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Shuttle set for launch -- loose bracket won't cause delay -- and weather is 100% "Go"

Space shuttle Endeavour
Space shuttle Endeavour early Thursday in Cape Canaveral, Florida  

November 30, 2000
Web posted at: 6:56 p.m. EST (2356 GMT)

From Miles O'Brien
CNN Space Correspondent

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida -- With the skies clear, the wind benign and a million parts all apparently working as designed, NASA's Florida launch team was poised to launch the fifth -- and final - shuttle mission of 2000 Thursday night (10:06 p.m. EST). The good ship Endeavour is set to fly the sixth shuttle mission to the budding International Space Station -- recently christened "Alpha" by its live-in crew. The orbiter is carrying a spindly, fragile $600 million set of solar arrays.
A 360° stroll through the
International Space Station

Cult3D models of the
International Space Station
and Soyuz


Once bolted on, unfurled and plugged in, the 239-foot array set will generate enough power each day to supply five average homes -- quintupling the station's power generating capacity. The arrays should provide ample amperage for the power-hungry U.S. laboratory module -- set to arrive at the station in the cargo bay of Atlantis in January.

But perhaps more important for the current occupants of the station -- NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev -- the added juice will allow them to open the sealed hatch to the U.S. side of the station -- the so called "Unity" docking node. Unity is currently shuttered, unheated and dark for lack of power.

Fueling of the shuttle was delayed slightly Thursday afternoon while technicians in a cherry-picker removed a loose bracket from the exterior of the orbiter access arm -- the enclosed gangway that links the launch tower and the orbiter's hatch. NASA managers were concerned the bracket would fall off during launch -- possibly damaging the orbiter. The impromptu fix did not prompt a launch delay, however.

Endeavour's crew is led by Navy Cmdr. Brent Jett and rounded out by pilot Mike Bloomfield and mission Specialists Joe Tanner, Carlos Noriega and Marc Garneau. In 1984, Garneau became the first Canadian to fly in space -- aboard Challenger on the same mission that sent Sally Ride into the history books as the first female U.S. astronaut to fly in space.

Illustration of the solar arrays and photovoltaic module attached to the International Space Station  

During the 10-day space sortie, Tanner and Noriega are slated to conduct three six-hour spacewalks to assist Garneau as he uses the shuttle's Canadian-built robot arm to pluck the 35,000 pound solar array package from the shuttle's cargo bay -- gingerly moving it onto the station. They will help guide Garneau during this blind maneuver -- and then connect the arrays to the station's power grid.

Tanner and Noriega will be wearing new helmets outfitted with live TV cameras. For the first time, viewers will be able to share a spacewalker's point-of-view during an expedition in the void.

There will not be much time for the station and shuttle crews to visit. The hatch to Alpha will not be opened until the eighth day of the mission -- for about 24 hours. The atmospheric pressure of the shuttle will be lowered until the spacewalks are complete -- a measure designed to protect the spacewalkers from contracting the "bends." Because Alpha will remain at a higher pressure, the hatches between the two craft must remain latched.

Endeavour's crew, from left: mission specialists Carlos Noriega, Joe Tanner and Marc Garneau; Commander Brent Jett; and Pilot Mike Bloomfield  

The shuttle crew is bearing Christmas gifts -- and CARE packages -- for the Alpha occupants -- now one month into their four-month station stay. The shuttle astronauts were mum on specifics of the gifts for fear of spoiling surprises.

If all goes well, Endeavour will leave Alpha as the third brightest object in the night sky -- behind the moon and the star Sirius. The solar arrays will be the longest structures ever to fly in space.

Assuming an on-time launch Thursday, Endeavour is scheduled to return to the Kennedy Space Center Sunday, December 10, at 6:19 PM.

Space station astronauts pause to give holiday thanks
November 23, 2000
Blurry camera causes tricky docking at space station
November 18, 2000
A space reporter's trek to the highly remote frontier
November 14, 2000
Space station crew boards new home
November 2, 2000

International Space Station
Boeing: International Space Station
Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour (OV-105)
Kennedy Space Center

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