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Discovery heads to space station with Japanese lab

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Discovery heads to space station with Japanese lab
« on: June 02, 2008, 10:22:09 PM »
Discovery heads to space station with Japanese lab

CAPE CANAVERAL ( 2008-06-02 10:38:39 ) :Astronauts on the US space shuttle Discovery were to dock with the International Space Station on Monday, as they prepared to deliver a payload that included Japan's Kibo space lab and parts to repair a malfunctioning space lavatory.

Discovery is scheduled to dock at the ISS 338 kilometers (210 miles) above Earth at 1754 GMT on Monday, day three of the 14-day mission.

LeRoy Cain, chairman of Nasa's Mission Management Team which oversees all aspects of the space flight, said at a press conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston Sunday that with the docking, the Discovery crew would be "getting on with the objectives of this mission in earnest."

The space shuttle is set to deliver and install the second of three parts of a huge Japanese laboratory called Kibo, the Japanese word meaning "hope."

The seven astronauts on Discovery include six Americans plus Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who will oversee the installation of the space lab.

Once in place, the 11.2-meter (36.7-foot) long, 14.8-tonne (32,600-pound) cylinder will be the single largest room on the ISS, with space for four scientists.

Kibo's 10-meter (33-foot) robotic arm, to be used for manipulating materials and equipment for science experiments, will also be pulled from the shuttle and attached to the Kibo unit.

"The Kibo module is ... just a beautiful piece of engineering," NASA astronaut Michael Fossum said Sunday.

Also onboard the shuttle was a payload of critical importance for the three ISS astronauts: parts to fix their high-tech Russian-built space toilet.

The ISS commode malfunctioned last week, forcing the three ISS astronauts to rig up a still-troublesome bypass for liquid waste.'

Discovery is taking along a spare pump from Russia, which the two cosmonauts on the station are expected to install as soon as the shuttle arrives.

Until the repair is complete, the three-member station crew will use the shuttle's toilet -- or they will use extra emergency bags that Discovery is also bringing.

Asked in Sunday's interviews who would do the plumbing repair, Fossum said: "The fact is that the toilet is Russian hardware ... (but) if they need a hand and some wrenches we'll help out."

Astronauts on Monday also planned to perform a checkup of Discovery's heat shield, taking images from the shuttle's robotic arm to inspect for damage that may have been incurred during liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center here.

Discovery was the first to fly with a new external fuel tank designed to minimize the loss of insulating foam during launches.

But cameras spotted several pieces of foam coming off Discovery's tank late during Saturday's ascent, although NASA officials said at a press conference the following day that they do not believe the lost foam poses a threat.

Cain said that the exterior of the Discovery's fuel tank showed less foam loss than in other recent shuttle launches.

"In a broader sense the tank really performed in an absolutely perfect fashion," Cain said.

"All in all, the mission's going very well," he said, adding that NASA officials would continue to scrutinize photos taken from inside the shuttle and other images to try to determine the extent of the damage, if any.

It was a piece of foam insulation that fell from the fuel tank during liftoff that doomed the space shuttle Columbia and her seven astronauts in 2003, when the shuttle disintegrated upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

During one of the mission's planned spacewalks, astronauts will try to clean metal shavings from inside a malfunctioning rotary joint that keeps some of the station's solar panels pointed toward the sun.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2008