The space shuttle has become such a normal part of space life that now we only hear about it on the network news when something terrible, like the Columbia disaster, happens or when some new “first” takes place on board. So, let’s take a look at what’s … up … with the STS (Space Transportation System) missions.
Most Recent Mission: STS-118
STS-118 was the most recent mission, which returned on August 21, 2007 – and on board was Educator Astronaut Barbara Morgan (the successor to Christa McAuliffe). They also worked on construction of the right truss of ISS. This was also the first mission where the ground crew inspected the tiles using super-spiffy hand-held electronic scanners. In all previous missions they would just look at the tiles, and physically measure the size of visible cracks.
STS-118 was on the shuttle Endeavor, one of the 3 shuttles still flying.
Caption: STS-118 Patch
(I can’t find out what happened to STS-119, there is no current mission with that number. I suspect they changed the numbering to match up with the shuttle flight number. STS-118 was the 119th shuttle mission. STS-120 will be the 120th shuttle mission.)
Next Mission: STS-120
STS 120 will likely be on the shuttle Discovery and be commanded by Pamela Melroy. Though all but one crewmember are American, this group shows a great mix of cultures, races, and genders, which speaks to how far we’ve come since the beginning of spaceflight. The launch is scheduled for October 23, 2007.
They’re installing a multi-port module to ISS – one of the most important parts. This multi-port, named Harmony, will connect several different sections of the station together, and allow people to move between “rooms” on board. This will afford you and the media are plenty of opportunities to make puns about international cooperation, connections, gateways, and united, multi-country effort. There’s already a similar one on board – it’s called “Unity” and connects the US and Russian laboratory modules.
Caption: STS-120 Patch
Shuttle Orbiters in Review:
Enterprise – test flight only, not outfitted for space travel
Columbia – deceased
Challenger – deceased
Atlantis – Just flew STS-117 in June, 2007
Endeavor – Just flew STS-118 in August, 2007
Discovery – Scheduled to fly STS-120 in October, 2007