NASA astronauts today successfully attached a Russian-built research module to the International Space Station during the second spacewalk scheduled for the space shuttle Atlantis' final mission. The Russian module, named Rassvet, is designed to provide crew members on the station with another place to do scientific research and stow equipment, while adding a new docking port for Russian spacecraft.
Installing Rassvet, which means "dawn" in Russian, was one of the primary goals of the shuttle mission.
The six-member crew of Atlantis lifted off from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida for the 12-day mission last week. The shuttle craft has been flying for 25 years and has logged some 115 million miles. NASA plans to launch two more shuttle flights later this year, using two different shuttles. The entire fleet is scheduled to be retired by the end of 2010.
The Atlantis team completed the first spacewalk early Monday morning, installing a new space-to-ground dish communications antenna that was carried aboard the shuttle craft. The astronauts on Monday also unloaded from the shuttle a new spare parts pallet to be attached to Dextre, a $200 million Canadian-built two-armed robot with a 30-foot wingspan.
Dextre was delivered and attached to the space station in March, 2008. Other than a few test runs, Dextre hasn't been officially put into action yet.
Tomorrow, during a third spacewalk, astronauts are slated to fix a camera cable that became snagged on a piece of equipment during a heat shield inspection conducted the day after the launch of Atlantis. The camera is attached to the end of the Orbiter Boom Sensor System, which is on the shuttle's robotic arm.
Atlantis lifted off on its first mission back in 1985. The 32nd and final mission is focused on ferrying spare parts and equipment to the space station. Once NASA's shuttle fleet is retired, it will be far more difficult, if not impossible, to get such massive pieces of equipment to the station.