Friday, November 14, 2008

US Army Astronaut Blasts Off in Space Shuttle Endeavour

STS-126 Mission Specialist Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough arrives at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a T-38 jet. (Photo by NASA.)

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2008 -- Army Lt. Col. Robert S. Kimbrough was aboard the space shuttle Endeavour when it blasted off Friday on a scheduled 15-day mission to the International Space Station.

Liftoff for the STS-126 mission occurred around 7:59 p.m. at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

STS-126 has been planned as the mission that will give the International Space Station the ability to support twice the crew currently living there. Endeavour has a reusable logistics module that will hold additional crew quarters, additional exercise equipment, equipment for the regenerative life support system and other supplies.

"It's the most jam-packed logistics module we have ever carried up there," STS-126 Commander Chris Ferguson said. "We're taking a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house and turning it into a five-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a gym."

STS-126 will also ensure adequate power for all the new equipment -- and the future space station crew that will expand from three to six -- four days of space-walking are scheduled to service the station's solar alpha rotary joints.

The solar alpha rotary jointsare two 10-foot-wide, wagon-wheel-shaped joints on the station's truss that allow the electricity-generating solar arrays to rotate so that they're always getting as much sun as possible. Flight controllers on the ground noticed a year ago that it was taking more power than normal to rotate the joint on the station's starboard side, and it was vibrating more than it should.

The space walks to service the solar alpha rotary joints will include Army astronaut Kimbrough. The mission specialist was born in Killeen, Texas, but now considers Atlanta his hometown. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, where he was captain of the baseball team. He also has a degree from Georgia Institute of Technology. He served as a platoon leader in an Apache attack helicopter company during Desert Storm.

Kimbrough will be one of the mission's three space walkers. Previous spacewalks to inspect the joint narrowed the more than 100 possible causes of problems down to one: insufficient lubrication. Without enough lubrication, the trundle bearing assemblies that hold the two halves of the joint together, and allow one side to rotate while the other stays still, were pressing too hard against one side of the joint. This added pressure damaged the steel of the joint's "wheel," which the bearings roll against, and left metal filings that could cause more damage.

So the astronauts will spend the majority of the four spacewalks fixing that. They will work to clean metal shavings off of the surface of the solar alpha rotary joint, then lubricate it and replace the trundle bearing assemblies.

Back inside, the Endeavor crew will spend a lot of time unpacking new crew quarters for the space station, a new toilet, a new kitchen, a new refrigerator and new exercise equipment , along with science experiments.

STS-126 is the 27th shuttle mission to the International Space Station. Sandra H. Magnus of STS-126 will remain on the space station, replacing Expedition 17/18 Flight Engineer Gregory E. Chamitoff, who returns to Earth with the shuttle crew.

(Report from an Army News Service and NASA news release.)

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