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Discovery Mission Readies Station For Int'l Labs


Discovery Mission Readies Station for International Partner Labs

With the International Space Station's Harmony module set for docking by the European and Japanese laboratories, and sections of the station's truss and solar arrays moved and working, Space Shuttle Discovery's crew returned to Earth November 7, the shuttle glinting in Florida's midday sun.

The 15-day, 10-million-kilometer STS-120 mission, which began October 23, continued construction of the orbital outpost by delivering the Harmony module, relocating a truss and completing four spacewalks - including an unexpected foray by astronauts Scott Parazynski and Doug Wheelock outside the station to repair a torn solar array.

"The whole agency had to pull together for this particular mission," Discovery Commander Pam Melroy said in a briefing from the runway next to Discovery. "We did a pretty amazing EVA [extravehicular activity] and that was very exciting. It was a thrilling day for both the space shuttle and the space station programs, vindicating both programs and their purpose and their flexibility in space."

"Having determined that it is important to expand the human range of capability through human spaceflight on this new frontier," NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said during a post-landing briefing, "it's a special kind of achievement to watch people tackling a contingency problem, planning on the fly, on the ground and in the air, to be able to cope with problems and watching them come out ahead of the game."

Discovery also delivered to the space station astronaut Daniel Tani, who joined the Expedition 16 crew, replacing Clay Anderson. Anderson returned to Earth aboard Discovery after nearly 152 days on the station. He launched with the STS-117 crew on Atlantis in June. (See related article.)

The European Space Agency's (ESA) laboratory module Columbia will arrive at the space station in December aboard Atlantis, and the Japanese experiment logistics module Kibo will arrive early in 2008.

UNEXPECTED REPAIR

Using a few pieces of aluminum and a little wire, mission specialist Scott Parazynski repaired a damaged solar array on the space station during a seven-hour, 19-minute spacewalk.

Parazynski and astronaut Doug Wheelock left the station and spent 90 minutes riding the station's robotic arm out to the torn array - about 50 meters down the station's truss and just over 27 meters up to the damage.

Once there, Parazynski cut a snagged wire and installed homemade stabilizers to strengthen the array's structure and stability near the damage. Wheelock helped from the truss by keeping an eye on the distance between Parazynski and the array.

They completed the repair then stood back to watch for complications as flight controllers on the ground finished deploying the array. Fifteen minutes and 13 computer commands later, the array was extended, and Parazynski and Wheelock then made their way back to the station's airlock.

ATLANTIS LAUNCH

On November 10, three days after Discovery's landing, Atlantis will roll out to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis is targeted to launch December 6 to deliver the European Space Agency (ESA) Columbus science module during the 11-day STS-122 mission.

Steve Frick will command Atlantis' seven-member crew, which includes pilot Alan Poindexter; mission specialists Rex Walheim, Stanley Love, Leland Melvin and ESA astronauts Hans Schlegel and Leopold Eyharts.

Eyharts will replace Expedition 16 flight engineer Daniel Tani and remain aboard the station as a member of the Expedition 16 crew. Tani will return to Earth with the STS-122 crew.

In November, the space station crew will conduct three spacewalks and robotically move two components to prepare for Columbus' arrival.

With Atlantis' December launch, 12 shuttle missions remain to complete the International Space Station before the shuttle is retired in 2010. The fifth and final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, an international cooperative project between NASA and ESA, is scheduled for September 10, 2008.

BACK TO THE MOON

On October 30, NASA announced the agency centers that will be responsible for specific work to enable astronauts to explore the moon, and a plan to establish a new lunar science institute.

The new assignments cover elements of the lunar lander and lunar surface operations. The agency also announced work assignments for Ares V, a heavy-lift rocket for lunar missions.

"NASA's Constellation Program is making real progress toward sending astronauts to the moon," Rick Gilbrech, NASA associate administrator for Exploration Systems, said in a statement. "Work on our new fleet of rockets and spacecraft, Ares I and Orion, is already well under way. With these new assignments, NASA will launch the next phase of its exploration strategy - landing crews and cargo on the surface of the moon."

NASA's Constellation Program is working to send astronauts to the moon, where they plan to set up a lunar outpost to prepare for human exploration further into the solar system.

The first crewed flight of the Orion spacecraft, aboard an Ares I rocket, is scheduled for 2015. Astronauts are scheduled to return to the moon by 2020.

For NASA's new Lunar Science Institute, operations are expected to begin March 1, 2008. The institute will augment established NASA-funded lunar science investigations by encouraging the formation of interdisciplinary research teams that are larger than those now at work in lunar science.


ENDS

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