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Mission Recap: Atlantis STS-129

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Space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-129 mission was an ambitious and demanding undertaking that began Nov. 16, 2009, with a spectacular and on-time liftoff at 2:28 p.m. EST from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Aboard were Commander Charles O. Hobaugh, Pilot Barry E. Wilmore, Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Mike Foreman, Robert L. Satcher Jr. and Randy Bresnik. In addition to the crew, there were nearly 30,000 pounds of replacement parts packed in the Express Logistics Carriers, or ELCs, secured inside Atlantis’ payload bay.

With a picture-perfect launch behind them, the first task at hand on Nov. 17 was checking the shuttle’s wing leading edges and nose cap using the orbiter boom sensor system. The end of the boom consists of cameras and lasers, giving experts on the ground 3-D views of the shuttle’s heat shield to ensure there wasn’t any damage from launch.

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PHOTO ABOVE: STS-129 Atlantis clears the tower.

Later in the day while the shuttle was catching up with the International Space Station, Bresnik, Foreman and Satcher checked out the two spacesuits they would use for the three planned spacewalks.

Once in range of the station on Nov. 18, the shuttle was delicately maneuvered into the rendezvous pitch maneuver, or “backflip,” where Expedition 21 Flight Engineers Jeffrey Williams and Nicole Stott took photos from their vantage point.

Fact: The weight and mass of the cargo flown on Atlantis was far too large to have been launched aboard any other space vehicle.

Images from the first and second inspection were sent back to Earth for experts to review, making sure the shuttle would have a safe flight back through Earth’s atmosphere.

Hobaugh then carefully guided Atlantis closer to the station until it was locked into the station’s docking port on the Harmony node. It took a couple hours for a series of hatch leak checks to be performed and once accomplished, the hatches were opened and the Atlantis crew was enthusiastically greeted and welcomed aboard the station by the Expedition 21 team.

As the hatch opened, Nicole Stott’s responsibilities as station flight engineer officially ended and she became an STS-129 mission specialist for the remainder of her time in space. Stott is the last NASA astronaut to experience the rotation of launching from and being returned to Earth by a space shuttle. In the future, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be used for station crew rotations.

STS-129 and Expedition 21 crew members greet each other shortly after space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station docked in space and the hatches were opened.

PHOTO ABOVE: STS-129 and Expedition 21 crew members greet each other shortly after space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station docked in space and the hatches were opened.

With a demanding to-do list ahead of them, the two crews began with the first task at hand. ELC 1 was grappled from Atlantis’ payload bay by Melvin and Bresnik with the shuttle’s robotic arm and handed off to the station’s robotic arm controlled by Wilmore and Williams. The platform was permanently installed to the outside of the station to store large cargo.

That evening Foreman and Satcher spent the night camping out in the Quest airlock preparing for their first spacewalk. After stepping out into space the next day, Foreman and Satcher completed all major tasks almost two hours ahead of schedule. In addition, Foreman was able to successfully connect a cable on the Unity node — one that was uncooperative for the STS-128 crew in September.

Inside the station, work was ongoing to prepare for the arrival of the Tranquility node, which will be flown on shuttle Endeavour’s STS-130 mission targeted for early 2010.

Overnight, a false depressurization alarm sounded and woke the crew, but flight control teams on the ground determined there was no danger to the station or crew. In the STS-129 post-landing crew press conference, Satcher said, “The training the crew members received helped them deal with the false alarms that went off a few times during their stay on the orbiting outpost.”

The relocation of supplies and equipment between Atlantis and the station continued Nov. 20, in addition to tackling a variety of maintenance, troubleshooting and science activities — keeping both station and shuttle crews busy.

Early the next morning, the second carrier with almost 10,000 pounds of large spare parts, including an attitude-control gyroscope, was moved from the shuttle’s cargo bay to its permanent location on the S3 side of the station’s truss, or backbone.

The two platforms that were attached to the station allow additional storage space for the mountain of supplies and equipment needed for the smooth and efficient running of the orbiting laboratory, now and well into the future after the shuttles are retired.

A little later, Foreman and Bresnik made their way into the emptiness of space for the second successful spacewalk of the mission. They not only completed their tasks ahead of schedule but also accomplished some get-ahead jobs — all in six hours, eight minutes.

