24 Aug 2009
Space shuttle Discovery will carry the Leonardo supply module to the International Space Station and the Italian-built MDS biomedical payload during STS-128, along with a new crew member for the station, Nicole Stott.
Commanded by veteran astronaut Rick "C.J." Sturckow, the STS-128 mission crew will deliver refrigerator-sized racks full of equipment, including the COLBERT treadmill, an exercise device named after comedian Stephen Colbert. Stott will take the place of Tim Kopra, who moved into the station during STS-127. Pilot Kevin Ford and Mission Specialists Patrick Forrester, Jose Hernandez, John "Danny" Olivas and Sweden's Christer Fuglesang round out the crew. After two delays due to weather conditions and to the malfunctioning of a valve in the idrogen supply line, Discovery was launched on August 28, at 23:59 EDT.
The MDS experiment
The mission will carry onboard the ISS the Mice Drawer System (MDS), the seventh biomedical payload developed by the Italian Space Agency for the Station. The payload, built by Thales Alenia Space, is a multifunctional and multiuser system for conducting experiments in various biomedical fields. For the first time, a mouse-research facility will reach the ISS. Six mice will remain on the ISS until November, when they will come back to Earth with the Shuttle mission STS-129/ULF3. Researchers will then test what effects microgravity had on their bone tissue, cardiovascular system, muscles and so on.
The main experiment is led by Ranieri Cancedda from the University of Genoa, and will investigate effects on bone tissue. But a total of 21 experiments will be performed using MDS: 13 from Italy and eight selected by other countries’ space agencies, such as ESA, NASA, JAXA, CSA and DLR. “Considering the great interest showed by the scientific community both in Italy and in other countries, we insisted that the facility, originally designed for research on ostheoporosis, be open to other groups. These experiments will help us understand some undesirable effects of human spaceflight, as well as diseases that affect humans on Earth, like ostheoporosis or muscular atrophy”.
Operation onboard the ISS will be supported, under ASI coordination, by ground stations at Napoli, Telespazio (operation support), Genoa (experiment support), Thales Alenia Space in Milan (engineering support). The overall astronaut time of ISS use will amount to 120 hours, and the mission will end at the end of November, with Shuttlle flight STS-129/ULF3.
The MPLM Leonardo
Carried into orbit inside Discovery's payload bay, the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Leonardo, built in Turin by Thales Alenia Space, will travel to the ISS and back to Earth. Based on a bilateral agreement with NASA, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) developed and supplied three MPLM flight units called Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello to NASA. In exchange, NASA guaranteed ISS utilisation rights and six flight opportunities for Italian astronauts, three short-term flights as members of the Space Shuttle crew and three long-term flights as members of the ISS crew. The recent assignment of Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori to the last Space Shuttle mission. STS-134 in 2010 for the launch of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) was made in the framework of the ASI-NASA MPLM agreement. ALTEC in Turin is providing engineering support for the flights of the MPLMs.
During the STS-128/Alissé mission MPLM Leonardo will provide a pressurised environment for three life-support and three science racks to be transferred into the Station. The science racks include the second Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI-2) supplied by ESA, which provides very low temperature storage for samples, as well as the first ISS research laboratory fully dedicated to Material Sciences: ESA's Material Science Laboratory. Leonardo's payload also includes food, clothes, water and astronaut sleeping quarters. Both MELFI-2 and the sleeping quarters will be installed in Japan's Kibo research module.