The female space quartet

For this new article on Space Legal Issues, let us have a look at the female space quartet, the first time four women were in outer space at the same time. The merging of two crews marked the first time four women were in outer space at the same time, the first female space quartet: Discovery’s three women astronauts, and Expedition 23 Flight Engineer Tracy Caldwell Dyson. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also marked the first time two of its astronauts were in outer space simultaneously, when Yamazaki met up with station Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi. Discovery (STS-131) delivered supplies and equipment to the International Space Station (ISS), more than seventeen thousand pounds of it stowed inside the Italian-built multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo. The payload included new crew sleeping quarters, an ammonia tank, gyroscope and experiments. The module’s next and final journey to the International Space Station (ISS) was on a one-way trip, when it attached and left on the station during the STS-133 mission.

STS-131 was a NASA American Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Space Shuttle Discovery launched on April 5, 2010 from Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A, and landed on April 20, 2010 on runway 33 at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility. The mission marked the longest flight for Space Shuttle Discovery. The primary payload was a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module loaded with supplies and equipment for the International Space Station (ISS). The mission also removed and replaced an ammonia tank assembly outside the station on the S1 truss. STS-131 furthermore carried several on-board payloads; this mission had the most payloads since STS-107. It is also the last shuttle mission with a crew of seven astronauts.

The crew was made up of seven members including three women who are Dorothy M. Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, and Naoko Yamazaki (who was the last Japanese astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle). This mission has been special in many ways: this was the final Space Shuttle mission with a seven person crew, it was the final Space Shuttle crew with any “rookie” astronauts; all of the remaining missions would have all-veteran crews. STS-131 was also the third and last mission in the Space Shuttle program with three female astronauts. STS-40 and STS-96 were the first two. STS-131 marked the first time two Japanese astronauts, Naoko Yamazaki from the shuttle crew and Soichi Noguchi on the International Space Station (ISS), were in outer space together. Expedition 23 Flight Engineer Tracy Caldwell Dyson was on the International Space Station (ISS) at the time. This made STS-131 the first time when four women have been in outer space at the same time. Four intrepid women with the “right stuff” have at that time sailed into the world record books as the most female astronauts ever to fly in outer space at the same time. The first woman in outer space was cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who launched in June 1963 on the former Soviet Union’s Vostok mission. The first American woman in outer space came two decades later, in June 1983, when astronaut Sally Ride rode the American Space Shuttle into orbit on the orbiter Challenger.

For this STS-131 mission, continuing on the female space quartet, Discovery embarked in its hold the MPLM Leonardo pressurised module (Multifunctional Pressurized Logistical Module), developed by Thales Alenia Space on behalf of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). This habitable module carried eight tones of equipment including scientific experiments and freight for the International Space Station (ISS) and its scientific laboratories. It was the last time that NASA would use it since it would be permanently attached to the International Space Station (ISS) during the last flight of the American Space Shuttle (STS-133).

Three extravehicular excursions took place: EVA 1, 2 and 3. EVA 1: April 9, the crew inside used the station’s robotic arm to remove a new ammonia tank from shuttle’s payload bay and temporarily stow it on the station. The spacewalkers then retrieved a seed experiment from outside the Japanese laboratory, installed a grapple bar to the new ammonia tank on the station’s truss and replaced a failed gyroscope that was part of the station’s navigation system, along with several get-ahead tasks. EVA 2: April 11, the crew members, using the station’s arm, removed an empty ammonia tank from the station’s truss and temporarily stowed it on an equipment cart. The new tank was then installed and electrical connections were made to it. The station’s arm then temporarily stowed the old tank on another part of the station’s structure until the mission’s third spacewalk. EVA 3: April 13, using the station’s arm, the crew moved the old tank into the shuttle’s payload bay for return to Earth. The spacewalkers also removed a grapple bar from the old ammonia tank and attached it to the new one. The pair then relocated a foot restraint and some tools and prepared some cables for the STS-132 mission.

The controllers had planned a fourth EVA which was finally cancelled. Nonetheless, all three spacewalks were made by Richard Mastracchio and Clayton Anderson. April 16, the Leonardo module was returned to Discovery’s hold. Before parting from the International Space Station (ISS), the astronauts re-inspected the Orbiter’s heat shield. Normally, this inspection is done after separation, but the breakdown of the Ku-Band antenna obliged managers to take advantage of the broadband antenna of the station to perform this inspection. April 17, Discovery separated from the International Space Station (ISS). April 18, the last day of flight, awaiting the return for the next day at the KSC in the early morning. April 19, the return was postponed due to bad weather conditions on the space center. Discovery reached the ground the next day after a mission of fifteen days, two hours, forty-seven minutes and ten seconds. Three more flights before the American Space Shuttle would retreat.

After stepping off the shuttle following landing, Anderson, who participated in the mission’s three spacewalks, may have summed up the mission best: “We had a lot of adversity, but we overcame it all with some great teamwork”. While perfect missions are preferable, those that involve a few changes in the game plan can sometimes yield valuable lessons about working in outer space. This is what can be said concerning the female space quartet.