There’s been a flurry of ISS activity in recent weeks, though it has been a while since STS-120, which featured the delivery of Harmony to the ISS and an astronaut’s daring trip to repair a solar panel. The next mission, STS-122, was repeatedly delayed past its scheduled December launch date due to nagging engine cutoff sensor failures, but finally got off the ground in February to deliver ESA’s Columbus lab module.
Last week we saw the launch of ESA’s Jules Verne ATV, an unmanned, automated cargo vehicle designed to ferry fresh supplies to the ISS, then haul off space station junk to a fiery reentry and disintegration. The Jules Verne will spend the next few weeks undergoing various on-orbit tests before docking with the ISS on April 3rd.
Today, the Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-123) docked with the ISS, following a spectacular night launch on Monday. Endeavour brings with it JAXA’s “Kibo” module and CSA’s new advanced robot arm attachment “Dextre.” NASA has heavily promoted the “international” nature of this mission, highlighting participation from US, Canadian, Japanese, European, and Russian astronauts, with people from these countries’ respective space agencies working closely together in space and on the ground. The SSPTS upgrade will also allow the shuttle to stay docked to the ISS for longer periods of time, possibly extending mission duration to a new record.
Following STS-123, only nine shuttle flights will be left in the manifest, one of which will be a Hubble repair mission.
SpaceflightNow’s STS-123 status page is pretty diligent about providing mission updates, and I continue to collect STS-123 videos on SpaceGet. Of course NASA TV is always on; I keep it open all day, so the chatter between the astronauts and mission control makes me feel all space-y.