The six astronauts preparing to fly into orbit aboard NASA's shuttle Endeavour next month arrived at their Florida launch site Monday for final training sessions as engineers work to replace vital hoses for their cargo – a new space station room.
Shuttle commander George Zamka and his crew landed their supersonic T-38 jets on runway at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., to begin a days-long rehearsal of shuttle blastoffs and landings. Endeavour is slated to launch toward the International Space Station on Feb. 7 at 4:39 a.m. EST.
"We just flew over Endeavour over the pad here and she looks beautiful," said astronaut Stephen Robinson, a mission specialist on the space mission, from the tarmac. "We can't wait to borrow her for a couple of weeks."
Endeavour will fly a planned 13-day mission to deliver the new Tranquility module and a seven-window observation portal – called the Cupola - to the space station. Three spacewalks are planned for the mission.
Tranquility is a cylindrical module covered with connecting ports and will house life support and exercise gear, as well as the Cupola window portal for the $100 billion space station. The module is destined to be attached to the left side of the station's core Unity connecting module.
Earlier this month, the module's vital ammonia cooling system hoses failed a standard prelaunch pressure test. Two of the hoses burst at lower pressures than would be required to keep Tranquility's electronics gear from overheating.
The hoses are about 14 feet long – longer than typical hoses on the space station's exterior – so engineers have been working to build new ones by cobbling together shorter hoses into acceptable replacements.
Tests of the new hoses have gone well at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where they were built, and NASA plans to deliver them to the Kennedy Space Center in the first week of February, just before launch.
NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel at the Florida spaceport told SPACE.com that the hoses – four in all – will be stowed inside a storage locked in Endeavour's middeck for the two-day trip to the space station.
The Tranquility module, attached Cupola and other station parts were delivered to Endeavour at the seaside Launch Pad 39A at KSC before dawn on Monday morning, NASA officials said.
Endeavour's STS-130 mission is the first of five final shuttle missions planned in 2010 as NASA prepares to mothball its three-orbiter fleet later this fall.
NASA's space shuttle replacement, the Orion spacecraft and their Ares I rockets, are not expected to begin launching astronauts to orbit until 2015 at the earliest.
Endeavour's planned predawn launch on Sunday, Feb. 7 is expected to be NASA's last night liftoff of an orbiter after nearly 30 years of shuttle flight.
"Endeavour has been a great vehicle," Zamka told reporters from the tarmac Monday. "And it sounds like it's in great shape."
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