Tranquility Hails Final Night Fire

Space Shuttle Endeavour will launch the Tranquility node aboard STS-130 to the ISS on February 7th in what will be the final night launch of the Shuttle program. At launch pad 39A, engineers are going through final preparations, closing out the aft of the orbiter and loading software into the on-board computers as we enter the final week before launch.

For those of us here in the USA the launch will take place in the early hours of Sunday morning, 4:39am EST on the East coast placing it out of reach for all but the hardiest of space geeks, and lingering partygoers of course. 1:39am PST on the West coast opens it up a bit more to the Saturday night party crowd. The UK and Europe get to watch a nice launch over breakfast, and everyone else will be watching it as part of their regular Sunday.

Endeavour is processed at launch pad 39A

So, is this really the final night launch, then?
Almost certainly, yes. After this mission there will be only four Shuttle launches remaining before the orbiters retire, and each one of those launches is scheduled for daylight hours. Of course there is a very small chance that a succession of launch delays will push one of the launches around the clock and into a night scenario, but this is a very small chance. Because the remaining shuttle launches are targeting the ISS, which orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, a 1 day delay effectively makes the next launch a half hour earlier the next day assuming the station's orbital track takes it overhead the launch site.

So, what are they doing this time, then?
This is a much anticipated mission, the delivery and installation of the Tranquility node, a six port connecting node that will be attached to the station complete with a Cupola, a 7 window observation platform that will not only give stunning views of the Earth, but also provide a visual platform for robotic work and to watch visiting spacecraft as they dock and undock.

The STS-130 crew poses with their mission patch

Three spacewalks are planned for the 13 day mission, which will be manned by six astronauts: Commander George Zamka, Pilot Terry Virts, and mission specialists, Kay Hire, Steve Robinson, Nicholas Patrick, and Bob Benhken.

Spacers will be reporting on the mission as it progresses.

Image credit: NASA/JSC, NASA/KSC
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