Space Stations doorway to the infinite to leave NASA Marshall, bound for Florida
Engineers at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will open massive hangar doors next week to roll out
And in about a year, this unique portal will open onto the infinite void of space itself.
On Sept. 13, the Joint Airlock Module -- the gateway from which crewmembers aboard the International Space Station will enter and exit the 470-ton orbiting research facility -- will leave the Marshall Center, bound for Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
The airlock will be transported before dawn from Marshall facilities to Redstone Army Airfield in Huntsville, where it will be loaded aboard NASAs Super Guppy aircraft for its flight to Kennedy.
The massive, spindle-shaped airlock is 20 feet (6.09 meters) long, has a diameter of 13 feet (3.96 meters) at its widest point and weighs 6-1/2 tons (5.8 metric tons). Manufactured at the Marshall Center by the Huntsville division of The Boeing Company, the airlock includes two compartments: the crew lock, from which astronauts will enter and exit the Space Station; and the equipment lock, where spacewalkers will change into and out of their suits and stow all necessary gear.
The airlock is a critical Station element because of design differences between American and Russian spacesuits. Currently, American suits will not fit through Russian-designed airlocks. The Joint Airlock Module is specially designed to accommodate both suits, providing a chamber where astronauts from every nation can suit up for spacewalks to conduct science experiments outside the Station.
The Space Shuttle will carry the airlock to orbit for deployment and installation on the Space Station in May 2001. The Shuttle crew will secure the airlock to the right side of "Unity," the American-built connecting node that currently comprises one third of the completed Space Station, along with the Russian modules "Zarya" and "Zvezda."
The International Space Station is a cooperative endeavor by the United States and 15 other nations -- the largest multinational space construction effort in history. Orbital assembly is expected to be complete in 2005.
The Marshall Center is one of NASAs primary centers for Space Station construction. Boeing built the Unity node at Marshall, as well as the "Destiny" science laboratory module, which is scheduled for transport to the Space Station later this year. Marshall is also responsible for environmental, structural and dynamic testing of various Space Station structural elements and other key components.