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Finishing construction of Tranquility module  (Source: NASA)
ISS will be 90% complete after mission

The Space Shuttle fleet is due to be retired by the end of this year, but the youngest shuttle still has two more missions to complete. Both of these will be assembly missions to the International Space Station. Endeavour was constructed as a replacement vehicle after the Challenger disaster in 1986.

The STS-130 mission launched successfully this morning carrying two primary payloads weighing more than 16.5 tons. The 
Tranquility module was built by Thales Alenia and funded by the European Space Agency. It houses some of the most advanced life support systems in space, in particular waste water recyclers (up to 93% efficient), oxygen generators, and CO2 scrubbers.

Tranquility is an evolutionary design building upon the experience of constructing Node 1 (Unity) and Node 2 (Harmony). It contains an extensive piping network for the distribution of water (for fuel cells, drinking, waste and processes) between itself and Node 1. There is a special line for the transfer of pretreated urine from a new Waste and Hygiene Compartment (otherwise known as a toilet) to Water Recovery System racks inside Node 3. Special lines and sectioning devices are also adapted to distribute oxygen and nitrogen.

Originally designated as Node 3, Tranquility was named after NASA held a controversial online poll. NASA wanted the public to give their input on the suggested names: 
EarthriseLegacy,Serenity, and Venture. However, they allowed the public to suggest their own write-in names. Stephen Colbert suggested naming it after himself on his TV show, and a race developed with the fans of the Serenity movie, named after the spacecraft from the Firefly TV series.

Almost 1.2 million votes were cast, but 
Colbert won by 40,000 votes. However, NASA had reserved the right to pick the final name, and choose Tranquility in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing on the Sea of Tranquility. The COLBERT (Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill) was named instead for Colbert. It was launched in September of last year and temporarily installed in Node 2, but will be moved to its permanent location in Tranquility after it is attached to the ISS.

The Cupola is a pressurized observation and work area that will accommodate command and control workstations and other hardware. It will primarily be used to control station robotics such as the Canadarm2, Dextre, and the European Robotic Arm. However, it will also be uses as a 360 degree observation station by ISS astronauts. There aren't a lot of viewing stations on the ISS, which has mostly small portholes. The best view is currently afforded by a 20 inch (50 cm) window on the Destiny module. The cupola includes window shutters that provide orbital debris protection when closed.

There are also multiple experiments being carried onboard 
Endeavour. NLP-Vaccine-7 is a commercial payload serving as a pathfinder for the use of the ISS as a National Laboratory after station assembly is complete. It will use several different pathogenic organisms to further assess the use of space flight to develop potential vaccines for infections caused by these pathogens on Earth and in microgravity.

Several experiments will focus on the growth of plants in microgravity, including NLP-Cells-3. That experiment will verify the potential effects of microgravity on improving characteristics such as cell structure, growth, and development of the 
Jatropha curcas plant, which has the potential to be used as an alternative biofuel crop.

The ISS will be about 90 percent complete after the 
Tranquility module and the Cupola are installed. The next shuttle flight will be in March by Discovery to deliver more supplies and experiments. Endeavour's last flight will be in July, after which it will be decommissioned and likely sent to a museum.

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RE: Only 4 more flights
By goz314 on 2/8/2010 2:47:35 PM , Rating: -1
Constellation was ill conceived and underfunded from day one back in 2004 when it was first proposed. Why should the taxpayers pay 100 billion+ dollars to essentially repeat Apollo 40 years later. That's just plain dumb. If the government had unlimited resources then that's one thing, but it doesn't.

I think the country has bigger things to worry about right now than going back to the moon -like digging ourselves out of a self induced recession and finally paying for two wars which were purchased on credit starting in '01 and '03, respectively.

RE: Only 4 more flights
By namechamps on 2/8/2010 2:58:07 PM , Rating: 3
Except only in your mind was Constellation doing what Apollo did.

Due to limits of technology half a decade ago the Apollo missions were very limited in what they could, how much they could bring, and how long they could stay.

Inflatable habitats, a magnitude better water recycling, composite materials, and more means the Constellation was step towards a manned scientific station on the moon.

The cost of it is negligible compared to other federal expenditures on things that matter far far less. Like think we could live with ONLY 8 super carriers and not 12. You know seeing how the rest of the world has none. Maybe we could maintain a nuclear arsenal of "only" 1000 warheads as opposed to couple thousands. Those two things alone could pay for 200% of Constellation program.

RE: Only 4 more flights
By goz314 on 2/8/2010 3:29:40 PM , Rating: 3
Oh, I completely agree that our spending priorities are messed up right now. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for manned space exploration and I agree that Constellation would have seen some advancements beyond what Apollo accomplished. It would have also provided us with a new heavy lifter to support eventual manned missions to Mars -if you believe the Mars direct approach was the way to go.

Defense and Medicare/Medicaid spending are right on par with one another at 700B a year+ each at the moment. If we reduced each of them by only 1% per year over the next 5-6 years, that would have completely paid for Constellation and then some. The problem lies in that if Defense spending is cut, then the GOP cries foul and Medicare/Medicaid spending are protected by law -so, unless a bunch of senators and congressman want to earn the ire of all older Americans by changing the law (i.e. the people that actually vote) that's not going to happen any time soon.

If congress collectively (Jacka$$ donkeys, Fat a$$ elephants, and closet fence sitters) had any guts, they would cut all discretionary spending to only the minimums required by law, make modest reductions in defense and health care spending, and finally institute a flat war tax (call it the G. W. Bush deficit reconciliation act) to actually pay for Iraq and Afghanistan, then the deficit would be largely eliminated. One can only dream, however...

RE: Only 4 more flights
By Mojo the Monkey on 2/8/2010 8:26:30 PM , Rating: 2
I still dont buy it that we would have reaped all that much from another moon landing vs. unmanned moon missions. NEVERTHELESS, I think we should still do it. Going to the moon is like giving your little kid an ice cream cone. They dont need it, it costs money, its not nutritious, etc. But god damnit, sometimes kids need ice cream to feel like kids.

Sometimes we need our space ice cream to feel like we're moving forward. I WANT MY SPACE ICE CREAM.

RE: Only 4 more flights
By Moishe on 2/10/2010 1:59:46 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Only 4 more flights
By Mojo the Monkey on 2/18/2010 5:07:26 PM , Rating: 2

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