Shuttle Discovery launches
to space with Harmony
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 23, 2007
The shuttle Discovery, carrying seven astronauts and a critical connecting module for the international space station, roared to life and rocketed into orbit today, kicking off a high-stakes five-spacewalk mission considered by many the most complex orbital construction work ever attempted.
With its three hydrogen-fueled main engines roaring at full throttle, Discovery's twin solid-fuel boosters ignited with a rush of fire and thunder at 11:38:19 a.m., instantly pushing the huge spacecraft away from pad 39A.
Seconds later, Discovery's flight computers sent commands to the booster steering system, rolling the spacecraft about its vertical axis to put the crew in a heads down orientation as the spaceplane arced out over the Atlantic Ocean on a northeasterly trajectory paralleling the East Coast of the United States.
NASA managers were worried low clouds and rain might delay the launching, but as the morning wore on the anticipated development held off and the crew was cleared for takeoff. Looking on a few miles away was "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. A light saber used in the first "Star Wars" movie is on board Discovery to mark the film's 30th anniversary.
Monitoring the automated ascent from Discovery's flight deck were Pam Melroy, the second woman to serve as a shuttle commander, Marine Corps pilot George Zamka, flight engineer Stephanie Wilson and Doug Wheelock, an Army helicopter pilot. Strapped in on the orbiter's lower deck were physician-astronaut Parazynski, Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli and Dan Tani, a space station crew member hitching a ride to the lab complex aboard Discovery. Tani will replace station engineer Clay Anderson, who will return to Earth aboard the shuttle.
Television views from a camera mounted on Discovery's external fuel tank provided spectacular views of the Florida spaceport dropping away and then the limb of the Earth as the ship headed for orbit. There were no obvious signs of any major debris falling from the foam-covered tank, but an engineering assessment was not expected until later.
Discovery's docking and the usual welcome aboard ceremony will have an unusual flavor this time around as Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson, the station's first female commander, welcomes Melroy, probably the final woman to command a shuttle before the program is retired in 2010. Both women flew together in 2002 when Whitson served as flight engineer of the fifth station expedition and Melroy visited as pilot of the shuttle Atlantis during mission STS-112.
"One of the moments I'm looking forward to the most is when the hatch opens and I see Peggy's face on the other side and we reach through for the traditional handshake," Melroy said in an interview. "That will be a really special moment for me."
Whitson said the timing of their flights was a coincidence, "but I do think it is special, not only special just for Pam and I because, you know, we have flown in space before, but the experience of having two women up there at the same time will hopefully be an inspiration to somebody."
"I was inspired when I was young by the Apollo era astronauts and in particular, I was motivated to become an astronaut when they selected the first female astronauts," she said. "I would hope that we could be a role model like that."
The day after docking, the astronauts will use the station's robot arm to pull the 31,500-pound Harmony module from Discovery's cargo bay as part of the first of the mission's five spacewalks.
Harmony will be temporarily mounted on the left side of the station's central Unity module. After the shuttle departs, Whitson, flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko and Tani will detach the station's main shuttle docking port, known as pressurized mating adapter No. 2, mount it on Harmony and then use the station's robot arm to move both components on the front end of the Destiny laboratory module.
"Harmony has six different ports that we can add modules onto to build the station," said Whitson. "So it's, it's our next big connecting piece in our puzzle of putting this huge station together on orbit."
Attaching a new pressurized module would have been the highlight of many past assembly missions. But for Discovery's crew, it is just the beginning. The second major objective of the flight is the disconnection and relocation of a huge set of solar arrays known as P6. Designed as the sixth and final segment of the port, or left, side of the station's main power truss, P6 was mounted at the center of the station in December 2000 to provide power to the U.S. segment during the initial stages of assembly.
Now, with identical solar panels in place on the left and right sides of the main power truss, NASA needs to move P6 to its permanent position on the far left end of the beam. The 35,000-pound segment's huge arrays, stretching 240 feet from tip to tip, were stowed during shuttle missions last December and June. Power and cooling lines were disconnected during an August flight, setting the stage for the massive truss's detachment, relocation and re-extension during Discovery's mission.
The station's robot arm cannot reach far enough on its own to make the move. So the station arm, after handing P6 off to the shuttle's space crane, will be moved by the station's mobile transporter to the far end of the power truss. At that point, the shuttle arm will hand the truss segment back to the station arm and Parazynski and Wheelock, making their third spacewalk by that point, will oversee its attachment to the P5 truss segment.
"Once the P6 has been detached from the space station, then the robotic arm will move it around to the port side of the shuttle, at which point it will be handed off to the shuttle arm. The shuttle robotic arm will take control of the P6 truss while the space station robotic arm is reconfigured and rolled out on the mobile transporter, the mobile platform, all the way to the far end of the port truss. And then, we'll use the station arm to take it back and install it in its final location.
"This is pretty nearly the design-limiting case for the robotic arm of the space station, so it's out at its full extension, trying to get that truss out there," Melroy said. "We'll have the help of the spacewalkers on the third spacewalk to do that. So, all these activities will actually span three days, three full days, two spacewalks with robotics in the middle."
Discovery is scheduled to land back at the Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 6.