Shuttle, Station Crews To Enter Lab

Sunday, February 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) — The crews of the space shuttle Atlantis and international space station Alpha planned to enter the $1.4 billion science laboratory Destiny on Sunday for the first time after it was attached to its new home in space.

During a tension-filled 7 1/2 -hour spacewalk on Saturday, astronaut Marsha Ivins used the shuttle's robot arm to slowly lift the lab from its extremely tight berth in Atlantis' payload bay while spacewalkers Thomas Jones and Robert Curbeam Jr. helped her guide it in place and make connections between the lab and Alpha.

The two crews worked late into the night to activate the various laboratory systems, most notably the cooling equipment. They had to hurry because of the near-100-degree temperature inside the lab, the result of heater problems.

Destiny — which is 28 feet long, 14 feet in diameter and weighs more than 30,000 pounds — is the most treasured piece of the space station.

It will enable astronauts and cosmonauts to begin major science work aboard Alpha. No experiments were brought on the lab because of the shuttle's payload weight limitations. The first experiment is due to arrive in March.

Besides being a hub for science, the lab holds 13 computers that will enable NASA's Mission Control to take over control of the space station from the Russians, likely within the next two months.

The computers provide environmental controls for the entire station, including carbon dioxide and humidity removal, and will allow a set of gyroscopes on Alpha to be used for attitude control, saving station fuel.

The lab will also serve as a much-needed fourth room for Alpha's three-man crew, which has been in space since Nov. 2.

``Destiny has traveled a long road, and it's nice to see that it has, indeed, reached its final destination,'' Mission Control told the astronauts.

The spacewalk — the first of three for this mission — wasn't without problems.

Ammonia leaked from a coolant line that Curbeam was trying to connect. The ammonia instantly turned into crystals and created an ice storm around Destiny. However, within minutes, Curbeam plugged the line into the laboratory and stopped the spray.

Flight director Bob Castle said about 2 1/2 pounds of ammonia leaked, only 5 percent of the total supply.