Space station arm cure means shuttle can fly
By Richard Stenger
(CNN) -- The space shuttle Atlantis can visit the international space station next month, since NASA engineers have formulated a cure for an ailing $600 million robotic arm attached to the orbiting outpost, the space agency said Monday.
The five-member shuttle crew will carry up a $165 million air lock, which will serve as the main staging area for spacewalks from Alpha.
Mission managers had said that mysterious glitches with Alpha's robotic arm could have delayed the Atlantis flight until September. The mobile, seven-jointed crane is needed to install the 6.5-ton air lock.
But Alpha ground controllers said Monday morning that they had devised a special computer application to correct the problem.
"The software patch is being delivered today for uplink to the station. It will override any problems with the electronics unit," Bob Cabana, space station deputy manager, told reporters Monday.
The pressurized, mostly air-locked chamber, which resembles a hockey puck with a thick stem attached, will allow Alpha residents donned in Russian or U.S. spacesuits to leave and enter the space station, without the assistance of a shuttle.
Healed by the patch
"You're not tied to having a shuttle at the space station to do those EVAs, said Cabana, referring to Extra Vehicular Activities, or spacewalks.
Last week, NASA engineers determined that a faulty computer chip rather than corrupt command codes most likely caused the crane to experience a brief bout of shoulder joint stickiness during tests soon after its April arrival.
The software patch will allow the 58-foot (17.4-meter) crane to bypass the chip when the crane moves about the station, attaching to power and data ports about the exterior in a manner that resembles the motion of an inchworm.
The robot arm woes convinced NASA to postpone the planned June flight of Atlantis. Now that the crane seems completely healthy, NASA said Monday that it will proceed with preparations for a launch next month.
Flying before driving
Liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida is tentatively scheduled for 5:04 a.m. EDT on July 12. The flight crew will participate in countdown tests later this week.
The crew includes:
Commander Steve Lindsey, an Air Force test pilot from California, who has He logged over 3800 hours of flying time in 50 different types of aircraft. Lindsey, who will make his third shuttle flight, helped design an advanced "glass cockpit" upgrade for the shuttle fleet.
Pilot Charles Owen Hobaugh, a Marine Corps officer who flew combat missions in the Persian Gulf War. He grew up Alaska, where he starting flying airplanes before he drove a car.
Shuttle arm operator Janet Kavandi, a chemist from Missouri who will operate the shuttle arm as it hands over the air lock to the space station's robotic arm. Her first space shuttle mission was the last shuttle mission to visit the Mir space station back in 1998.
Spacewalker Michael Gernhardt has worked as a professional deep sea diver, working on oil field construction and repair projects around the world. The experience comes in handy when he floats in space, said the Ohio bioengineer.
Spacewalker James Reilly, a Texas geologist, has made maps in Antarctica and descended deep into the Gulf of Mexico to study exotic life. He said his dream to become an astronaut took wing while sitting in the dentist's chair.
During the 11-day flight, Gernhardt and Reilly will conduct three spacewalks to install the mostly aluminum air lock, along with four high-pressure oxygen and nitrogen tanks, each the size of a large doghouse.
Atlantis was rolled to the launch pad late last week, after a brief delay due to a lightning storm. The shuttle will be first to fly with an upgraded engine, designed with a new high-pressure fuel turbo-pump to improve safety.
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