Discovery reaches station; more wing checks ordered
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: December 11, 2006
The crew of the international space station welcomed the Discovery astronauts aboard this evening, ushering them into the Destiny laboratory module a little less than two hours after the shuttle docked with the outpost.
With commander Mark Polansky at the controls, the shuttle Discovery docked with the station as the two spacecraft sailed 220 miles above southeast Asia at 5 miles per second.
Approaching the station from directly ahead, with its payload bay docking module lined up with a port on the front of the lab complex, Polansky guided Discovery to a gentle linkup at 5:12 p.m. to close out a two-day orbital chase.
"Houston and (space station) Alpha from Discovery, capture confirmed," shuttle pilot William Oefelein called as the docking systems engaged.
After waiting for any residual motion to damp out, the docking system firmly locked the two spacecraft together and leak checks were carried out to make sure seals are tight. Hatches between the shuttle and station were opened to unite the combined crews.
"Space shuttle Discovery, arriving," station commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, a Navy captain, said at 6:54 p.m., ringing the ship's bell per naval tradition.
Video from the lab module showed the 10 shuttle and station astronauts embracing, shaking hands and sporting broad grins as they floated about in the roomy lab module. Someone waved a Swedish flag behind Christer Fuglesang, the first Swede to fly in space.
Posing for a group portrait, German astronaut Thomas Reiter, launched to the station in July, could be seen enthusiastically hugging his replacement, NASA astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams, who will officially take his place later this evening as a member of the Expedition 14 crew. Reiter will return to Earth in Williams' place aboard Discovery.
It was a welcome, albeit brief moment of camaraderie in a tightly scripted, extraordinarily complicated mission to rewire the station's power system. After a quick safety briefing, the astronauts turned their attention to moving Williams' Soyuz custom seatliner into the station and gearing up to pull a 4,110-pound solar array truss spacer segment from Discovery's cargo bay.
The seatliner is required in case Williams' and her ISS-14 crewmates ever have to abandon ship in a Russian Soyuz capsule. Once her seatliner is in place, she will officially become a member of the ISS-14 crew.
A few minutes after the seat liner transfer, Nicholas Patrick, operating the shuttle's 50-foot-long robot arm, will latch onto the P5 solar array truss segment making up Discovery's major cargo. After hoisting the segment out of the payload bay, Patrick will position it for handoff to the station's robot arm, operated by Williams, around 9 p.m. P5 will remain parked overnight on the end of the station arm until installation Tuesday during a spacewalk by Robert Curbeam and Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang.
NASA commentator Kyle Herring in mission control said flight controllers may alter the P5 spacer segment unberthing to give the crews time to aim a camera on the station's robot arm at Discovery's outboard left wing leading edge panels.
It's not yet clear what flight controllers may be looking for, but an unplanned inspection means some sort of "area of interest" has been identified, either during leading edge inspections Sunday or during another inspection earlier today, that warrants a closer look. By checking tonight, NASA planners may be able to avoid a so-called "focused inspection" later in the mission.
"There's been some joint discussions between the shuttle and station team on modifying the timeline a bit, proceeding on with the grapple of the P5 truss element by the shuttle's robotic arm and hold in that position while the station robotic arm is used to maneuver out to a viewing position of the shuttle's left hand wing, the outermost panels on the shuttle's left wing, the reinforced carbon carbon panels," Herring said.
"Some of the early looks showed some areas of interest that they wanted a little bit more detail on in terms of the imagery analysis folks. And the opportunity may present itself to use the station arm here early to get some closeup data. They'll look at panels 19 through 21 which are outboard on the left wing. That can be done with very little impact to the overall timeline tonight."