Sunday, September 10, 2006

Saint Paul Native Prepares To Walk In Space

Three and a half years since America's space program crashed to earth with Columbia, a rejuvenated shuttle program is returning to orbit. "This is a very challenging and complex assembly mission, with a very aggressive timeline," said shuttle commander, Brent Jett. Veteran astronaut Jett, who is making his fourth trip into space, will lead a crew of 6 aboard the shuttle Atlantis. His crew will include Saint Paul native Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper. "I feel like I'm on a trip with 5 brothers," is what Stefanyshyn-Piper told reporters on a recent visit to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The 43-year-old mechanical engineer and former Navy salvage diver is making her first trip to space 10 years after entering astronaut training at JSC. She and her five crewmates were just three-and-a-half months from launch when the Columbia crashed during re-entry in February 2003. The long delay has given them more time for training while NASA engineers worked to improve the shuttle's safety systems and protocols.
Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper
"But just knowing I'm getting a flight and two walks. I think that, in itself, is pretty rewarding," said Stefanyshyn-Piper. This mission for Heide and her crew is scheduled to last 11 or 12 days. It will resume construction of the International Space Station. She will take two space walks to help deploy one of the largest sections to date. Atlantis will deliver and install what's known as the P3/P4 truss, one of the heaviest loads a shuttle's ever carried. Its giant framework will eventually support two more of the station's massive solar collectors. "And on the sixth day we get to deploy the solar arrays. And that will be special moment to look at the cameras and say 'Wow!' as the giant arrays fold out," Stefanyshyn-Piper told us as she reviewed her scheduled walks. The new solar arrays will give the Space Station 20 kilowatts of badly needed electricity, about the equivalent usage of 6 homes. Chris Ferguson, who is piloting Atlantis, added, "this is the beginning of the culmination of the space station and we're all proud to be part of it."