Space Shuttle Discovery Mission to the International Space Station (STS-121)
published: May 21, 2010, recorded: September 2006, views: 3162
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The sign-up sheet for astronaut school is likely to grow even longer after viewing Stephanie Wilson’s reality video about her 13 days in space. Wilson, a self-described “robo chick,” served as a specialist in July 2006 on one of NASA’s return-to-flight test missions following the Columbia accident. She narrates a video account -- a day-to-day diary –- of the work, and fun, she and fellow astronauts engaged in.
Much of Wilson’s job involved using a robotic arm to help unload supplies onto the International Space Station, to which the shuttle Discovery was docked for several days. When she wasn’t helping transfer 28,000 pounds of food, gear and experiments, she was assisting crew members on space walks, during which they assembled another piece of the space station and tested a putty-like material for repairing cracks and holes in the shuttle's delicate heat tiles. Wilson, who was operating a 50-foot long robotic boom arm for these jobs, describes the challenge of functioning in “45 minutes of day and 45 minutes of night,” as the astronauts swiftly circled the earth. “It got very cold and dark, and my colleagues said it was very lonely to be at the end of a bendy stick.”
Wilson’s video clearly demonstrates the awesome solitude of these spacewalkers, as well as the mundane, almost household nature of their chores: Astronauts used tools resembling cordless drills to assemble new hardware onto the space station. Her footage also reveals the camaraderie and joy of life above earth. She takes us spinning like a fish through the submarine-narrow chambers of the attached shuttle and space station, and we view astronauts in zero gravity play with floating balls of water containing air bubbles, and attempt to catch myriad M&Ms in their mouths. Wilson herself performs a flipping sequence, admitting, “There’s a child in all of us.”
To Wilson’s clear regret, this may be her last shuttle flight. After a mission, an astronaut goes to the bottom of a long list of flight aspirants. But more to the point: NASA, facing budget cuts and the mandate of lunar and Mars missions, will retire the shuttles in 2010, with the goal of sending a new vehicle up in 2014. During the interim years, Russia’s Soyuz space ships will exclusively bear the burden of transport to the space station.
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