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CNN Today

Space Shuttle Atlantis to Deliver Science Lab to Space Station

Aired February 9, 2001 - 2:07 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to turn our attention now to a mission of international cooperation. The shuttle Atlantis, as we've been telling you, has arrived at the International Space Station with a little bit of a surprise: It's a science lab the size of a school bus.

And we've asked our space correspondent Miles O'Brien to come and drive the bus for us.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I guess you'd call it the magic school bus, couldn't you, if you're a fan of that particular program and you have children, you know what I'm speaking of.

The magic school bus has arrived in close proximity to the International Space Station. Tomorrow is the big day for this crew. Not to minimize the risks and adventure of launch and docking, which we just saw a little while ago -- again this is some pictures that came down just a little bit before noon Eastern time as the space shuttle Atlantis crept toward its docking berth.

It didn't really happen that fast, folks; that was a series of still images that was sent down. It was much more gentle than that, as commander Ken Cockrell eased the throttle of the space shuttle at a rate of about -- of 1/10 of a foot per second.

Now you're looking at some pictures from inside the docking hatch, the docking mechanism, there. As the crew was getting ready to open the series of hatches.

FRAZIER: Are we in the shuttle here, or the...

O'BRIEN: Actually, we're inside the shuttle here, at this point, at the end of the docking -- they call it the Orbital Docking System, the ODS. Of course, you knew that, too.

FRAZIER: You bet.

O'BRIEN: And, basically, that will take you into the space station.

And here -- what we're getting right now are these sequential still images, which is what happens when you don't get full-motion TV on the shuttle. In other words, they can't reach the satellite that they'd like to get for the full-motion stuff.

But what you're seeing is the crew continuing through the process -- there's a hand and there's a leg -- continuing through the process of opening the hatches, making sure all the pressure is equalized as they make their way into the space station.

On the other side of those hatches, three guys who will probably be very happy to see this crew because the Atlantis crew is carrying, among other things, chocolates, letters from home and about 20 DVD movies including, we're told, "13 Days." Which -- this crew obviously had some juice to get that, but -- if you think about the poetic ironies here, given the fact that it is a U.S. commander with two Russian cosmonauts, "13 Days" out to be a nice way of healing some old wounds of the Cold War up in space as they celebrate their joint project with the U.S., Russia and 14 other nations.

These pictures are kind of hard to follow but, essentially, you're seeing bodies coming through at a still-nature -- and we just lost the shot right there. That brings us back to mission control in Houston.

FRAZIER: Miles, what kind of science are they going to do in that science lab?

O'BRIEN: Well, there's a series of things. One of the key things that NASA is interested in right now is what happens to the human body during a long-duration exposure to space. If NASA ever hopes to send people to Mars, these people will have to spend, three, six, maybe eight months in weightlessness before they even get to the surface of Mars.

Now the question is, when you get to that point after you've been floating around all that time and you've lot your muscle mass and your bone mass and your heart hasn't worked so hard, can you do anything effectively? And the more you learn about how to combat that and how to fight off the effects of weightlessness, the better those future generations of space explorers will be. So that's high on their list.

FRAZIER: You don't need a space lab to do that, I can hand out in the Barcolounger (ph) and tell you I'm no good to mow the lawn after that.

O'BRIEN: That would save you a few bucks, wouldn't it?

FRAZIER: Sorry, Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: That's all right; how often will the folks on the space station be getting visitors?

O'BRIEN: Well, it's kind of a complicated affair. It's a busy place.

The basic mission is three to four months for the people who are the live-aboard crew members. This is the second shuttle visit for this particular mission and they will -- at the end of April they will be a Soyuz rocket that will come up. So there's always going to be either a Russian or a U.S. ship arriving, you know, just to keep things active up there. You know, they've got to have some interpersonal relationships going besides the other two guys you're with.

FRAZIER: They're still building it out, aren't they?

FRAZIER: Well, yes; it's a very active campaign. As a matter of fact, this is the seventh shuttle mission to the International Space Station; there are no less than 40 total shuttle missions planned just for the build-out phase over the next five years.

So this $100 billion construction project is very aggressive and will take a lot of effort.

FRAZIER: And at the end of it all we'll be able to see it with the naked eye in the sky?

O'BRIEN: You can see it right now if you check out -- go to NASA's Web site at spaceflight.nasa.gov, for example. Click on the orbital tracking button there and it will tells you when to look out your back door and see the space station streaking overhead. It is the largest...

ALLEN: Have you done it?

O'BRIEN: Yes; I took my little boy out there. He was not impressed, but I was thrilled.

FRAZIER: Yes, I would be, too.

ALLEN: Oh, sure; all right Miles, thank you much.

FRAZIER: Miles O'Brien, thanks for joining us.

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