While most of us were sleeping comfortably in our beds before our morning classes on Monday, February 8th, the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida was buzzing with activity anticipating the launch of its 32nd shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). After an unsuccessful attempt to lift off on Sunday, February 7th, caused by unfavourable weather conditions, Endeavour finally cleared its tower at 4:14 AM on Monday morning.
The launch of Endeavour, officially known as mission STS-130, has long been awaited since the shuttle carries a unique and exciting expansion up to the ISS. Totaling a grand sum of $400 million, Tranquility and Cupola are the two modules that will bring the space station closer to its completion scheduled for 2011. Both modules were funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Italian Space Agency and built by the Italian contractor Thales Alenia Space in Turin.
Tranquility, also known as Node 3, is the larger of the two modules and, as the name indicates, it will act as a node location for future expansions or transportation of vehicles. Equipped with 6 berthing locations in total, Tranquility will actually only have 3 active, due to changes in earlier plans. The technology and services transported by the module include one of most advanced life support systems, capable of recycling waste water, generating oxygen, removing contaminants from the air and monitoring the atmosphere composition on the ISS. On top of that, Tranquility will supply a toilet, exercise equipment, storage space and will accommodate robotics work. The other module, and the one that has caused much excitement among astronauts and space fans alike, is Cupola, the ISS’ own window to the world. As its Italian name suggests, the module is shaped in the form of a dome and features six side windows and a top one for a much-needed 360 degree angle view. It will be used to observe maintenance, experiments, dockings of the ISS, as well as to provide that breathtaking general view of our home planet, compared to the limited peeks astronauts got from using only the small portholes present on the space station. Moreover, Cupola< will allow robotic connections for the installation of a control station for Canadarm2.
But the “room with a view” has made news not only because of its unprecedented viewing opportunities, but also because of its naming process. In early 2009, NASA announced that Node 3 will be named through a naming contest where users were offered 4 names (Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity, and Venture) to choose from or were able to suggest their own. During his March 3rd edition of The Colbert Report, Colbert suggested that users vote for the module to be named after him and, surprisingly or not, his dream came close to reality when “Colbert” won by 40,000 votes ahead of the NASA suggestion of Serenity. However, during the April 14 Colbert Report, a NASA astronaut announced that NASA decided that the module’s name would be Tranquility, in honour of the 40th anniversary of Apollo11’s lunar landing on the Sea of Tranquility. To make everyone happy, the astronauts also proposed that the treadmill used on the ISS will be named C.O.L.B.E.R.T (Combined Operational Load Bearing Exterior Resistance Treadmill), an offer which Colbert gladly accepted.
The only question remaining is …who gets to go for the first run in front of the highly anticipated window to the world?