Discovery arrives at space station wth smooth docking
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 25, 2007
Commander Pam Melroy deftly guided the shuttle Discovery to a "picture-perfect" docking with the international space station today, setting the stage for the first of five spacewalks Friday to install a new module, move a huge solar array truss and test a potentially valuable heat shield repair technique.
Streaking through space at 5 miles per second 212 miles above the south Pacific Ocean, the 248,000-pound shuttle's docking system gently engaged its counterpart on the front of the half-million-pound space station at 8:40 a.m. EDT after a precisely choreographed rendezvous.
"Houston, Discovery and Alpha, capture confirmed," an astronaut radioed as the vehicles came together.
"And ISS is in free drift," station commander Peggy Whitson confirmed. Following naval tradition, Whitson then rang the ship's bell in the Destiny laboratory module, saying "Discovery, arriving."
Astronaut Chris Ferguson in mission control congratulated the shuttle crew on the flawless docking, asking lead spacewalker Scott Parazynski to "pass on to Pam and the rest of the crew, super job on the rendezvous today."
"Thank you so much," Parazynski replied. "Everyone here is just ecstatic, we're so fired up to be here and looking forward to the next several days shared with the station crew."
Two hours later, after firmly locking the two spacecraft together and completing leak checks, the crews opened a final hatch between Discovery and the space station and the shuttle crew was welcomed aboard at 10:39 a.m. by Whitson, flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko and outgoing flight engineer Clay Anderson.
"She did great," flight director Rick LaBrode said of Melroy's piloting skills. "It was amazing, there were a lot of activities going on. Yesterday, I said we had all our network problems solved. And boy, was I wrong. We had nothing but network problems throughout the day yesterday. ... As soon as the crew got up this morning and started bringing up the computers they use, it started causing network problems again. So, we had to deal with troubleshooting those network problems while we were trying to do a rendezvous and that was challenging. But the crew did an exceptional job. All the targeting went extremely well, the burns were right on and the prox ops piloting was phenomenal. Pam did a great job."
Melroy is only the second female shuttle commander while Whitson is the first woman to command a space station crew. Both flew together in 2002, when Melroy served as a shuttle pilot and Whitson was a space station flight engineer, and they clearly enjoyed greeting each other again in orbit, smiling and laughing as they embraced in the lab module.
A few moments later, Whitson welcomed the rest of the shuttle crew aboard - pilot George Zamka, flight engineer Stephanie Wilson, Doug Wheelock, Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Parazynski and Dan Tani, who launched aboard Discovery as Anderson's replacement.
After the brief "meet and greet" in the lab module, all 10 shuttle-station crew members floated back to the Russian Zvezda command module for a quick safety briefing before pressing on with a full day of work.
"Obviously, I'm delighted to be flying in space with Peggy again," Melroy said before launch. "She was on Expedition 5 when I was on STS-112 and we worked together in space and had a wonderful time and developed a great friendship. So this is a really special event for us. I think it is just indicative that there are enough women in the program that coincidentally this can happen. And that is a wonderful thing. It says a lot about the first 50 years of spaceflight that this is where we're at. I look forward to the next 50 and many future women commanders, including one going to the moon, I hope."
Following the safety briefing, Tani moved his custom Soyuz seat-liner from the shuttle to the station and officially replaced Anderson as Expedition 16 flight engineer No. 2. The seat liner will permit Tani to land aboard a Soyuz in an emergency.
"Houston, Alpha, on the big loop from the new FE-2, just to let you know, IELK (seat-liner) is installed and I have to send out my 'I have moved' card," Tani radioed from the Destiny module, starting his first day as a station crew member.
"And Houston copies, Dan, welcome aboard as Expedition 16 FE-2."
"Thanks very much, feels great and glad to be part of the crew here."
"And Houston on the big loop, he's behind already one month in rent," joked Anderson, now a shuttle crew member. Anderson was launched to the outpost aboard the shuttle Atlantis last June and as of today has logged 139 days in space.
Anderson and Wilson were in the process of using the station's robot arm to latch onto the shuttle's 50-foot-long heat shield inspection boom. After pulling it from the cargo bay, the station arm will hand the boom off to the shuttle arm for use Friday and later in the mission.
"Big ticket items still remaining on the crew's day today, now that the vehicles are mated we'll power up the system we use to transfer power from the station to the shuttle," LaBrode said. "We'll activate that and do a checkout of that system. We also need to grapple the orbiter boom sensor system, and they'll do that with the station arm because the shuttle arm can't reach it any longer after the mating. We'll grab it with the station arm and then we'll hand it off to the shuttle arm. We have to do that in preparation for tomorrow's activities, where the Harmony module is unberthed and installed on ... the international space station. There are clearance issues with the boom in its stowed location."
The primary goals of Discovery's mission are to install Harmony, a multi-hatch module that will serve as the gateway for European and Japanese research modules, and to move a 35,000-pound solar array truss segment to the far left end of the station's main power beam. Five spacewalks are planned, including one to test a promising heat shield repair technique.
Parazynski and Wheelock plan to stage the first excursion early Friday to help temporarily mount Harmony on the left port of the central Unity module. Both astronauts plan to spend the night in the station's airlock at a reduced pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams. The so-called "campout" procedure is part of a process that helps prevent the bends after working in NASA's low-pressure spacesuits.
Friday's spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 6:28 a.m. and end a few minutes after 1 p.m.
After Discovery departs, the station crew will detach the shuttle docking port from the front of the Destiny module, attach it to Harmony and then move the mated Harmony/docking port back to the front of Destiny. Whitson and Tani plan two spacewalks in November to connect Harmony to the station's main power and cooling systems, setting the stage for delivery of the European Columbus research lab in December.