NASA's Atlantis astronauts take final spacewalk, prepare for return

Atlantis slated to return to NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Saturday

Heading into their second week of space travel the crew of NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis have a lot on their schedule. Today two of the astronauts will venture out for the mission’s third and final space walk.

During the spacewalks the crew perform a variety of physical tasks to the outside of the International Space Station. For example, Atlantis is carrying two ' spare parts container known as the Express Logistics Carriers. The shuttle’s robotic arm lifted them into place and the spacewalkers helped attach them to the ISS. In all there are 27,250 pounds worth of spare parts onboard this mission.

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Today NASA said its astronauts will transfer an oxygen filled High Pressure Gas Tank (HPGT) from the ELC2, located on the starboard truss, to a spot on the outside of the Quest Airlock. The tank will be used to replenish atmosphere lost when spacewalkers enter and exit the station. They will install the seventh Materials International Space Station Experiment, or MISSE 7. This is the most advanced of the MISSE payloads to date and will be the first to receive power directly from the station and use the station’s communication system to send commands and downlink real-time data.

The MISSE is the first experiment mounted externally on the ISS; NASA said and will investigate the effects of long-term exposure of materials to the harsh space environment.Astronauts Randy Bresnik and Robert Satcher Jr. are scheduled to begin their six-hour spacewalk an hour late at about 8:18 a.m. EST.

On Sunday, Bresnik was told via a private phone patch through mission control he was a new father. Abigail Mae Bresnik, was born in Houston at 11:04 p.m. CST Saturday.

After the spacewalk the combined 12-member crew of Atlantis and the ISS will then turn their attention to undocking the Atlantis on Thursday. Atlantis is expected to return to Earth Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center.

Meanwhile the next space shuttle, Endeavor, STS-130 is aiming for a Feb 4, 2010 liftoff.

Endeavour will deliver a third connecting module - the Tranquility node - to the station and a seven-windowed cupola to be used as a control room for robotics. The mission will feature three spacewalks, NASA said. STS-130 will be the 32nd shuttle mission to the station.

This story, "NASA's Atlantis astronauts take final spacewalk, prepare for return" was originally published by Network World.

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