the most extreme heating during re-entry.

While it will take engineers several more days to sift through the data, Cain said a preliminary assessment found no areas of concern.

"The preliminary assessment of some of the data we've seen on imagery and some of the downlinked information we have from the vehicle is that Atlantis' performance was just really good, outstanding performance of the external tank during ascent," he said.

"We saw very few events that are of interest for us to look at. Of course, we'll look in great detail at all of that data over the course of the next few days and go through our normal processes ... for clearing the vehicle (for entry) as we spend our time docked to the International Space Station."

Atlantis is on track to dock with the space station Wednesday around 11:53 a.m. EST. During final approach, commander Charles Hobaugh will put Atlantis through a 360-degree back-flip maneuver, allowing the station crew to photograph heat shield tiles on the shuttle's belly. That data will be folded into the ongoing assessment to determine if there are any other areas of concern.

"We're very much looking forward to the day tomorrow where the crew will get docked safely with the space station, we'll get the hatches opened ... and after that, the crew will get on with the primary objetives of the mission," Cain said.

Along with delivering some 15 tons of supplies and equipment to the station - and bringing flight engineer Nicole Stott back to Earth after three months in space - Atlantis also will bring home a critical component in the lab's urine recycling system that recently malfunctioned.

The distillation assembly in the processor that helps convert urine and condensate into potable water apparently suffered an internal mechanical problem after a series of restarts following work to clear internal blockage.

The 166-pound distillation assembly, which measures 16.5-by-30-by-16.6 inches, will be returned to Earth aboard Atlantis. NASA hopes to launch a replacement on the next shuttle mission in February.

The urine recycling problem and another recent issue with the station's water processing system are not expected to have any impact on the Atlantis mission.

"Neither one of those issues are going to affect our ability to have a safe rendezvous and docking with the space station," Cain said "In fact, neither one of the issues will affect our ability to have a completely nominal docked mission with the space station crew and with the two vehicles."

The station has enough fresh water to support the station's crew for several months even without the urine recycling system. NASA managers say they hope to have the system back in operation well before any shortages could occur.

For readers interested in the technical details, here is how lead shuttle Flight Director Mike Sarafin described the urine processor issue earlier Tuesday:

"The urine processor assembly that is used as part of the regenerative life support equipment on board the space station, it was delivered a year ago, has what they all a distillate assembly in there, that's where they basically separate the water from the rest of the urine and condensate that is collected on board the space station for, basically, a cleansing process, to be used as potable drinking water or what we call technical water that an be used for any number of reasons, including cooling fo the space suits

"The distillate assembly, we think, was plugged up about two weeks ago. They went through a process to recover that by putting back pressure on the line and they actually unplugged it and they tried to get it running again. As part of trying to get this distillate assembly, which has a rotating mechanism in there, kind of a centrifuge-type mechanism, to try to get that running again, they had it shut down a number of times. It was shut down based on a measurement that measures the quality of the water that's coming out of it to make sure that, again, it's mostly pure water coming out of this thing before it goes through the full cleansing process.

"And it wasn't achieving the standard required to proceed further down in the system. We'd start it up, it would process a little bit of water and it would shut down. We'd start it up, it would process a little water and shut down. And each time, it would look a little bit better with respect to this one measurement. We thought, eventually, it was just trying to get the right balance in the system as far as the amount of water, urine and condensate in there before this thing would finally process properly.

"In that process of starting it up and shutting it down, the distillate assembly encountered a current spike on the rotating part of the mechanism and it indicated a problem with the actual mechanism. Folks are uncomfortable operating it further because it could indicate a mechanical problem, a bearing-type of failure, and they want to get that hardware to the ground. As a result, we're unable to process any additional urine on board the space station using that hardware."


6:20 AM, 11/17/09, Update: Astronauts gear up for heat shield inspection

The Atlantis astronauts are working through a busy day in space, facing a lengthy heat shield inspection, spacesuit checkout and preparations for rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station Wednesday. The astronauts were awakened a few minutes before 4:30 a.m. EST to begin their first full day in space.

An inspection of the shuttle's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels begins at 8:13 a.m., a process that will take about six hours to complete. The nose cap and wing leading edge panels experience the most extreme heating during re-entry and the inspection is a now-standard post-Columbia task intended to spot areas that might have been damaged by debris impacts during launch.

Only a few debris events were noted during Atlantis' ascent Monday and Bill Gerstenmaier, chief of space operations at NASA headquarters in Washington, said Monday that they occurred after the shuttle was out of the dense lower atmosphere where impacts pose the greatest risk.

Using a 50-foot-long boom on the end of the shuttle's robot arm, the astronauts will start by inspecting an umbilical panel on the right side of the shuttle where launch pad propellant and electrical lines were connected.

"That'll begin with a survey of the OMS pod and what we call the T-zero umbilical where we flow cryogenic fluids through that interface, make sure there's no residual ice or damage to that area from the launch environment ... before sweeping the boom up and down the starboard wing surface, the reinforced carbon carbon that sees the hottest temperatures during the landing phase," said Flight Director Mike Sarafin.

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"After a series of racetrack maneuvers up and down the starboard wing, we will eventually reposition the boom up and over the crew cabin to get a view of the thermal blankets and tiles around the windows on the front of Atlantis. And then start to survey the nose cap, which again, is a reinforced carbon carbon surface, it's a very hard material that's used to reject the heat of re-entry.

"Once that's complete, we'll go perform a very similar survey of the port wing and view the lower surface of the wing ... to make sure it, again, sustained the launch environment without any issues," he said. "Towards the tail end of the survey, we'll take a similar view by looking at the OMS pod and T-zero umbilical on the opposite side of the vehicle, again, pan, tilt and zoom the camera on the end of the boom to make sure that it looks good in that area of the vehicle before putting the boom away at the end of the day."

Today's mission status briefing is scheduled for 2 p.m., followed by a post-Mission Management Team briefing at 5 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision B of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/17/09
04:28 AM...00...14...00...Crew wakeup
05:58 AM...00...15...30...Minicam downlink
06:37 AM...00...16...09...NC-2 rendezvous rocket firing
06:58 AM...00...16...30...SRMS unberths OBSS
07:23 AM...00...16...55...Ergometer setup
07:53 AM...00...17...25...Spacesuit checkout preps
08:13 AM...00...17...45...OBSS starboard wing survey
08:23 AM...00...17...55...Spacesuit checkout
10:08 AM...00...19...40...Crew meals begin
11:08 AM...00...20...40...OBSS nose cap survey
11:08 AM...00...20...40...Spacesuit prepped for transfer
11:58 AM...00...21...30...OBSS port wing survey
12:00 PM...00...21...32...WISE pre-launch briefing (education channel)
02:00 PM...00...23...32...Mission status briefing on NTV
02:13 PM...00...23...45...SRMS berths OBSS
03:08 PM...01...00...40...SRMS grapples ELC1
03:23 PM...01...00...55...OMS pod survey
03:28 PM...01...01...00...Centerline camera setup
03:28 PM...01...01...00...LDRI downlink
03:58 PM...01...01...30...Orbiter docking system ring extension
04:28 PM...01...02...00...Rendezvous tools checkout
05:00 PM...01...02...32...MMT briefing on NTV
05:44 PM...01...03...16...NC-3 rendezvous rocket firing
08:28 PM...01...06...00...Crew sleep begins
09:00 PM...01...06...32...Daily highlights reel on NTV


2:50 PM, 11/16/09, Update: Shuttle Atlantis thunders into space (UPDATED at 4:55 p.m. with debris report)

The space shuttle Atlantis roared to life and raced into orbit Monday on a critical mission to deliver 15 tons of equipment and spare parts to the International Space Station, gear needed to protect against failures after the shuttle fleet is retired next year.

The shuttle's three hydrogen-fueled main engines fired up at 120-millisecond intervals and six seconds later, after computers verified the powerplants were operating normally, Atlantis' twin solid-fuel boosters ignited with a flash at 2:28:10 p.m. EST, instantly pushing the orbiter skyward.

Space shuttle Atlantis blasts off on space station
delivery mission. (Photo: NASA TV)

As commander Charles Hobaugh and pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore monitored the computer-controlled ascent, Atlantis wheeled about its vertical axis and arced away to the notheast, into the plane of the space station's orbit in the first step of a complex two-day rendezvous.

The shuttle's boosters operated normally, separating from Atlantis' external fuel tank as planned two minutes and four seconds after liftoff, and the spaceplane continued toward its planned preliminary orbit on the power of its three main engines.

A television camera mounted on the side of Atlantis' external tank provided spectacular views as the shuttle thundered toward space, showing the Florida coastline and scattered clouds dropping away below as the ship accelerated toward space.

