WASHINGTON – Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will make his second space shuttle flight Thursday to help build the International Space Station.
Along with six colleagues on the shuttle Discovery, Wakata, a 37-year-old mission specialist, will deliver and attach key components to the evolving space station during an 11-day mission.
“The foundation for the International Space Station has been laid out, and this mission begins the true station buildup in orbit,” said Ron Dittemore, space shuttle program manager.
The ISS, which is being built by the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada, received its Russian-built Zvezda (Star) service module in July.
On Oct. 30, the first crew to live in the ISS — two Russians and an American — is scheduled to lift off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan in a Soyuz rocket.
The main task of the Discovery mission, the final preresidency shuttle project, is to attach a 9-ton exterior framework known as the “Z1 truss” and an additional docking port to the expanding orbiting complex.
The truss will house microgravity-sensitive gyroscopes and communications equipment, which will provide a sense of balance for the outpost as well as enhanced voice and television capability.
The docking port will be the third to connect the ISS with shuttles and other spacecraft.
Wakata will use Discovery’s robot arm to attach the Z1 truss and the port to the Unity connecting module. He will become the first Japanese to visit the station.
“I’ve accumulated enough training to meet whatever situations arise,” Wakata told reporters last month.
He is confident about the mission’s success, saying, “If ever the Olympics have any competition for outer space activities, I am sure I would be able to win a gold medal.”
Other mission specialists will conduct four spacewalks to provide electrical and data connections between the new components and existing modules.
“With multiple spacewalks planned and multiple components to attach, we’re taking the level of complexity up a notch over the past few station construction flights,” Dittemore said.
The ISS will house an orbiting laboratory for long-term scientific research, taking advantage of the most distinctive characteristic of space — the absence of gravity.
The medical benefits of conducting research in space could lead to new drugs by eliminating the pressure of gravity on experiments.
Cancer treatments, for example, could be tested on living cell cultures without risk to patients. Industrial advances could lead to stronger, lighter metals and more powerful computer chips.
The 13-meter-long service module, which features bedding, a toilet and a kitchen equipped with a refrigerator, will serve as the main living quarters for early habitation of the ISS, which is in orbit 400 km above Earth.
It will provide life support, electrical power distribution, data processing, flight control and propulsion systems.
The three resident crew members are expected to stay in the ISS for about four months, performing installations and checking various on-board systems.
A replacement crew is scheduled to arrive in February.
The construction of Japan’s research module Kibo (Hope) — the nation’s first manned space facility — is expected to be completed by January 2005. The entire ISS is to be finished by April the following year.
Discovery, to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center under the command of U.S. Air Force Col. Brian Duffy, will be the 100th shuttle mission since Columbia was launched in April 1981. It is to return to Earth on Oct. 16.
In January 1996, Wakata flew aboard the space shuttle Endeavour as Japan’s first mission specialist.
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