Shuttle Mission Countdown Begins
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ NASA began the countdown Tuesday for a space shuttle mission that will provide powerful, new solar wings for the international space station.
Endeavour is scheduled to lift off Thursday night with the American-made, electricity-producing panels.
The $600 million panels will be folded for launch. Once installed on space station Alpha and unfurled, they will stretch 240 feet from tip to tip _ the longest rigid structure ever deployed in space.
The power generated by the panels will allow Alpha’s three residents to open a module that has been sealed since their arrival almost one month ago. There isn’t enough power from the station’s smaller Russian solar panels to heat the Unity module.
The extra power also will be used to operate NASA’s Destiny lab once it’s launched in January.
Shuttle commander Brent Jett Jr. spoke with the Alpha crew over the weekend and said the skipper, Bill Shepherd, is anxious for Endeavour to show up.
``I reminded Shep, I said, `Well, Shep, you know, there are hundreds and hundreds of things that have to go right this week for us to launch on Thursday,‴ Jett said. ``He understands that. He’s flown on the shuttle before.″
The weather, at least, is expected to cooperate. Forecasters put the odds of acceptable conditions at 90 percent.
Shepherd and two Russian cosmonauts, the space station’s first full-time residents, moved in Nov. 2 for a four-month stay. The five shuttle crew members, who arrived Monday evening at Kennedy Space Center, will be their first visitors.
Two shuttle astronauts will go outside three times during the 11-day mission to help install the solar panels and perform other spacewalking chores.
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