The camera was in place to monitor the external tank's foam insulation and to look for any signs of debris impacts that might damage fragile heat shield tiles. Flight controllers later said no major debris events were seen.

Eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the main engines shut down as planned, Atlantis separated from the now-empty external tank and the crew began preparing the ship for orbital operations.

"We really appreciate all the effort that's gone into making this launch attempt possible," Hobaugh said during a final hold in the countdown. "We're excited to take this incredible vehicle for a ride and meet up with another incredible vehicle, the International Space Station."

A tracking camera locked on the shuttle's main engines shortly
after launch. (Photo: NASA TV)

Joining Hobaugh and Wilmore for the 129th shuttle mission are Leland Melvin, a materials science expert and one-tiome pro football draft pick, and spacewalkers Michael Foreman, Randolph Bresnik and Robert Satcher, an orthopedic surgeon with a doctorate in chemical engineering.

Hobaugh, Foreman and Melvin are shuttle veterans while Satcher, Wilmore and Bresnik are making their first shuttle flight. In a bit of bad timing, Bresnik's wife is scheduled to deliver the couple's second child, a girl, on Nov. 20, while the crew is still in space.

Over the next two days, the astronauts will inspect the shuttle's heat shield, check out the spacesuits that will be used during three station excursions and prepared Atlantis for docking with the lab complex around noon Wednesday.

The primary goals of Atlantis' flight are to bring space station flight engineer Nicole Stott back to Earth after three months in space and to deliver nearly 30,000 pounds of spare parts and equipment that would be difficult or impossible to get to the outpost after the shuttle is retired next year.

"In terms of being the flight that brings up all the spares for station, this is really full," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's director of space operations. "This flight, and a couple of the other shuttle flights that come later, really set us up very well for kind of the end of the shuttle servicing era."

Awaiting a decision by the Obama administration on what sort of spacecraft will replace the shuttle and whether the moon or some other target will be NASA's next objective, the agency is pressing ahead with the Bush administration's directive to complete the space station and end shuttle flights by the end of 2010.

Shuttle Atlantis separates from its external tank moments
after reaching orbit. (Photo: NASA TV)

The International Space Station currently is only funded through 2015, but there appears to be widespread political support to extend operations through 2020. That would mean operating the lab complex for 10 years without the shuttle and its cavernous cargo bay to deliver large spares and other components.

With just six missions left on NASA's shuttle manifest between now and the end of fiscal 2010, Atlantis' mission is one of two devoted primarily to delivering critical spare parts and equipment - orbital replacement units, or ORUs - that are too large to be delivered by European, Russian or Japanese cargo ships.

"We're looking for the long-term outfitting of station," said Hobaugh. "Our flight is one of the first flights that externally will provide a lot of those spare parts and long-lead type replacement items that are required to keep it healthy and running for quite some time."

Mounted on pallets in Atlantis' payload bay are two spare control moment gyroscopes, used to control the station's orientation in space; a high pressure oxygen tank for the station's airlock; and a spare pump module, nitrogen tank and an ammonia reservoir for the lab's cooling system.

The pallets also carry a replacement robot arm latching end effector, or mechanical hand; a spare power cable spool used by the arm's mobile transporter; a solar array battery charge-discharge unit; and a device used to prevent potentially dangerous electrical arcs between the station and the electrically charged extreme upper atmosphere.

A box housing spare circuit breakers that can be installed by the station's robot arm and a Canadian robot known as DEXTRE is mounted on one of the pallets and a materials exposure experiment carried aloft in the shuttle's cargo bay will be mounted on ELC-2 during the crew's final spacewalk.

Atlantis also is carrying a spare S-band antenna assembly, along with supplies for the lab's six-member crew, gear for an amateur radio experiment and a system that can be used to track ships at sea.

The two cargo pallets will be mounted on the left and right sides of the station's main solar power truss and plugged into the lab's electrical grid to power heaters and provide telemetry. The new oxygen tank will be attached to the station's airlock during a spacewalk. The rest of the hardware will simply sit, waiting for the day it might be needed.

"It is establishing critical spares on board the International Space Station," said lead shuttle Flight Director Mike Sarafin. "We're going to warehouse parts that only the shuttle can deliver in large volume to the International Space Station for the pending retirement of the space shuttle, roughly a year from now.

"We're going to deliver two large external logistics carriers full of spares and position those outside the International Space Station so that when and if some of the hardware that's required to sustain the power production and thermal environment on board the space station eventually fails, we've got that hardware there and available and we don't need another vehicle to bring it to the space station."

After the shuttle is retired, supplies and equipment will be delivered to the International Space Station by unmanned Russian Progress spacecraft, the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV, Japan's new HTV cargo carrier and commercial providers now in the process of designing future vehicles.

On Nov. 12, a new Russian docking module called Poisk automatically locked itself to an upward facing port on the Zvezda command module, providing a fourth docking port for the Russian segment of the station - a necessity for long-term support of up to six full-time crew members.

But none of the unmanned cargo ships is capable of delivering the very large components routinely carried by the space shuttle that are too big to pass through the station's hatches. Most of the spares being launched aboard Atlantis have no other way of getting to the station.

The shuttle also provides a way to bring failed components back to Earth for repairs or refurbishment. Atlantis, for example, will bring down components in the space station's urine recycling system that have encountered problems in recent weeks.

The station crew has enough fresh water and stowage to get along with no major problems until refurbished hardware can be launched on an upcoming shuttle flight. But the issue illustrates the sort of capability that will be lost when the shuttle is retired.

"This is why these (spare components) need to fly now on the shuttle," said station Flight Director Brian Smith. "There's no other way to get these ORUs ... to the ISS. And these are all critical spares. You can tell by what their function is we have to have these pre-positioned because they all serve vital roles on the space station."


1:07 PM, 11/16/09, Update: Launch time update

NASA flight controllers have adjusted the shuttle Atlantis' launch window. Liftoff is now targeted for 2:28:10 p.m. EST.


11:15 AM, 11/16/09, Update: Astronauts begin strapping in for launch

The Atlantis astronauts left crew quarters and headed to launch pad 39A at 10:38 a.m. EST to begin strapping in for liftoff at 2:28:11 a.m. EST. There are no technical problems of any significance and the weather appears to be improving, although a low deck of clouds has not yet scattered out as much as hoped.

The STS-129 crew poses before heading for the launch pad. Left to right:
Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman, Randolph Bresnik, Leland Melvin,
pilot Barry Wilmore and commander Charles Hobaugh. (Photo: NASA TV)

The astronauts prepare to board shuttle Atlantis at pad 39A.
(Photo: NASA TV)

Forecasters are predicting a 30 percent chance of scattered to broken clouds at 3,000 feet with winds out of 20 degrees at 10 knots with gusts to 15 knots.


8:20 AM, 11/16/09, Update: Shuttle fueling complete

The shuttle Atlantis' external tank has been loaded with a half-million gallons of super-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel. The three-hour fueling procedure began on time at 5:03 a.m. EST and the tank was loaded and in stable replenish mode at 8 a.m. There are no technical problems of any significance at pad 39A and forecasters are continuing to predict a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather.


5:25 AM, 11/16/09, Update: Shuttle fueling begins; weather now 70 percent 'go'

Working by remote control, engineers began loading a half-million gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel into the shuttle Atlantis' external tank early Monday, setting the stage for launch at 2:28:11 p.m. EST. Forecasters, who initially predicted a 90 percent chance of good weather, are now calling for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions because of an increased concern about possible low clouds.

There are no technical problems of any significance at pad 39A and the three-hour fueling procedure began on time at 5:03 a.m., when super-cold propellants began flowing from storage tanks through supply lines to the shuttle's mobile launch platform. If all goes well, the tank will be in "stable replenish" mode by around 8 a.m.

Atlantis' crew - commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik - plans to suit up and head for the launch pad at 10:38 a.m. to begin strapping in for launch on the 129th shuttle mission.