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PHOTO ABOVE: Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik, near the Columbus laboratory, participates in the STS-129 mission’s second spacewalk

Meanwhile, another success story was in the making. On the morning of Nov. 22, Bresnik was told by the Mission Control Center in Houston that his wife, Rebecca, had given birth to their daughter, Abigail Mae Bresnik. He was assured that both baby and mother were doing just fine. Atlantis’ crew members were given a well-earned, half day off to celebrate. The rest of day was dedicated to preparing for the third spacewalk on Nov. 23, featuring Satcher and Bresnik.

The space excursion began more than an hour later than planned because a drinking-water valve in Satcher’s spacesuit became dislodged and the helmet had to be opened to reattach the valve. With the fix behind them, Bresnik and Satcher completed all the tasks in just five hours, 42 minutes — almost on time, regardless of the late start.

Later, the last of the mission’s spare hardware was moved thanks to the combined effort of all 12 shuttle and station crew members.

On Nov. 22, the shuttle and station crew members said their final farewells before the hatches between shuttle Atlantis and the station were securely closed — after which the shuttle crew prepared for undocking.

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PHOTO ABOVE: STS-129 and Expedition 21 crew members gather for a formal portrait.

Wilmore eased the shuttle away from the station circling around the outpost. Crew members videoed and snapped photos of the orbiting laboratory in order to assess its exterior condition.

One more survey was in store for the shuttle’s heat shield with Wilmore and Melvin using the orbiter boom sensor system — a five-hour process.

Atlantis crew members spent part of Thanksgiving preparing for their Nov. 27 landing date. They tested the thruster jets that control the shuttle’s orientation in space and during early re-entry, as well as the flaps and rudders that guide it through the atmosphere.

The day didn’t pass without a surprise, though. A traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings found its way aboard Atlantis before undocking — compliments of the Expedition 21 crew members.

It was a perfect end to a nearly perfect mission. After the twin sonic booms echoed and Atlantis came out of a clear-blue sky, the vehicle and crew touched down on Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility on Nov. 27 at 9:44 a.m. EST.

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PHOTO ABOVE: Space shuttle Atlantis Lands at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After winding up a successful 11-day flight to deliver spare parts, other equipment and supplies to the International Space Station, the crew took their last walk around the vehicle that served them well from start to finish.

After a short ride to crew quarters, the astronauts were given a thorough medical exam and met with their families. On Nov. 28, the crew flew home to Houston, and on Nov. 30, they were honored at a homecoming ceremony held at nearby Ellington Field.

Atlantis’ STS-129 mission was the 31st flight dedicated to space station assembly, resupply and maintenance — one that should help keep the station supplied well into the future.


Space Shuttle Crew Returns Home after 11-Day Mission

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Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts ended an 11-day journey of nearly 4.5 million miles with a 9:44 a.m. EST landing Friday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The mission, designated STS-129, included three spacewalks and the installation of two platforms to the International Space Station’s truss, or backbone. The platforms hold large spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired. The shuttle crew delivered about 30,000 pounds of replacement parts for systems that provide power to the station, keep it from overheating, and maintain a proper orientation in space.

STS-129 Commander Charlie Hobaugh was joined on Atlantis’ STS-129 mission by Pilot Barry Wilmore and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman and Bobby Satcher. Atlantis returned with station resident Nicole Stott, who spent 91 days in space. This marks the final time the shuttle is expected to rotate station crew members.

A welcome ceremony for the astronauts will be held Monday, Nov. 30, in Houston. The public is invited to attend the 4 p.m. CST event at Ellington Field’s NASA Hangar 990. Highlights from the ceremony will be broadcast on NASA Television.

With Atlantis and its crew safely home, the stage is set for launch of shuttle Endeavour on its STS-130 mission, targeted to begin in February. Endeavour will deliver a pressurized module, known as Tranquility, which will provide room for many of the space station’s life support systems. Attached to the node is a cupola, a robotic control station with six windows around its sides and another in the center that provides a 360-degree view around the station.


Space Shuttle Atlantis Crew Set to Land in Florida Friday

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Space shuttle Atlantis and its seven-member crew are expected to return to Earth on Friday, Nov. 27, after an 11-day mission. The two landing opportunities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are at 9:44 a.m. and 11:19 a.m. EST.

NASA will evaluate weather conditions at Kennedy before permitting Atlantis and its crew to land. If bad weather prevents a return to Florida on Friday or Saturday, both Kennedy and the backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in California will be activated for consideration on Sunday.

