Four astronauts and one superhero
Atlantis launched its final trek into space this morning. As the shuttle started its 33rd voyage, the final of the US space program's 135 flights, another craft began its fourth endeavor into orbit. Raffaello was headed out of this world.
Raffaello is one of three Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM), which NASA depicted as "for the long haul." The Italian Space Agency built and named the MPLMs for legendary Renaissance artists and engineers: Raffaello, Leonardo and Donatello. Naturally, NASA designed a logo inspired by American legends of the same names.
Today, NASA sent a ninja turtle to power the space station.
Supplying space exploration
What business does Raffaello have in space? NASA describes MPLMs as "the International Space Station's 'moving vans,' carrying equipment, experiments and supplies to and from the Station aboard the Space Shuttle." In addition to ferrying deliveries between the two crafts, Raffaello made the much longer run from the Kennedy Space Center to the ISS. If the module had wheels, we might even call it an LTL carrier with particularly visible in-transit tracking.
The delivery distance is not striking. The International Space Station (ISS) remains in Earth's orbit at a distance of 352-355 km (about 219-221 mi). The MPLM's load is 8,000 pounds (about 3,600 kg), but it might feel like a mere 7,040 lb; gravity on the Space Station is only 88% of what it would be at sea level. So what's so special about this cargo?
The International Space Station could not continue to function without logistics support deliveries like today's STS-135. Thanks in part to supply chain superheroes like Raffaello, the International Space Station has been continuously occupied for over 10 years!
The future of space logistics
You may be wondering: With the shuttering of the shuttle program, what will happen to the ISS? Who will provide it with supplies and connect it to Earth's supply chain?
Astronauts and cosmonauts plan to continue their 3,900-day occupancy streak. Russian vehicles can carry two pilots plus one rider per trip. Private companies are expected to start supplying the space station by later this year, although crafts to move astronauts are likely years away.
The historic final crew of Atlantis (Christopher Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim) is bringing a bit of our world into orbit. They rose above tremendous atmospheric pressure and are doing a stellar job. The journey of Atlantis and Raffaello may end in 12 days, but the crafts and crew have made it possible for the International Space Station to keep empowering scientific exploration.
Liftoff: NASA sends Atlantis into space
Ninja turtle logo © Mirage Studios. Logo is provided via fair use.