Here is a timeline of highlights for the remainder of today's countdown (in EST):

EST...........EVENT

05:03 AM......LO2 (oxygen), LH2 (hydrogen) transfer line chill down
05:13 AM......Main propulsion system chill down
05:13 AM......LH2 slow fill
05:43 AM......LO2 slow fill
05:48 AM......Hydrogen ECO sensors go wet
05:53 AM......LO2 fast fill
06:03 AM......LH2 fast fill
07:58 AM......LH2 topping
08:03 AM......LH2 replenish
08:03 AM......LO2 replenish

08:03 AM......Begin 2-hour 30-minute built-in hold (T-minus 3 hours)
08:03 AM......Closeout crew to white room
08:03 AM......External tank in stable replenish mode
08:18 AM......Astronaut support personnel comm checks
08:48 AM......Pre-ingress switch reconfig
09:30 AM......NASA TV launch coverage begins
10:03 AM......Final crew weather briefing
10:08 AM......Crew suit up begins
10:33 AM......Resume countdown (T-minus 3 hours)

10:38 AM......Crew departs O&C building
11:08 AM......Crew begins strapping in
11:58 AM......Astronaut comm checks
12:23 PM......Hatch closure
12:53 PM......White room closeout

01:13 PM......Begin 10-minute built-in hold (T-minus 20m)
01:23 PM......NASA test director countdown briefing
01:23 PM......Resume countdown (T-minus 20m)

01:24 PM......Backup flight computer loads OPS 1 software
01:28 PM......KSC area clear to launch

01:34 PM......Begin final built-in hold (T-minus 9m)
02:04:11 PM...NTD launch status verification
02:19:11 PM...Resume countdown (T-minus 9m)

02:23:11 PM...Orbiter access arm retraction
02:23:11 PM...Launch window opens
02:23:11 PM...Hydraulic power system (APU) start
02:23:16 PM...Terminate LO2 replenish
02:24:11 PM...Purge sequence 4 hydraulic test
02:24:11 PM...Inertial measurement units to inertial
02:24:16 PM...Aerosurface profile
02:24:41 PM...Main engine steering test
02:25:16 PM...LO2 tank pressurization
02:25:36 PM...Fuel cells to internal reactants
02:25:41 PM...Clear caution-and-warning memory
02:26:11 PM...Crew closes visors
02:26:14 PM...LH2 tank pressurization
02:27:21 PM...Booster joint heater deactivation
02:27:40 PM...Shuttle flight computers take control of countdown
02:27:50 PM...Booster steering test
02:28:04 PM...Main engine start (T-6.6 seconds)
02:28:11 PM...Booster ignition (LAUNCH)


10:44 AM, 11/15/09, Update: STS-129 mission preview

With the shuttle program entering its final year of operation, engineers are readying Atlantis for launch Monday on a three-spacewalk mission to deliver 15 tons of spare parts and equipment to the International Space Station as a hedge against failures when the shuttle is no longer available for service calls.

"In terms of being the flight that brings up all the spares for station, this is really full," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's director of space operations. "They've done a tremendous job of really outfitting station with all the spares that are going to be needed, essentially through its lifetime. This flight, and a couple of the other shuttle flights that come later, really set us up very well for kind of the end of the shuttle servicing era."

Awaiting a decision by the Obama administration on what sort of spacecraft will replace the shuttle and whether the moon or some other target will be NASA's next objective, the agency is pressing ahead with the Bush administration's directive to complete the space station and end shuttle flights by the end of 2010.

The International Space Station currently is only funded through 2015, but there appears to be widespread political support to extend operations through 2020. That would mean operating the lab complex for 10 years without the shuttle and its cavernous cargo bay to deliver large spares and other components.

With just six missions left on NASA's shuttle manifest between now and the end of fiscal 2010, Atlantis' mission is one of two devoted primarily to delivering critical spare parts and equipment - orbital replacement units, or ORUs - that are too large to be delivered by European, Russian or Japanese cargo ships.

"We're looking for the long-term outfitting of station, making sure the ISS is ready for the long haul and has the longest life capability possible," shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh said. "Our flight is one of the first flights that externally will provide a lot of those spare parts and long-lead type replacement items that are required to keep it healthy and running for quite some time."

Along with delivering spare parts and components, Atlantis also will bring astronaut Nicole Stott back to Earth after a three-month stay in space. It is the final planned use of a shuttle for crew rotation. From this point forward, U.S. astronauts will ride Russian Soyuz capsules to and from the station, at $50 million a seat.

But stockpiling spare parts is the core mission for Atlantis' crew and space station utilization flight No. 3, or ULF-3.

Mounted on pallets in Atlantis' payload bay are two spare control moment gyroscopes, used to control the station's orientation in space; a high pressure oxygen tank for the station's airlock; and a spare pump module, nitrogen tank and an ammonia reservoir for the lab's cooling system.

The pallets also carry a replacement robot arm latching end effector, or mechanical hand; a spare power cable spool used by the arm's mobile transporter; a solar array battery charge-discharge unit; and a device used to prevent potentially dangerous electrical arcs between the station and the electrically charged extreme upper atmosphere.

A box housing spare circuit breakers that can be installed by the station's robot arm and a Canadian robot known as DEXTRE is mounted on one of the pallets and a materials exposure experiment carried aloft in the shuttle's cargo bay will be mounted on ELC-2 during the crew's final spacewalk.

Atlantis also is carrying a spare S-band antenna assembly, along with supplies for the lab's six-member crew, gear for an amateur radio experiment and a system that can be used to track ships at sea.

The two cargo pallets will be mounted on the left and right sides of the station's main solar power truss and plugged into the lab's electrical grid to power heaters and provide telemetry. The new oxygen tank will be attached to the station's airlock during a spacewalk. The rest of the hardware will simply sit, waiting for the day it might be needed.

"It is establishing critical spares on board the International Space Station," said lead shuttle Flight Director Mike Sarafin. "We're going to warehouse parts that only the shuttle can deliver in large volume to the International Space Station for the pending retirement of the space shuttle, roughly a year from now.

"We're going to deliver two large external logistics carriers full of spares and position those outside the International Space Station so that when and if some of the hardware that's required to sustain the power production and thermal environment on board the space station eventually fails, we've got that hardware there and available and we don't need another vehicle to bring it to the space station."

After the shuttle is retired, supplies and equipment will be delivered to the International Space Station by unmanned Russian Progress spacecraft, the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV, Japan's new HTV cargo carrier and commercial providers now in the process of designing future vehicles.

On Nov. 12, a new Russian docking module called Poisk automatically locked itself to an upward facing port on the Zvezda command module, providing a fourth docking port for the Russian segment of the station - a necessity for long-term support of up to six full-time crew members.

But none of the unmanned cargo ships is capable of delivering the very large components routinely carried in the space shuttle's cargo bay that are too big to pass through the station's hatches. Most of the spares being launched aboard Atlantis have no other way of getting to the station.

The shuttle also provides a way to bring failed components back to Earth for repairs or refurbishment. Atlantis, for example, will bring down components in the space station's urine recycling system that have encountered problems in recent weeks.

The station crew has enough fresh water and stowage to get along with no major problems until refurbished hardware can be launched on an upcoming shuttle flight. But the issue illustrates the sort of capability that will be lost when the shuttle is retired.

"This is why these (spare components) need to fly now on the shuttle," said station Flight Director Brian Smith. "There's no other way to get these ORUs ... to the ISS. And these are all critical spares. You can tell by what their function is we have to have these pre-positioned because they all serve vital roles on the space station."

The good news, he said, is that "we don't have an immediate need for any of them. We're leaving them on the decks."

"To say which one is more critical, you kind of need a crystal ball to see which system is more likely to fail," he said. "They all serve a critical purpose. Losing CMGs, control moment gyros, is a big deal, because if you lose your non-propulsive capability to maintain attitude, the only thing you've got left is the propulsive control and the prop(ellant) is a consumable. When you start looking at the retirement of the shuttle and what it costs to fly prop, that becomes a big deal. So prop conservation has been a big theme for the last year or so. Which means the CMGs are that much more important.

"You can also talk about the external thermal control system. We've got two of those, loop A and loop B outside. Each one has a pump module, the NTA (nitrogen tank assembly) and ATA (ammonia tank assembly). Losing one of those loops is very significant. We'd lose cooling capability to half of the electronics on the U.S., European and Japanese part of the space station. So that could become very critical very quickly.

"So it's just a matter of what the next failure is going to be," he said. "I would say at this point in time, they have equal criticality, which is why they're on this flight."

Atlantis is scheduled for liftoff from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 2:28 p.m. EST, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries the pad into the plane of the space station's orbit. The shuttle launch window closes Nov. 20 because of temperature constraints related to the station's orbit. The next shuttle launch window opens Dec. 6.

Atlantis' processing has been routine, but engineers have spent a fair amount of time evaluating a potential issue with the acoustic shock of main engine ignition.

The issue first came to light after the October 1998 shuttle flight that launched former Sen. John Glenn back into orbit. During liftoff, the door covering the shuttle's braking parachute fell off, prompting an investigation that ultimately led to liftoff acoustics.

Additional instrumentation was added to subsequent flights and the data seemed to show sound levels were in the expected range. But in a subsequent analysis, engineers realized the way the sensors were being calibrated did not adequately take into account how the vibration of the pressure transducers themselves interacted with the sound they were supposed to measure.