Approximately two hours after landing, NASA officials will hold a briefing to discuss the mission. The participants will be:

- Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations
- Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager
- Mike Leinbach, NASA shuttle launch director

After touchdown in Florida, the astronauts will undergo physical examinations and meet with their families. They are expected to make brief remarks at the runway and hold a news conference approximately six hours after landing.


False Alarm Awakens Crew

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An alarm woke the crews aboard space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station at 8:36 p.m. EST Thursday. Flight controllers in Houston, Europe and Russia quickly concluded the alarm was false. An erroneous indication of a rapid depressurization led to the automatic shutdown of ventilation fans throughout the station, which stirred up dust and led to a false smoke detection alarm in the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory.

It took about an hour to reactivate the ventilation fans and stabilize the station atmosphere following the incident. The crews have been warned to watch out for pockets where carbon dioxide has accumulated.

The initial cause for the false depressurization indication is under evaluation. Mission control Capcom Frank Lien told station Commander Frank De Winne it might have originated with the Poisk mini-research module that docked to the station earlier this month.

To make up for the sleep lost reacting to the alarm, the crew sleep period was extended by 30 minutes.


Astronauts Complete First STS-129 Spacewalk

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Mission Specialists Mike Foreman and Robert Satcher completed the first spacewalk of the STS-129 mission.

The 6-hour, 37-minute spacewalk wrapped up at 4:01 p.m. EST. Foreman and Satcher installed a spare S-band antenna structural assembly brought up in Atlantis’ cargo bay. The equipment is being stored on the Z1 segment of the station’s truss system, and to get it there Satcher rode the station’s robotic arm, driven by Mission Specialist Leland Melvin, Commander Charles Hobaugh and Pilot Barry Wilmore.

Foreman next installed a set of cables along the Destiny laboratory for the station’s future space-to-ground antenna and swapped out a handrail on the Unity node with a bracket that will be used to route an ammonia cable to the Tranquility node when it arrives next year. Meanwhile Robert Satcher lubricated the latching snares on the station’s mobile base system.

The spacewalkers also deployed the outboard Payload Attach System (PAS) on the Earth-facing side of the Starboard 3 truss. The PAS will allow future missions to store spare parts to the station’s truss segment for future use.

Meanwhile, inside the station, further work is going on to prepare the station for the arrival of the Tranquility node. Station Commander Frank De Winne and Flight Engineer Jeff Williams are working at the port hatch of the Harmony node to rewire data, power and cooling lines and air flow connections that will be connected to Tranquility. De Winne and Williams will continue working on the project over several days during the STS-129 mission.


Atlantis Spacewalk No. 1 Begins

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At 9:24 a.m. EST, STS-129 spacewalkers Mike Foreman and Robert L. Satcher, Jr. switched their suits to battery power, signifying the start of today’s 6.5-hour excursion. Atlantis Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik will be inside the International Space Station, choreographing the activities and coordinating communications between the spacewalkers and Mission Control in Houston.

This is the 228th spacewalk conducted by U.S. astronauts, the 134th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the fourth for Foreman and the first for Satcher. Foreman is the lead spacewalker and wears a suit with solid red stripes. His helmet cam displays number 16. Satcher is wearing an all-white spacesuit and his helmet cam displays number 18.

Once they get outside, Foreman and Satcher will install a spare S-band antenna structural assembly to the Z1 segment of the station’s truss, or backbone. To get there, Satcher will ride the station’s robotic arm, driven by Atlantis crew mates Charles Hobaugh, Leland Melvin and Barry Wilmore.

Foreman and Satcher also will install a set of cables for a future space-to-ground antenna on the Destiny laboratory. They will replace a handrail on the Unity node with a new bracket used to route an ammonia cable that will be needed for the Tranquility node when it is delivered next year. The two spacewalkers also will reposition a cable connector on Unity, troubleshoot S0 truss cable connections, and lubricate latching snares on the Kibo robotic arm and the station’s mobile base system.

While the spacewalk is underway, station Commander Frank De Winne and Flight Engineer Jeff Williams will work inside the station to prepare for the arrival of Tranquility, rewiring data, power and cooling lines and air flow connections at the port hatch of Harmony, where Tranquility will connect.

