HOUSTON - The International Space Station (ISS) received a special delivery Friday after astronauts successfully installed a fresh cargo module ferried into orbit by the space shuttle Discovery.
Discovery pilot James Kelly and mission specialist Wendy Lawrence eased the Italian-built cargo carrier Raffaello, a sort of portable pantry filled with two tons of supplies, to a port on the nadir side of the station's Unity module at 4:05 a.m. EDT (0805 GMT).
"Thanks for the great work," Kelly said to flight controllers.
Kelly and Lawrence used the space station's Canadarm2 to grapple Raffaello at about 1:57 a.m. EDT (0557 GMT) today, and plucked it from Discovery's payload bay just over an hour later. A minor computer glitch, prompting Kelly to reboot the robotics station aboard the ISS and swap out a laptop computer, briefly delayed the operation.
Aside from the computer glitch, Raffaello's berthing at the Unity module went smoothly.
Discovery mission specialists Soichi Noguchi and Stephen Robinson - wearing hardhats in honor of the space construction work - assisted in the operation.
One of four Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM) built by the Italian Space Agency, Raffaello contains 12 racks full of new research hardware, food, clothing and other supplies needed by the space station crew. Among the cargo's highlights is the Human Research Facility rack 2 (HRF-2) to bolster biomedical research aboard the space station.
The two tons of cargo inside Raffaello are just a fraction of the total 15 tons of supplies Discovery is hauling to the ISS. The space shuttle is the sole transport capable of delivering large payloads to the ISS, though Russian Progress and Soyuz spacecraft delivered new crews and supply ships to the station about every six months.
The Russian launches were key to the space station's continued manned operations following the 2003 Columbia disaster that grounded NASA's shuttle fleet until Discovery's flight. Discovery launched spaceward on July 26 with veteran astronaut Eileen Collins in command. Foam loss from the orbiter's external tank, the same type of problem that doomed Columbia and its crew, prompted NASA to suspend subsequent launches until the issue is rectified.
In response, Collins and her crew may try to leave the station with additional supplies, such as extra water produced by Discovery's fuel cells, though those discussions are still ongoing, NASA officials said.
Lawrence is serving as the loadmaster for STS-114 spaceflight, and will oversee the cargo transfer into the ISS as well as the transport of unnecessary materials back into Raffaello for a return trip to Earth.
Space shuttle and ISS astronauts are expected to activate the Raffaello module at about 8:45 a.m. EDT (1245 GMT) today. The first astronauts should enter the cargo pod at about than 10:49 a.m. EDT (1449 GMT).
Later today, Discovery's crew will take time to speak with radio reporters and perform additional inspections of their spacecraft using the shuttle's orbital inspection boom. NASA has identified 11 areas - two of which will be deferred until Saturday - for follow-up inspections based on imagery taken ISS astronauts and a previous boom inspection conducted by Discovery mission specialists Andrew Thomas and Charles Camarda, and Kelly.
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