More accurate calibration showed the acoustic environment at engine startup "was a lot more severe than we thought," said Mike Moses, the shuttle integration manager at Kennedy. "It was definitely above what our design limit was."

Engineers then began analyzing shuttle structures to make sure they could safely withstand the unexpected acoustic environment. One area of concern involved bolts that hold maneuvering jet extensions, called "stingers," on the back of the shuttle's orbital maneuvering system rocket pods.

Boroscope inspections of the bolt in question showed no cracks, at least to the limits of the instrument's resolution. Engineers also examined qualification hardware built in the early days of the shuttle program that was subjected to vibrations simulating 100 missions to look for any signs of undue stress. No major problems were found and engineers believe Atlantis can be safely launched as is. But additional instrumentation was ordered to collect more data during launch.

Joining Hobaugh on the shuttle's flight deck for the 129th shuttle mission will be pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Leland Melvin and Randolph Bresnik. Strapped in on Atlantis' lower deck will be Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher, an orthopedic surgeon-turned-astronaut. Hobaugh, Foreman and Melvin, a former pro football draft pick, are shuttle veterans while their crewmates are making their first space flight.

Assuming an on-time launch, Bresnik will miss the birth of his second child, a girl, scheduled for delivery Nov. 20, two weeks ahead of her December due date.

"She's a pretty amazing woman," Bresnik said of his wife, Rebecca, in an interview with CBS News. "She's actually the lead for international law here at the Johnson Space Center. ... Her sister's coming down if I'm not here to help out. We're very fortunate for that, and the NASA family here.

"While I'm sad, I'm disappointed, to miss the birth, I'm hoping she'll forgive me later on when I tell her why I wasn't there when she was born. Miracles happen and miracle childbirth is certainly something we've been astounded by the past nine months and we're not going to complain about the timing of it. It's just unfortunate these two amazing life events happen all at the same time.

"I just look forward to getting the call that mother and baby are safe and healthy," Bresnik said. "If we're still docked to the ISS, depending on when the launch date is, we ought to be able to see a video conference with them and talk to them afterwards. That'll be great."

Assuming an on-time launch, the astronauts will be in orbit on Thanksgiving, preparing Atlantis for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center around 9:47 a.m. on Nov. 27.

Asked if the crew planned anything special for the holiday, Hobaugh said "the season is whatever the season is. It could be Christmas, it could be Thanksgiving, who knows? We're just always pleased to be in space and I don't care what they give us, it could be beef brisket, it could be tofu, it doesn't matter to me. We're going to enjoy ourselves no matter what we do."

The first two days of Atlantis' mission will follow the standard post-Columbia template, with the astronauts focused on setting up computers and other gear, testing their spacesuits and rendezvous aids and inspecting the ship's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels for any signs of damage during ascent.

On flight day three, Hobaugh and Wilmore will oversee a carefully choreographed rendezvous with the space station, approaching from behind and maneuvering to a point about 600 feet directly below the outpost. Hobaugh then plans to initiate a mostly-automated 360-degree back flip maneuver, exposing the heat shield tiles on the orbiter's belly to the crew of the space station for a detailed photo survey.

"Positioned in the aft portion of the International Space Station looking out windows in the Russian segment, several station crew members will have cameras and shoot digital still images out the window of the tile surfaces on board Atlantis," Sarafin said. "All of those digital images will be sent to the ground before we complete our docking for review by the Debris Assessment Team and the imagery analysts on the ground."

Hobaugh then plans to guide Atlantis up to a point some 450 feet directly in front of the station, with the shuttle's tail pointed toward Earth and its open payload bay facing a docking port on the front end of the lab's Harmony module.

"From there, he'll maneuver in to the docking port," Sarafin said. "At a range of roughly 30 feet to the International Space Station, he'll perform a final alignment verification using the centerline camera. Once we verify we have a good alignment, we will go in and dock to the International Space Station.

"Once any residual motion has damped out, we'll retract the docking ring and complete a good hard mate to the International Space Station, verify there are no leaks at the pressure seals at that interface. Once those leak checks are performed, the crew will have a go to open the hatches and they'll greet each other and perform a safety briefing. And with that, the real core mission of STS-129 and ULF-3 will begin."

Waiting to welcome the shuttle crew aboard will be European Space Agency commander Frank De Winne of Belgium, cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Roman Romanenko, NASA astronauts Jeffrey Williams and Stott and Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk.

Williams and Suraev arrived at the space station in late September. Stott plans to return to Earth aboard Atlantis while De Winne, Romanenko and Thirsk plan to fly home aboard a Soyuz spacecraft Dec. 1. Williams and Suraev will have the station to themselves as the core members of the Expedition 22 crew until three more crew members arrive Dec. 23.

One of the first items on the agenda after Atlantis docks is to make Stott a member of the shuttle crew, meaning she will start sleeping aboard Atlantis for the duration of her stay in space. This is a normal procedure to protect against any unusual event that might force the shuttle crew to depart early or in a hurry.

Two-and-a-half hours after docking, Bresnik and Melvin, operating the shuttle's robot arm, will carefully lift ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 - ELC-1 - from its perch in the shuttle's cargo bay just in front of ELC-2. The first cargo carrier will be maneuvered to a position on the left side of the shuttle where the station's robot arm, operated by Wilmore and Williams, will latch on and take over.

After the shuttle arm lets go, ELC-1 will be moved to the Earth-facing side of the port three (P3) truss segment on the left side of the station's power truss and locked into place.

The ELCs measure 16 feet by 14 feet and can carry 9,800 pounds of hardware with a volume of 98 cubic feet. The pallets are wired to provide station power and telemetry to attached payloads. For Atlantis' mission, ELC-1 and ELC-2 will carry cargo on both upper and lower surfaces.

Mounted on ELC-1's upper deck are a 600-pound control moment gyroscope, the battery charge-discharge unit, the plasma contactor arc prevention device and a latching end effector for the station's robot arm. Mounted on the lower surface are a 550-pound nitrogen tank assembly, a 780-pound external cooling system pump module and a 1,700-pound ammonia coolant tank.

While ELC-1 is being maneuvered into place, Foreman and Satcher will be reviewing procedures for the first spacewalk the next day before camping out in the Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10 pounds per square inch. The campout protocol is designed to help prevent the bends after working in NASA's low-pressure spacesuits.

"This is an agressive mission in the sense that we've got a lot of key objectives that if we don't accomplish those on the days they're planned, it's going to have a ripple effect downstream," Smith said. "Specifically, flight day three is really the linch pin on this mission.

"We need to get docked, get ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 1 out of the payload bay and installed and get the crew into EVA campout to go out the hatch on a spacewalk the very next day. That is a lot of activity in one day, and if the docking takes longer than planned, if the robotic activities associated with ELC-1 take longer than planned or we just get behind, that's going to ripple down stream.

"Atlantis doesn't have the power transfer capability that the other two vehicles have, so we also have limited consumables from a power production standpoint on board. So we've got to get three spacewalks done, two ELCs out of the payload bay in 11 days. It's complex from that standpoint."

Assuming the docking and transfer of ELC-1 go smoothly, Foreman and Satcher plan to begin a six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk on flight day four, Nov. 19, starting around 9:20 a.m. EST. Melvin and Wilmore will operate the station's robot arm during the spacewalk while Bresnik will serve as the spacewalk coordinator.

With Satcher anchored to the end of the station's robot arm, Foreman will unbolt the spare S-band antenna assembly in the shuttle's cargo bay and hand it to his crewmate, who will then carry it up to a storage point on the central Z1 truss that houses the station's four control moment gyroscopes.

"It's a really cool ride for Bobby, he's going to have a good time," Smith said.

Both spacewalkers then will bolt the antenna into place.

"Our first task is to take another spare part out of the space shuttle's payload bay, the SASA payload, which is S-band Antenna Support Assembly, which is basically a spare S-band antenna for the space station," Foreman said in a NASA interview. "It's an antenna that failed on orbit. They brought it back, refurbished it, now it's ready to go and we'll put it back into the spare location.

"So I will go out of the airlock, go over to the payload bay and start getting that thing ready to hand off to Bobby. Bobby's going to go out, get into the robotic arm and they'll maneuver him over into the payload bay on the end of the arm. He'll grab that thing after I unbolt it and he'll ride the arm back to Z1 where it gets installed in the spare location and I'll translate back over there and help him install it."

At that point, the two spacewalkers will split up.

"After we get (the SASA) installed, I will also pick up a set of cables from our tool box in the back of the payload bay, take those over to the Z1 location also and start stringing those things up for a future mission to use while Bobby continues to ride the arm and he goes into his lube-job-man role as the lubricator of a couple of the latching end effectors, the POA latching end effector and the JEM RMS latching end effector."

