This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

December 13, 2006

Shuttle Astronauts to Wire New Solar Panels to Space Station

Photo of the International Space Station.

The older "P6" solar panels near the top of this photo of the space station are preventing the new solar panels on the left from rotating to follow the sun. The current shuttle mission aims to retract one of the P6 panels.
Credit: NASA

Any electrician will tell you that the people erecting the walls get all the attention, but it's the wiring that makes the house livable. The current shuttle crew can probably relate to that, since they have the unheralded task of connecting the wiring for the solar panels that were so gloriously unfurled by the previous shuttle crew back in September. Shuttle mission STS-116, described by NASA as "one of the most complex missions ever," included a spacewalk on Tuesday, December 12th, to install a new truss, which will hold future solar panels and allow them to track the sun. On Wednesday, December 13th, the astronauts are scheduled to begin folding up one of the older "P6" solar panels—a process that may or may not go smoothly, according to NASA—starting at about 1:22 p.m. Eastern time. Retracting the panel, which was installed in 2000, will clear the way for the new solar panels to rotate a full 360 degrees to track the sun. During future missions, the remaining P6 solar panel will be retracted, and the P6 module will be relocated to another part of the space station, where the panels will be redeployed. This is best understood by viewing NASA's "ISS Assembly Sequence" video.

During spacewalks on Thursday, December 14th, and Saturday, December 16th, NASA ground control will shut down and reroute the station's power in stages so that the astronauts can reconfigure the power system and make the new solar arrays fully operational. If all goes well, the shuttle will undock from the space station on Monday, December 18th, and will land back at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, December 21st. See the NASA press release, NASA's mission overview for STS-116. To see what's happening now, see the NASA TV schedule for the mission on the NASA TV Web page.