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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Discovery, Space Station Dock, Unite a Dozen Astronauts

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Discovery, nose down right, docked to the International Space Station's Harmony module.  Canada's DEXTRE "robotic hand," top center, is visible atop the U. S. Destiny lab. Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicle Kounotori, center right, extends down. Photo Credit/NASA TV
The shuttle Discovery astronauts successfully docked with the International Space Station on Feb. 26, uniting a dozen U.S., Russian and Italian astronauts for a demanding week of assembly work, cargo transfers. spacewalks and perhaps an unprecedented glam shot of the nearly fully assembled orbiting science laboratory.

Shuttle commander Steve Lindsey guided Discovery into the forward docking port of the station's Harmony module at 2:14 p.m., EST, as the two spacecraft sailed 220 miles over Australia.

As the six shuttle astronauts closed to within 600 feet of the orbital base, Lindsey clocked the winged orbiter through a slow back flip that presented the underside heat shielding to cameras trained on Discovery by station astronauts Catherine Coleman and Paulo Nespoli. The photography, 800 exposures, was transmitted to Mission Control, where imagery experts will examine the data for signs of launch debris impact damage.

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Discovery commander Steve Lindsey begins the Rotational Pitch Maneuver "back flip" that exposes the underside heat shielding on the shuttle's under side to cameras aboard the International Space Station. The photography is part of the NASA's post-launch thermal protection assessment.     Photo Credit/NASA TV
"We're on our way," Lindsey radioed Station skipper Scott Kelly as Discovery neared for her 13th and final linkup with the station."What took you so long," joked Kelly.
Discovery launched on Feb. 24, nearly four months after the first attempt to embark on her 39th and final flight.  The 11-day assembly and supply mission was stalled while the shuttle program addressed small cracks discovered in the stringer section of the external fuel tank, following a Nov. 5 launch scrub.

During the linkup shuttle astronauts Eric Boe, Mike Barratt, Nicole Stott, Al Drew, Steve Bowen and Lindsey will be hosted by Kelly, Coleman, Nespoli and the rest of the station crew, Alexander Kalari, Dmitry Kondratyev and Oleg Skripochka.
NASA's Mission Management Team will attempt to complete a damage assessment using all of the imagery collected from liftoff through the docking over the next two days.
Earlier imagery revealed a piece of external tank insulation striking the underside of the forward fuselage during Discovery's climb to orbit. However, the series of three impacts occurred well after Discovery ascended through the densest region of the atmosphere, where a strike is of the most concern.

The two crews were to close out their first day together by using the robot arms aboard Discovery and the space station to hoist the Express Logistics Rack-4 from the shuttle's cargo bay and transfer the external storage device to the starboard side of the orbiting lab's long solar power system truss.

The ELC-4 secures a bulky space station thermal control system radiator, a spare part that is considered critical to the future or the orbital outpost, following the shuttle's retirement later this year.

Cargo transfers will begin Feb. 27. Discovery carried 1,500 pounds of mid-deck supplies.

The first of two spacewalks by Drew and Bowen is scheduled to begin on Feb. 28 at 11:18 a.m., EST.
By March 1, the MMT expects to have a decision on a unique photo shoot that would place three of the station's crew in the Soyuz 24 capsule with cameras and high-definition camcorders. The Soyuz crew would back away about 600 feet on March 5 to photograph the station with European, Japanese and Russian spacecraft as well as Discovery docked.
The Soyuz crew would also pursue some engineering photo documentation of the outpost during the 75-minute excursion.

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