The former is a payload attach fitting on the robot arm's mobile transporter while the latter is the latching end of a Japanese robot arm attached to the Kibo laboratory module. Both latching systems utilize snares that rotate closed to lock onto a payload's grapple fixture. Because of past issues with the snares, regular lubrication is a now standard operation.

"He'll go and apply some grease to the snares inside those latching end effectors to make sure that they don't have a problem later in life," Foreman said. "So he's doing some preventive maintenance basically on those while I do that spare cable task. And then I go over to Node 1 and there's a slide wire over there, a safety slide wire, that is no longer usable, so I'm going to take that off, bring that back in and we'll also have a handrail to swap out over there. I take one handrail off, install a different handrail that actually has some ammonia line cable connectors on it that will be used on a future mission."

The day after the first spacewalk, flight day five, is reserved for a so-called focused inspection of the shuttle's heat shield if any problems are spotted during the inspections carried out the day after launch and during final approach to the space station. If no major problems are seen that require a second look, the crew will forego the focused inspection and devote the day instead to internal supply transfers and preparations for a spacewalk by Foreman and Bresnik.

Assuming an on-time launch, flight day five would fall on Nov. 20, the day Bresnik's daughter is scheduled for delivery.

Before the second spacewalk gets underway on flight day six, Hobaugh and Melvin will use Atlantis' robot arm to pull ELC-2 from the shuttle's cargo bay. Like ELC-1, hardware is mounted on both sides of ELC-2.

A second spare control moment gyroscope is mounted on the pallet's upper surface, along with the 1,240-pound high-pressure oxygen tank and a cargo transport container housing spare remote power control module circuit breakers.

Another nitrogen tank assembly is bolted to ELC-2's lower side, along with another coolant system pump module and a spooled power line designed to play out and retract as the robot arm's mobile transporter moves along the front side of the station's solar power truss.

After Hobaugh and Melvin pull ELC-2 from the cargo bay, Williams and De Winne will lock on with the station's robot arm to maneuver it into place on the right side of the power truss. About halfway through the ELC-2 installation procedure, Foreman and Bresnik will begin the mission's second spacewalk.

"On EVA 2 we go outside and we get a couple of antennas that are going to be put on the outside of the Columbus (laboratory) module," Bresnik said in a NASA interview. "One of them is a (maritime navigation system) antenna that will go on the front side of the Columbus. The other one's essentially a ham radio antenna that'll go on the bottom side out of the starboard end of Columbus. So we're both going to go ahead and put the antennas in and string the cable, get it powered up.

"Then we head over and we're going to go ahead and take an antenna that is up on the starboard side that has to be maneuvered over to the port side to make room for the AMS, or Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, that's going to come up on the final shuttle mission."

Once that work is done, Foreman and Bresnik will make their way to the lower side of the S3 starboard truss segment to deploy another cargo mounting mechanism like the ones used to anchor the ELCs. That will allow "other flights to come up and put their hardware on the cupboard, or the shelf of the space station for later use," Bresnik said.

"And then the last thing we're going to do is we're going to take an antenna that helps with the wireless video system when we're doing EVAs, we're going to take and install an antenna that was inside the airlock, we're going to take it out with us and install it back on the S3, back where we're doing the (payload attach system) system and put that out there so we've got better coverage when we have our crew members going out to do an EVA."

Following EVA-2, the astronauts will enjoy a bit of off-duty time on flight day seven before reviewing procedures for the third and final spacewalk the next day. As with the previous two excursions, the spacewalkers - Satcher and Bresnik - will spend the night in the Quest airlock module.

The final spacewalk has three primary objectives: moving the new oxygen tank from ELC-2 to the hull of the Quest module and connecting it to the airlock's pressurization system; mounting the Materials on International Space Station Experiment 7 - MISSE-7 - on ELC-2; and deploying another external payload mounting mechanism on the upward-facing side of the S3 truss segment.

"The major task we're going to do is installing the oxygen gas tank so we're bringing up some atmosphere for the space station," Satcher said in a NASA interview. "It comes up actually on ELC-2, which is going to be stored all the way out on the end of the space station, on the starboard end. So we've got to go out, way out there and get it, coordinate with the robotic arm, SSRMS, because we have to take it off of ELC-2, hold it in position for the arm to grapple it and transport it all the way back over to the airlock where we will go and install it onto the airlock.

"Now before we can install it there, there're some MMOD shields, which are micrometeorite debris shields, that protect the space station from these strikes that we (have) got to move out of the way, so we'll be detaching those, moving them out of the way and then we can install the gas tank.

"The other major activity is we'll be deploying these material science experiments called MISSEs," Satcher said. "Actually Randy will be getting those out of the cargo bay of the shuttle and bringing those over to ELC-2 where they're installed and deployed and I'll also be doing some rerouting of some cables on Node 1 in anticipation of future install of Node 3. So those are the major activities that we're going to do and it should take us a full six or seven hours to get that done."

The day after the third spacewalk - Nov. 24 - the astronauts will hold a traditional in-flight news conference and enjoy a half day off before a brief farewell ceremony and hatch closure to wrap up the docked phase of the mission.

The next day, Nov. 25, Atlantis will undock from the International Space Station. Wilmore, flying the shuttle from the aft flight deck, will pilot Atlantis through a 360-degree loop of the lab complex before departing the area.

The astronauts will celebrate Thanksgiving in space with a crew meal following a test of the shuttle's re-entry system. The day after Thanksgiving, the shuttle will return to Earth, weather permitting, landing back at the Kennedy Space Center around 9:47 a.m.

With Atlantis back on the ground, NASA will be poised to enter its final few months of shuttle activity, working to complete the International Space Station and transitioning from assembly to utilization.

"Quite a few things are going on and we tend to stay that way," said space station Program Manager Mike Suffredini. "You'll see us start to transition more and talk more about the research and giving more priority to research up mass along the way. That's why we built the ISS and we're at that position, we're ready to start focusing more on that even though we have a little more assembly left to do. We're all looking forward to that over the next several years."


12:15 PM, 11/15/09, Update: Countdown on track for Monday launch

The shuttle Atlantis' countdown continues to tick smoothly toward launch Monday on a mission to deliver critical spares to the International Space Station. There are no technical problems of any significance at launch pad 39A and forecasters are still predicting a 90 percent chance of good weather for the 2:28 p.m. EST liftoff.

"At this point, we're in very good shape, Atlantis is ready to launch," said NASA Test Director Steve Payne. "We're all looking forward to seeing Atlantis fly on Monday afternoon."

Engineers loaded liquid hydrogen and oxygen aboard the shuttle Saturday to power the ship's three electricity producing fuel cells and checked out the orbiter's three hydrogen-fueled main engines. Access platforms are being retracted today and engineers plan to rotate a large protective gantry away from the shuttle at 5:30 p.m.

Working by remote control, engineers are scheduled to begin pumping a half-million gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel into Atlantis' external tank beginning at 5:03 a.m. Monday. Atlantis' crew - commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik - plans to strap in just after 11 a.m.

Atlantis has enough on-board hydrogen, to power the ship's fuel cells, to make three launch attempts. The forecast starts out at 90 percent "go" Monday, drops to 70 percent Tuesday and to just 40 percent on Wednesday.

NASA's strategy going in will be to make two attempts in a row, if necessary, and then to stand down for 48 hours to top off the fuel cell hydrogen for one and possibly two additional launch tries.

Because of temperature constraints related to the space station's orbit, Atlantis must get off by Wednesday to fly a full-duration mission and retain the possibility of extending the docked portion of the flight by one day to handle any problems that might come up.

A launch on Thursday, Nov. 19, is possible, but the ability to extend the docked phase would be lost. A launch on Friday would require the crew to cut one docked day to ensure the shuttle departs before the temperature issue becomes a factor.

"Our beta cutout, if we should get that far, begins on (Friday) the 20th," Payne said. "We have good opportunities through the 19th should we need them, although we should be out of here Monday if everything goes well."


1:45 PM, 11/14/09, Update: Countdown on track; management review finds no problems

The shuttle Atlantis' countdown is ticking smoothly toward liftoff Monday at 2:28 p.m. EST, with near ideal weather expected and no technical problems of any significance at the launch pad.

Mike Moses, director of shuttle integration at the Kennedy Space Center, said managers and engineers carried out a launch-minus-two-day review and unanimously cleared Atlantis for launch on a three-spacewalk mission to deliver 15 tons of spare parts and equipment to the International Space Station.

