NASA to detail new International Space Station apparatus

NASA will next week show off a critical new piece of equipment for the International Space Station that will let new labs be attached and more astronauts live in space.

The Node-2 module, known as Harmony, is a key utility component that will act as an internal connecting port and passageway for future international science labs and cargo spacecraft. The module is approximately 21 feet long and 14 feet in diameter. Basically the space station will get roomier, growing from the size of a three-bedroom house to the space equivalent of a typical five-bedroom house, once the Japanese Kibo- and European Columbus laboratories are attached. Harmony was built for NASA in Europe and will feature docking technology that lets the Europe and Japan link space laboratories to the International Space Station, NASA said.

Harmony is similar to the six-sided Unity module that links the U.S. and Russian sections of the station, and will be the first new U.S. pressurized component to be added to the station since the Quest Airlock was attached to one of Unity's six berthing ports in 2001 NASA said. Harmony is scheduled to be part of the payload on the shuttle Discovery expected to liftoff October 23.

Harmony joins three other named U.S. modules on the station: the Destiny laboratory, the Quest airlock and the Unity node. This is the first U.S. piece of the space station named by someone outside of NASA as the name was chosen from an competition involving more than 2,200 students in kindergarten through high school from 32 states. The winning schools were : Paul Cummins' 8th grade class at Browne Academy, Alexandria, Va. ; Sue Wilson's 3rd grade class at Buchanan Elementary School, Baton Rouge, La. ; Brigette Berry's 8th grade class at League City Intermediate School, League City, Texas ; Bradley Neu's 9th grade science class at Lubbock High School, Lubbock, Texas ; Russell Yocum 's 3rd grade class at West Navarre Intermediate School, Navarre, Fla. ; and David Dexheimer's students at the World Group Home School, Monona, Wis.

Some have wondered if the new module will add strain on the space station's already strained computer systems. You may recall earlier this summer the space station was in crisis mode when two Russian computers, which control water and oxygen as well as spacecraft orientation failed. At the time NASA said "with some 4 million lines of computer code and 60 to 70 separate computers aboard the space station and its various modules, problems will always crop up, caused by factors such as radiation and the temperature extremes of space, he said. The system is working properly now.

The computer failure threat obviously overshadowed one of the space station's worst menaces: Wasabi. You may recall the story last year while astronaut Sunita Williams was trying to make a pretend sushi meal with bag-packaged salmon and accidentally squirted a load of the green stuff into the air. Wasabi, when exposed to weightlessness, could get in eyes, air ducts and all manner of things that might screw up a space mission.

NASA has been busy this week. The space agency also said its researchers have designed and built a new circuit chip that can take the heat of a blast furnace and keep on performing. Silicon Carbide (SiC) chips can operate in 600 degrees Celsius or 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit where conventional silicon-based electronics - limited to about 350 C - would fail. In the past, integrated circuit chips could not withstand more than a few hours of high temperatures before degrading or failing. This chip exceeded 1,700 hours of continuous operation at 500 degrees Celsius - a breakthrough that represents a 100-fold increase in what has previously been achieved, NASA said.

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