Commander Pavel Vinogradov, Flight Engineer and NASA Science Officer Jeff Williams and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany prepared for Atlantis to deliver a new section of the station's girder-like truss. During Atlantis' mission, astronauts will attach the new P3/P4 truss, a segment that includes a huge new set of solar arrays and a giant rotary joint that allows the arrays to track the sun. The mission will mark the resumption of station assembly by delivering the first large new component to the station since late 2002.
During the shuttle flight, Atlantis' crew members will perform three spacewalks to complete the installation and setup of the new segment. The spacewalks will begin from the station's Quest Airlock. Complex robotics work is involved as the 17.5-ton, bus-sized truss section is handed from the shuttle arm to the station arm for installation.
In preparation for Atlantis, the station crew trained on the robotic Canadarm2 and packed items for return to Earth on the shuttle. They also reviewed Atlantis' mission timeline and trained to photograph the shuttle's heat shield as the orbiter does a backflip while approaching the station. The crew also did several physiological and psychological tests and experiments designed to learn more about how humans react to long periods of weightlessness.
Early this week Williams worked with flight controllers and the Dynamic Onboard Ubiquitous Graphics program on robotic arm activities. The program simulates the arm's operation for training.
Williams moved the arm from a base on the U.S. Destiny Lab to a power and data grapple fixture on the mobile transporter, enabling the arm to work at different sites along the main truss railway. Subsequently, in an inchworm-like maneuver, the arm was moved to a different grapple fixture on the transporter and used to inspect the outboard end of the P1 truss, where the new segment will be attached. The crew also reviewed installation procedures for the new segment and Williams did spacesuit maintenance.
Throughout the week Vinogradov and Reiter worked on the Russian-German Plasma Crystal experiment. The experiment examines the behavior of tiny particles excited by high-frequency radio signals in a vacuum chamber and functions by itself most of the time. It requires a crew member to work with it, however, at some intervals during the day.
The EarthKam experiment was activated this week. EarthKam allows students to request photos from space of specific locations on Earth via email and later receive those photos electronically. The remote-controlled camera has been used since October 2001.