Atlantis also will bring astronaut Nicole Stott back to Earth after three months in space, along with hardware from the station's urine recycling system that has encountered problems in recent weeks.

Moses said the issue will have no impact on Atlantis' mission or near-term operations aboard the station. The crew has enough fresh water and stowage to get along with no major problems until refurbished hardware can be launched on an upcoming shuttle flight.

Kathy Winters, the shuttle weather officer, said she expects a 90 percent chance of favorable weather Monday with just a slight chance of low clouds. But high crosswinds and clouds are expected Tuesday, resulting in a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather, and the forecast drops to just 40 percent "go" on Wednesday due to expected coastal showers.

At launch pad 39A Saturday, engineers geared up to load liquid hydrogen and oxygen into the shuttle's fuel cell system, a procedure that should be completed by around 8:30 p.m. A protective service gantry will be rotated away from the shuttle at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, setting the stage for the start of fueling at 5:03 a.m. Monday.

Atlantis' crew - commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik - plan to begin strapping in around 11:08 a.m. Monday to await liftoff.

Here is a timeline of major countdown events through launch (in EST):

DATE/TIME.....EVENT

Sat  11/14/09

01:00 PM......Resume countdown
02:30 PM......Fuel cell oxygen loading begins
05:00 PM......Fuel cell oxygen load complete
05:00 PM......Fuel cell hydrogen loading begins
07:30 PM......Fuel cell hydrogen loading complete
08:30 PM......Pad open; ingress white room

09:00 PM......Begin 4-hour built-in hold
09:00 PM......Crew module clean and vacuum
09:30 PM......OMBUU demate

Sun  11/15/09

12:00 AM......Remove APU vent covers
12:30 AM......MPS 2000 psi GSE
01:00 AM......Countdown resumes

01:00 AM......Main engine preps
01:00 AM......Master event controllers 1 and 2 on; avionics system checkout
01:00 AM......Remove OMS engine covers, throat plugs
07:30 AM......Deflate RSS dock seals; tile inspection
08:00 AM......Tile inspection
08:00 AM......Tail service masts prepped for fueling

09:00 AM......Begin 13-hour 3-minute hold
09:00 AM......L-1 engineering briefing
09:15 AM......Crew weather briefing
10:30 AM......ASP crew module inspection
10:30 AM......OIS communications check
12:30 PM......Comm activation
01:00 PM......Crew module voice checks
02:00 PM......Flight crew equipment late stow
03:15 PM......JSC flight control team on station
05:30 PM......RSS to park position
06:30 PM......Final TPS, debris inspection
09:30 PM......Ascent switch list
10:03 PM......Resume countdown

10:23 PM......Pad clear of non-essential personnel
10:23 PM......APU bite test
11:13 PM......Fuel cell activation

Mon  11/16/09

12:03 AM......Booster joint heater activation
12:33 AM......MEC pre-flight bite test
12:48 AM......Tanking weather update
01:33 AM......Final fueling preps; launch area clear
02:03 AM......Red crew assembled
02:48 AM......Fuel cell integrity checks complete

03:03 AM......Begin 2-hour built-in hold (T-minus 6 hours)
03:13 AM......Safe-and-arm PIC test
04:03 AM......External tank ready for loading
04:26 AM......Mission management team tanking meeting
05:00 AM......NASA TV coverage of fueling begins
05:03 AM......Resume countdown (T-minus 6 hours)

05:03 AM......LO2, LH2 transfer line chilldown
05:13 AM......Main propulsion system chill down
05:13 AM......LH2 slow fill
05:43 AM......LO2 slow fill
05:48 AM......Hydrogen ECO sensors go wet
05:53 AM......LO2 fast fill
05:56 AM......Crew medical checks
06:03 AM......LH2 fast fill
07:58 AM......LH2 topping
08:03 AM......LH2 replenish
08:03 AM......LO2 replenish

08:03 AM......Begin 2-hour 30-minute built-in hold (T-minus 3 hours)
08:03 AM......Closeout crew to white room
08:03 AM......External tank in stable replenish mode
08:18 AM......Astronaut support personnel comm checks
08:48 AM......Pre-ingress switch reconfig
09:30 AM......NASA TV launch coverage begins
10:03 AM......Final crew weather briefing
10:08 AM......Crew suit up begins
10:33 AM......Resume countdown (T-minus 3 hours)

10:38 AM......Crew departs O&C building
11:08 AM......Crew ingress
11:58 AM......Astronaut comm checks
12:23 PM......Hatch closure
12:53 PM......White room closeout

01:13 PM......Begin 10-minute built-in hold (T-minus 20m)
01:23 PM......NASA test director countdown briefing
01:23 PM......Resume countdown (T-minus 20m)

01:24 PM......Backup flight computer to OPS 1
01:28 PM......KSC area clear to launch
01:34 PM......Begin final built-in hold (T-minus 9m)

02:04:08 PM...NTD launch status verification
02:19:08 PM...Resume countdown (T-minus 9m)

02:23:08 PM...Orbiter access arm retraction
02:23:08 PM...Launch window opens
02:23:08 PM...Hydraulic power system (APU) start
02:23:13 PM...Terminate LO2 replenish
02:24:08 PM...Purge sequence 4 hydraulic test
02:24:08 PM...IMUs to inertial
02:24:13 PM...Aerosurface profile
02:24:38 PM...Main engine steering test
02:25:13 PM...LO2 tank pressurization
02:25:33 PM...Fuel cells to internal reactants
02:25:38 PM...Clear caution-and-warning memory
02:26:08 PM...Crew closes visors
02:26:11 PM...LH2 tank pressurization
02:27:18 PM...SRB joint heater deactivation
02:27:37 PM...Shuttle GPCs take control of countdown
02:27:47 PM...SRB steering test
02:28:01 PM...Main engine start (T-6.6 seconds)
02:28:08 PM...SRB ignition (LAUNCH)


1:35 PM, 11/13/09, Update: Shuttle countdown begins; weather 90 percent 'go'

With forecasters predicting a 90 percent chance of good weather, engineers started the shuttle Atlantis' countdown Friday, setting the stage for launch Monday afternoon on a three-spacewalk mission to deliver 15 tons of spare parts and equipment to the International Space Station.

"We're not tracking any issues, all of our work is on schedule and progressing well," said NASA Test Director Charlene Blackwell-Thompson. "The STS-129 flight crew, Atlantis and the launch teams are ready to go."

Liftoff from pad 39A is targeted for 2:28 p.m. EST, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries launch complex 39A into the plane of the space station's orbit.

Atlantis' crew arrives for launch Thursday. Left to right: Leland Melvin,
Barry Wilmore, commander Charles Hobaugh, Randolph Bresnik,
Michael Foreman and Robert Satcher. (Photo: NASA TV)

Kathy Winters, the shuttle weather officer, said she expects a 90 percent chance of good weather Monday. Predicted high crosswinds drop the odds to 70 percent "go" on Tuesday and down to just 40 percent favorable on Wednesday because of expected coastal showers.

"The weather is looking very good for launch day," Winters said. "We'll have very good pre-launch preparation weather on Saturday and Sunday and then also for launch day, the weather is looking very favorable as well."

Atlantis' crew - commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik - flew to the Kennedy Space Center from Houston Thursday to make final preparations for launch.

The launch window extends through Nov. 20. Atlantis will be loaded with enough on-board liquid oxygen and hydrogen for its fuel cell system to make three launch attempts. If the hydrogen tanks are topped off at some point, four attempts in five days should be possible.

Fueling for a Monday launch attempt is scheduled to begin at 5:03 a.m. The astronauts will head for the pad to strap in around 10:38 a.m.

A detailed countdown timeline, the crew's flight plan, ascent and trajectory data and the initial release of NASA's television schedule are posted on the STS-129 Quick-Look page, along with an updated version of SpaceCalc and the CBS News Space Reporter's Handbook.


12:50 PM, 10/30/09, Update: Shuttle Atlantis cleared for Nov. 16 launch

Editor's Note...
Prior commitments prevented me from posting this story immediately following the flight readiness review. My apologies for the delay.

NASA managers met at the Kennedy Space Center Thursday and tentatively cleared the shuttle Atlantis for launch Nov. 16 on a three-spacewalk mission to deliver nearly 15 tons of spare parts and supplies to the International Space Station.

"In terms of being the flight that brings up all the spares for station, this is really full," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's director of space operations. "They've done a tremendous job of really outfitting station with all the spares that are going to be needed, essentially through its lifetime. This flight, and a couple of the other shuttle flights that come later, really set us up very well for kind of the end of the shuttle servicing era."

