NASA space shuttle to carry key space station upgrades

February mission will carry life support module into space

NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour is closed for the Christmas holiday but plenty of work is going on around it.

NASA said that the shuttle’s hatch has been closed and warm air is being blown into the shuttle to keep critical internal systems at about 70 degrees during the holiday break as final preparations for the mission are set for a scheduled Feb. 7 launch.

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Endeavour will be carrying the 21 ft long, 14 ft wide, 27,000 pound life support module known as Tranquility to the International Space Station. A “room with a view” module known as the Cupola module is also part of the ISS package heading into orbit.

According to NASA, the pressurized Tranquility module Tranquility module, which was built for NASA by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy, under contract to the European Space Agency -- will bump out the room for crew members and many of the space station's life support and environmental control systems including include air revitalization, oxygen generation and water recycling. A waste and hygiene compartment and a treadmill also will be relocated from other areas of the station, NASA stated.

Tranquility will be linked to the Earth-facing side of the ISS’ Unity node. The new node will provide an additional docking point for space shuttles and other crew vehicles visiting the station in the future.

NASA says the Cupola node could be considered the ultimate observation deck as the small, dome-shaped module has seven windows -- six around the sides and one on top -- that can be shuttered when not in use to protect them from micrometeoroids and the harsh space environment. The windows are made of fused silica and borosilicate glass panes, with temperature-sensing elements and window heaters, NASA said.

Just under ten feet in diameter, the module will accommodate two crew members and portable workstations that can control station and robotic activities. The multi-directional view will allow the crew to monitor spacewalks and docking operations, as well as provide a spectacular view of Earth and other celestial objects, NASA stated.

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Endeavour's 13-day flight will include three spacewalks, NASA stated.

Endeavour's flight will begin the final year of space shuttle operations. Five shuttle missions are planned in 2010, with the final flight currently targeted for launch in September.

Meanwhile, onboard the ISS there are only two astronauts -- NASA astronaut and Expedition 22 Commander Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev. They have been the ISS’ only occupants since Nov. 30. NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis left the day before Thanksgiving.

Williams and Suraev will this week be joined by NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi who are on their way to the ISS in the Soyuz TMA-17 which launched on Sunday Dec. 20.

The next shuttle, Discovery, is slated to blast off in March with a payload of scientific gear and a spare ammonia tank assembly, NASA said.

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