The STS 120 space mission is the 120th American Space Program shuttle flight and the 34th flight of the Discovery space shuttle. STS 120 commander Pamela Melroy is the second woman ever to command a space shuttle mission, the first female space shuttle commander being Eileen Collins, who commanded STS-114 in 2005.
The Harmony space module, which weighs 30,000 pounds (13,608 kg), will provide attachment points for the European and Japanese laboratory modules that are expected to be installed at the ISS in late ’07-early ’08. One of the astronauts aboard the Discovery shuttle will replace one of the ISS’ crew members who has spent five-months at the space station. The Discovery crew will move the space station’s P6 truss segment and arrays to their permanent position – at the very end of the left side of the station’s backbone. These arrays have been attached to the middle of the P6 truss for the past seven years, and have acted as a temporary power system.
In addition to moving the truss and arrays, crew members are scheduled to carry out five space-walk tasks. The goal of one of these space-walks is to examine a technique for repairing space shuttle tiles, an issue that proved to be crucial in the 2003 Columbia disaster.
During the mission, Discovery will be docked to an existing adapter port where Harmony is meant to attach, Harmony will be installed in a temporary spot on the Unity node and will be moved by the ISS crew after the shuttle departs.
An interesting side note to the STS-120 has to do with the lightsaber that was used by actor Mark Hamill in the 1983 Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi film. The original lightsaber is being flown to the space station and then returned to Earth, in honor of the 30th anniversary of director George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise.
TFOT has covered some of the other shuttle launches in the past two years, including STS-121 on July 4th, 2006, STS-115 on September 9th, 2006, STS-116 on December 9th, 2006, STS-117 on June 8th, 2007 and STS-118 on August 8th, 2007.
For more information see NASA’s STS-120 webpage.