NASA was able to reserve two days on the U.S. Air Force Eastern range - Nov. 16 and 17 - in a launch window that extends, in theory, through Nov. 19 and possibly Nov. 20. NASA got the launch slot after the Air Force agreed to delay, if necessary, launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying a military communications satellite.

As it now stands, a ULA Atlas 5 rocket carrying an Intelsat communications station is scheduled for launch Nov. 14, with Nov. 15 as a backup. If the Atlas takes off on time, Atlantis will have a shot at launching on Nov. 16 with the Delta 4 following suit on Nov. 18. If the Atlas is delayed a day, the shuttle will slip to Nov. 17 and the Delta to Nov. 19.

If Atlantis doesn't get off by Nov. 17 - and if the Air Force agrees to another delay for the Delta 4 - the shuttle could have additional launch opportunities Nov. 18 and 19. But as it now stands, NASA only has two days to get Atlantis off the ground. After that, the shuttle launch would slip to Dec. 6 because of heating constraints related to the space station's orbit.

Mike Moses, shuttle integration manager at the Kennedy Space Center, said Atlantis is in good shape and should be ready for flight by Nov. 16 if engineers can close out a handful of open issues.

One on-going investigation involves the effects of vibrations and acoustics associated with startup of the shuttle's three hydrogen-fueled main engines. Another involves the strength of key brackets used to secure the shuttle's potty inside the crew module against worst-case crash loads.

The engine startup acoustics issue first came to light after the October 1998 shuttle flight that launched former Sen. John Glenn back into orbit. During liftoff, the door covering the shuttle's braking parachute fell off, prompting an investigation that ultimately led to liftoff acoustics.

Additional instrumentation was added to subsequent flights and the data seemed to show sound levels were in the expected range. But in a subsequent analysis, engineers realized the way the sensors were being calibrated did not adequately take into account how the vibration of the pressure transducers themselves interacted with the sound they were supposed to measure.

More accurate calibration showed the acoustic environment at engine startup "was a lot more severe than we thought," Moses said. "It was definitely above what our design limit was."

Engineers then began analyzing shuttle structures to make sure they could safely withstand the unexpected acoustic environment.

"At the end of the day, we had one tile, literally one tile, that did not have a factor of safety greater than 1.4," Moses said. "And we're going to go bond some gap fillers around there so the load gets shared across a couple of tiles and that'll take care of that one tile.

"The systems underneath the structure, like all the plumbing lines and the wiring and all that, we vibe test that but we don't vibrate it to failure like we would on a primary structural member. So the teams are looking at that to see where their limits are, how they're certified and to see what margins they have. And we've cleared all but a few subsystems. They just need a little more time to go through the math on the subsystems. But those should clear within the next week or two."

One area of concern concerns bolts that hold maneuvering jet extensions, called "stingers," on the back of the shuttle's orbital maneuvering system rocket pods.

"The stinger is the little part that sticks out of the back where all the RCS (reaction control system) thrusters are housed," Moses said. "It's held onto the OMS pod with four separate attach bolts. One of them carries a load in three separate axes at launch. That one shows some negative margins and we have some homework to do."

But the safety factor built into the shuttle design assumed a worst-case acoustic environment for every launch and engineers now know the environment is highly variable.

"The acoustic environment back there is a very dynamic thing and it's very hard to know that you're getting that same environment every single time," Moses said. "In fact, you don't get that environment every single time. How you take that and then apply that to a lifetime projection on your parts is where we're doing our math to make sure we're not being too conservative, we're not being too aggressive with our calculations."

Boroscope inspections of the bolt in question show no cracks, at least to the limits of the instrument's resolution. Engineers also are tearing down qualification hardware built in the early days of the shuttle program that was subjected to vibrations simulating 100 missions to look for any signs of undue stress.

"So that's the big work in front of us," Moses said.

Other topics covered during Thursday's executive-level flight readiness review included the threat of impacts from debris eroding off thermal blanket around the nozzles of the shuttle's solid-fuel boosters - engineers do not believe it poses a significant threat - and an on-going assessment of the foam insulation used on the shuttle's external tank.

An unusual amount of foam loss from the central intertank region of the shuttle's external tank earlier this year prompted additional testing, but Moses said Atlantis' tank appears to be in good shape. Likewise, non-destructive examination shows the foam used to cover so-called ice-frost ramps that hold external pressurization lines in place is solid, without the voids that can lead to foam shedding.

"So a real good story from the ET team," Moses said.

Atlantis will be flying with an additional camera in the cockpit that will be looking up during ascent, toward the ice-frost ramps on the liquid oxygen section of the tank, to give engineers a bird's eye view of how the foam behaves during the shuttle's climb out of the dense lower atmosphere.

"We'll be able to see four or five of the ice-frost ramps out of window No. 4 and that'll be very interesting data for us, it'll help us understand when the ice-frost ramps degrade and how they come apart," said Gerstenmaier. "Very likely, we should expect to see some foam shedding, some popcorn coming off of those regions. So if you see it in the video during ascent, I wouldn't be surprised by that."

As for the shuttle's toilet, Moses said the issue involves a bracket used to help anchor it to the crew module structure. The module is design to withstand crash loads of up to 20 times the force of gravity, or 20 Gs, but engineers discovered cracks from high-cycle fatigue in toilet brackets from two other shuttles.

Playing it safe, engineers replaced the bracket in Atlantis. But in the analysis, it was determined that the bracket was "under designed and cannot handle a crash load," Moses said. "We want anything in the crew compartment to be able to withstand a 20-G crash load."

For Atlantis' flight, engineers were able to show that a new bracket was unlikely to fail in a single flight even if a crack developed.

"I think we're going to do some ultimate, actual load testing and show we're probably somewhere above 10Gs, probably not quite at 20 Gs," Moses said. "So we're going to take a waiver to say we're not going to quite make our 20 Gs but for the normal design case and for a pretty severe crash landing, we'll be fine with this bracket."

For future flights, NASA plans to use a redesigned bracket.

"The simplest redesign is just to make it out of titanium instead of aluminum," Moses said. "When you look at it, it's actually a pretty thin, flimsy little part and it has to withhold something like 12,000 pounds of force in a 20-G crash load."

The Atlantis astronauts - commander Charles Hobaugh, pilot Barry Wilmore, Leland Melvin and spacewalkers Robert Satcher, Michael Foreman and Randolph Bresnik - plan to strap in aboard the shuttle Nov. 3 for a dress-rehearsal countdown that will set the stage for launch.


11:55 AM, 10/23/09, Update: NASA managers hopeful about Nov. 16 launch target

Editor's Note...
Portions of the following update were posted on the Breaking Space News page Oct. 19.

NASA managers met Monday, Oct. 19, and agreed the Ares I-X flight was the agency's top near-term priority. Because many engineers supporting the Ares test also are needed for shuttle processing, work to ready Atlantis for launch on the next space station assembly and resupply mission will be stretched out a bit. NASA had been targeting Nov. 12 for launch, but managers agreed Monday on Nov. 16 as a more realistic "no-earlier-than" launch date, officials said.

As of this writing, NASA does not have an official slot on the U.S. Air Force Eastern Range launch schedule. A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying an Intelsat communications satellite has the range booked for launch tries Nov. 14-15 and a Delta 4 carrying a military communications satellite is scheduled for launch Nov. 18.

Because of time needed to reconfigure range tracking and telemetry systems to support a different launch operation, the Delta would have to slip for NASA to have a shot at launching Atlantis on Nov. 16 at 2:28 p.m. EST. NASA managers are hopeful ongoing negotiations will, in fact, be successful.

Even if the Air Force agrees to delay the Delta launch, NASA will have a relatively short launch window. Because of temperature constraints related to the space station's orbit, Atlantis must take off by Nov. 19 at the latest or the flight will be delayed to Dec. 6. The December launch window closes after Dec. 11 because of a conflict with the planned launch and docking of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying three station crew members.

Hoping for the best, Atlantis' six crew members flew to the Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 19 to review emergency procedures at pad 39A. A dress-rehearsal countdown, originally planned for Wednesday, has been delayed to Nov. 3 because of the decision to prioritize the Ares I-X launch and the resulting slip of the shuttle's no-earlier-than launch date from Nov. 12 to Nov. 16.


03:55 PM, 9/29/09, Update: NASA managers assess Atlantis launch options

Two upcoming satellite launches, a pair of meteor showers, multiple Russian missions and tight launch windows are causing potential headaches for NASA planners looking ahead to the next shuttle mission in November.

NASA is readying the shuttle Atlantis for roll out to pad 39A on Oct. 13 and launch around Nov. 12 on a mission to deliver critical spare parts to the International Space Station. But the ship's nine-day launch window currently is in conflict with a pair of unmanned satellite launches, one a commercial mission and the other military.