Meanwhile, Nicole Stott is celebrating her 47th birthday in space.


Foreman and Satcher Prepare for First Spacewalk

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Today’s wake-up music was “In Wonder” by The Newsboys, played at 4:28 a.m. EST for Atlantis Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik.

Preparations are underway to begin the first spacewalk of the mission at 9:18 a.m. Spacewalkers Mike Foreman and Robert L. Satcher, Jr. will tackle a host of maintenance tasks outside the International Space Station, including installing a spare communications antenna, routing cables and lubricating parts of the mobile base system and Kibo robotic arm.

The spacewalk will be the 228th conducted by U.S. astronauts in history, the 134th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the fourth for Foreman and the first for Satcher.


Flawless Launch for Atlantis STS-129

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Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of six astronauts are headed for the International Space Station, ready to begin their 11-day mission. This is the 31st flight of Atlantis, and the 160th American manned space flight. The Shuttle’s climb to orbit took about 8 1/2 minutes.

Following a smooth countdown, with no technical issues and weather that steadily improved throughout the afternoon, the shuttle lifted off on time from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:28 p.m. EST.

Mission Managers Praise STS-129 Launch Teams

“What a great way to start this mission,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations. “I can’t say enough about the teams that got this vehicle ready to fly.”

Gerstenmaier congratulated the teams and the work they accomplished preparing the payload and vehicle for this complex and ambitious mission. “We still have a tough mission in front of us … but it (the shuttle) looked really, really good,” Gerstenmaier continued.

Mike Moses, mission management team chairman, remarked that the launch ended up being picture-perfect after a low-layer of clouds settled over the center for the first few hours of the countdown. “As a management team we had no issues of any note to talk about,” Moses said. “It (the countdown) was nice and quiet and smooth.”

“We had a great countdown today,” said Mike Leinbach, shuttle launch director. He said Atlantis broke the record for the lowest problems reported, previously held by space shuttle Discovery. “It’s due to the team and the hardware processing. They just did a great job.”

The record will probably never be broken again in the history of the Space Shuttle Program, so congratulations to them,” Leinbach continued.

Leinbach also honored the midbody team with an award for the processing of Atlantis’ payload bay, which included the turnaround “down-processing” after the return of Atlantis from the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. He said they did an outstanding job and they deserved their award today.

Prepping For TPS Inspection

The crew is scheduled to go to sleep around 8:30 p.m., after a thorough checkout of the Shuttle’s Canadian build robotic arm. The Shuttle’s robot arm will be used in Tuesday’s inspection of the orbiter’s wing leading edge panels and nosecap. The inspection of the Shuttle’s Thermal Protection System (TPS) has become standard mission practice since the tragic loss of Columbia in 2003.


Management Team Gives “Go” for STS-129 Launch

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Launch countdown operations are on schedule with no issues to report, according to officials at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida during the STS-129 prelaunch briefing. With the unfortunate scrub of the Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today, space shuttle Atlantis is cleared for launch at 2:28 p.m. EST Monday.

“It was a really smooth meeting … Atlantis is ready to go,” Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager said. (There was) “a unanimous vote to proceed with the launch countdown.”

Mike Leinbach, space shuttle launch director said, “… We’re right on the money. We’re not tracking any issues with the vehicle, flight elements or ground systems. I’m happy to report we’re ready to go.”

Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters reported that the forecast continues to be very favorable for launch day with only a 10-percent chance that weather will be a concern for liftoff and the fueling of Atlantis’ external tank.

Weather also is looking good for the transatlantic abort, or TAL, sites where the shuttle could land in the unlikely event of an emergency. The only issue Winters mentioned was the possibility of some high seas where the solid rocket booster recovery ships are stationed.

On Sunday at about 5:30 p.m., the Rotating Service Structure that protects the shuttle from inclement weather will be rolled away. Loading of propellants into the external tank is scheduled to begin at around 5 a.m. on Monday.


STS-129 Behind the Scenes: Crew Arrival at KSC

The STS-129 crew members arrive at NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility in preparation for launch on space shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station.

  • The STS-129 mission will be commanded by Charles O. Hobaugh and piloted by Barry E. Wilmore.
  • Mission Specialists are Robert L. Satcher Jr., Mike Foreman, Randy Bresnik and Leland Melvin.
  • Wilmore, Satcher and Bresnik will be making their first trips to space.

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