With a successful STS-126 mission under its belt, NASA is now planning its next mission for the International Space Station (ISS), scheduled for launch in February 2009.
The goal of the next mission will be to deliver the final set of solar arrays for the station's electricity generating solar panels. The panels will then be able to power the space station with enough power to keep a crew of six astronauts on board.
Though a lot of things can be done with the current power configuration, there are some elements that still need to be placed into orbit, such as the Columbus module and the Kibo module, which are yet to be full of experiments. Those modules need additional power capability to be able to expand the stations' science capability.
NASA's STS-126 mission ended successfully on the weekend with Endeavour touching down at Edwards Air Force Base in California, after a two week long mission in working on the ISS. The shuttle's earlier destination for touchdown at Florida had to be changed to California on account of bad weather.
The Endeavour's crew prepared the ISS for additional residents, as well as for an extended period of survival without incoming supplies. The ISS would soon have aboard six crew members as permanent residents instead of the usual three, and will be less shuttle-dependent since it now has its own regenerative life support system.
Endeavour carried a payload of equipment and supplies to the ISS, which included necessary tools to expand the station's capacity from a three-bedroom, one-bath residence for three astronauts, to a five-bedroom, two-bath residence for six astronauts.
The STS-126 mission saw four spacewalks to carry out repairs on the station's Solar Alpha rotary joints that were cleaned and lubricated to let the solar arrays track the sun. 11 of the trundle bearings were also replaced.
The mission had its fair share of problems, including an incidental loss of a tool bag by astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper', and some unfortunate problems with the sweat and urine recycling system.