The U.S. Eastern Range, which provides tracking and telemetry support for all rockets launched from Florida, can only support one mission at a time and it operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 carrying an Intelsat communications satellite is currently booked on the range for a launch Nov. 14 with a backup opportunity the next day. A ULA Delta 4 rocket carrying a military communications satellite has the range booked Nov. 17 and 18.

NASA had hoped to launch Atlantis on Nov. 9, but that would have required Russian space managers to move up the launch of a new docking module. The Russians were unable to comply and the docking module remains scheduled for launch Nov. 10.

While those discussions were going on, the Atlas-Intelsat team booked the range for Nov. 14.

Because it takes a day or so to reconfigure range equipment to support a different launch, NASA could end up with just one day or so at the end of its window if the unmanned launches stay on track.

NASA officials are hopeful the conflict can be resolved but as of this writing, the unmanned missions remain on the range and launch preparations are continuing.

Even if the first satellite launch moves and Atlantis takes off on Nov. 12, the Leonids meteor shower is expected to peak on Nov. 17, the day the crew plans to carry out the mission's second spacewalk. Some 300 "shooting stars" per hour are expected at the shower's peak. While the shower is not believed to pose a threat to the shuttle, NASA planners are assessing whether the spacewalk can safely proceed as planned if Atlantis is able to take off on time.

The shuttle's launch window closes Nov. 20, the start of a so-called beta-angle cutout. During such cutouts, the angle between the sun and the space station's orbit results in temperature issues for the docked shuttle-station "stack." The upcoming cutout ends on Dec. 5 and a fresh shuttle launch window opens on Dec. 6.

If Atlantis is unable to take off in November, NASA will have to contend with the Geminids meteor shower during the December launch window, a shower that poses a more significant risk to the shuttle. Even though icy debris from the Leonids travels twice as fast as the rocky fragments that make up the Geminids, the latter is spread out over several days while the former is concentrated over just a few hours.

"Leonids of the same mass have four times the striking power of the Geminids," said Bill Cooke, an astronomer with the Meteoroid Environments Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center. "But ... the Geminids have a higher flux enhancement than the Leonids because it's such a big shower."

Made up of icy debris from comet Tempel-Tuttle, the Leonids are expected to produce some 300 shooting stars per hour at their peak around 2:43 p.m. EST on Nov. 17 when Earth will plow through the debris stream. Cooke said initial predictions called for up to 500 per hour and the revised rate represents an "outburst" as opposed to a "storm."

In contrast, the Geminids are believed to be made up of rocky fragments from a body known as Phaethon, which appears to be an asteroid. This year's shower is expected to peak around midnight Dec. 13-14 at a normal rate of around 120 events per hour.

"The Leonids will be an outburst with a strength 10 to 20 times normal, but as far as the environment is concerned, the Geminids meteor shower still has more meteors per area per time than the Leonids do," Cooke said. "The Geminid stream is much wider. The Leonids stream is nice and compact."

Shuttles have flown before during the Leonids and Geminids showers, but NASA planners are re-assessing the risks associated with impacts. In the case of the Leonids, sources say the concern is more about whether a spacewalk might need to be delayed if the shuttle manages to launch on time. With the Geminids, analysts will be looking at whether the shuttle should even be in orbit.

A senior NASA manager said Tuesday a slip to December for Atlantis would not have any major downstream impacts on other upcoming shuttle flights. But the window is short and closes on Dec. 13, the start of a so-called Soyuz cutout.

The Russians plan to launch three station crew members in a Soyuz capsule on Dec. 21 and if the shuttle took off after Dec. 13, the ship would still be there when the Soyuz arrives, which would violate joint safety guidelines.

If Atlantis misses the November and December launch windows, the flight would slip into early 2010.


09:10 PM, 9/11/09, Update: Shuttle Discovery lands in California (UPDATED at 11:15 p.m. with crew comments)

The shuttle Discovery dropped out of orbit and swooped to a flawless California landing Friday to close out a successful space station resupply mission.

Shuttle commander Frederick "C.J." Sturckow and pilot Kevin Ford fired the shuttle's twin braking rockets at 7:47:37 p.m. EDT to drop the ship out of orbit for an hourlong descent to Edwards Air Force Base.

The shuttle Discovery banks to line up on runway 22 at
Edwards Air Force Base. (Photo: NASA TV)

After a steep descent across the Los Angeles basin, Sturckow took over manual control at an altitude of about 50,000 feet above the Mojave Desert landing site and guided the spaceplane through a sweeping 213-degree right overhead turn to line up on runway 22.

As Sturckow pulled the shuttle's nose up just before touchdown, Ford deployed the ship's three main landing gear and the spaceplane settled to a tire-smoking touchdown at 8:53:25 p.m.

"Houston, Discovery, wheels stopped," Sturckow radioed a few moments later as Discovery rolled to a holt.

"Copy, wheels stopped," replied astronaut Eric Boe in mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Welcome home, Discovery. Congratulations on an extremely successful mission, stepping up science to a new level on the International Space Station."

Discovery, seconds from touchdown. (Photo: NASA TV)

Mission duration was 13 days 20 hours 53 minutes and 45 seconds for a voyage spanning 5.7 million miles and 219 complete orbits since blastoff from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 28 at 11:59:37 p.m.

Sturckow, Ford and four of their five crewmates - flight engineer Jose Hernandez, Patrick Forrester, John "Danny" Olivas and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang - doffed their pressure suits for a traditional walk-around inspection about an hour-and-a-half after landing.

"Well, the crew of STS-128 and the space shuttle Discovery, we're very happy to be back on land here in California," Sturckow said on the runway. "We wish we could have gone to Florida today, gotten to see our families down there, but it just didn't work out with the weather."

Discovery's seventh crewmember, returning space station flight engineer Timothy Kopra, made the trip to Earth strapped into a recumbent seat on the shuttle's lower deck to ease his transition back to gravity after 58 days in space.

Asked if he planned to walk off the shuttle under his own power, Kopra told CBS News earlier this week "there are some scientific experiments that require me to come off horizontally, so I won't even have the opportunity to test it out."

Discovery rolls down runway 22. (Photo: NASA TV)

Like all space station crew members, Kopra exercised daily and "we have the chance to do the absolute best we can to stay in good shape. I think there may be some effects, but hopefully I'll recover quickly."

Reflecting on his stay in orbit during a news conference last week, Kopra said "this experience has completely exceeded anything that I thought it would be like, just the sights, the sounds, the experiences with a great crew and really being part of two shuttle missions. It's been absolutely phenomenal.

"The main thing, obviously, I'm looking forward to is seeing my family again, my wife and two kids. And maybe have a sip of a beer once I get home."

Kopra and his shuttle crewmates plan to fly back to Houston on Saturday for reunions with friends and family members and debriefings with mission managers and engineers.

Discovery delivered some nine tons of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station along with Kopra's replacement, astronaut Nicole Stott.

Over the course of a week of docked operations, the astronauts transferred two science racks, an experiment sample freezer, a new treadmill, an astronaut sleep station, a carbon dioxide removal assembly and other supplies and equipment to the space station.

"Wheels stopped." (Photo: NASA TV)

In addition, the shuttle crew carried out three spacewalks to replace a massive ammonia coolant tank, retrieve two external experiments, deploy a spare parts mounting mechanism and string power and data cables needed for a new module that will be attached next year.

Discovery undocked from the station Tuesday to prepare for landing. The astronauts intended to land Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center, but stormy weather blocked both available landing opportunities and entry Flight Director Richard Jones told them to stay in orbit an extra day.

More of the same developed today and after waving off the first Florida opportunity, Jones threw in the towel and diverted Sturckow and company to Edwards. It will take a week to 10 days to prepare the shuttle for a ferry flight back to Florida.

"Discovery was a really great vehicle on this mission, it performed flawlessly," Sturckow said after landing. "It was a great mission, we're looking forward to getting back to Houston for the debriefs. We just want to thank everybody for their support."

Next up for NASA is launch of the shuttle Atlantis around Nov. 9 on a mission to mount critical spare parts on the station as a hedge against future failures after the shuttle fleet is retired next year.

Aboard the space station, meanwhile, the Expedition 20 crew is moving into a particularly busy phase of flight. A new Japanese cargo ship, launched from Japan on Thursday, is scheduled to arrive next week. At the end of the month, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled for launch to carry two new crew members - Jeffrey Williams and Maxim Suraev - to the station.

Williams and Suraev will be joined for launch by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, a billionaire space tourist who is believed to have paid around $35 million for a ride to the station.

Laliberte will return to Earth Oct. 11 with outgoing space station commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Michael Barratt.