NASA space shuttle Atlantis aims for final run at orbit

NASA Atlantis preps one last ride to International Space Station

NASA Atlantis
NASA is prepping the space shuttle Atlantis for what will likely be its final space flight.  On May 14 the space agency expects to launch the venerable shuttle on a 12-day mission to the International Space Station that will among other tasks deliver the Russian-built Mini Research Module-1 that will add storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. 

According to NASA, the 23ft, 17,147lb MRM-1 will carry hardware on its exterior including a radiator, airlock and a European robotic arm.  The arm and the parts will be used to outfit the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module, which will be launched on a Russian rocket in December 2011, NASA stated. 

21 critical future NASA missions 

MRM-1 is about 23 feet long and weighs 17,147 pounds. It will be attached to the Earth-facing side of the Zarya module. The MLM, or Nauka, will be the last piece of the Russian ISS segment.  The European Robotic Arm, a portable external work platform, will be used to outfit the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module, which will be launched on a Russian rocket in December 2011, NASA stated. 

Russian and US cargo, including food containers, cargo transfer bags, spare parts, experiment hardware and medical supplies will be inside the MRM-1. 

There are three spacewalks planned to stage spare components outside the station, including six spare batteries, a Ku-band antenna and spare parts for the Canadian Dextre robotic arm, NASA said. 

After Atlantis there are only two space shuttle launches planned.  But there have been changes there as NASA has decided to delay one of the shuttle launches.

Space shuttle Discovery' mission currently should begin Sept. 16.  Its nine day mission will bring the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and other spare components to the ISS. 

The space shuttle Endeavour mission originally slated for July has been pushed off until November. NASA said the delay is to accommodate a new particle detector for an extended ISS operation.  The update to the particle detector should enable it to function through 2020, which NASA now says it will support the ISS. In his recent address to NASA this month President Obama said he wanted to extend ISS support at least five years beyond the current 2015 end date. 

The space agency last week said it was seeking research ideas from private entities to want to do research on board the ISS. 

NASA said it was looking to expand the use of the ISS by providing access to the lab for the conduct of basic and applied research, technology development and industrial processing to private entities -- including, but not limited to, commercial firms, non-profit institutions, and academic institutions. US federal, state and local government entities, and could also propose research. 

And there has been an uptick in new research for the ISS. 

Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said last month they are looking to develop advanced 3-D models, algorithms that control clustered flight and electromagnetic thrust technology all in the zero-gravity environment of the ISS.  Specifically, they were looking for new research to conduct using the Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) experiment on the ISS.   

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Space Systems Laboratory developed the three SPHERES satellites and they have been onboard the ISS since 2006 to provide DARPA, NASA, and other researchers with a system that could help those agencies test technologies for use in formation flight and autonomous docking, rendezvous and reconfiguration algorithms, MIT stated. 

NASA also is getting into the spirit saying it will send its newest humanoid robot known as Robonaut2 - or R2 -- capable of using the same tools as humans letting them work closely with people into space onboard the space shuttle's final mission. 

NASA and General Motors built the 300lb R2 as a faster, more dexterous and more technologically advanced robot than past humanoid bots. R2 can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior humanoid machines and can easily work safely alongside people, a necessity both on Earth and in space, NASA stated. It is also stronger: able to lift, not just hold, a 20-pound weight (about four times heavier than what other dexterous robots can handle) both near and away from its body, NASA stated. 

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