HOUSTON - After delivering tons of new equipment and, supplies and fresh food to the International Space Station (ISS), the crew of the space shuttle Discovery packed up their cargo pod and returned it to the shuttle's payload bay for the trip back to Earth.
Discovery astronaut Wendy Lawrence, an STS-114 mission specialist, and pilot James Kelly deftly placed the Italian-built Raffaello cargo module back into its berth aboard the shuttle after a week of unpacking supplies for the ISS and stowing trash, unneeded equipment and the personal effects left onboard the station by previous crewmembers.
The move sets the stage for Discovery's departure from the ISS, which is scheduled to begin Saturday at 3:22 a.m. EDT (0722 GMT). The shuttle and its STS-114 crew are scheduled to land at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Aug. 8.
Altogether, Discovery hauled about six tons (12,107 pounds) of new equipment up to the International Space Station (ISS), though only 3,768 pounds were tucked away onboard Raffaello, which is one of four Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules used to ferry supplies to the station aboard U.S. shuttles. Discovery also carried about 1,394 pounds of cargo earmarked for the ISS in its middeck. The rest of the cargo, a new control moment gyroscope, spare parts platform and their related cables, were installed outside the ISS over the course of three spacewalks.
Discovery is the first shuttle to resupply the ISS since the Endeavour orbiter docked at the station on Nov. 25, 2002. The loss of the Columbia orbiter and its seven-astronaut crew on Feb. 1, 2003 prompted NASA to ground its three remaining shuttles and spend two and half years redesigning shuttle external tanks and developing new tools for orbiter safety. Columbia was brought down by a 1.67-pound piece of external tank foam that pulled free during launch and damaged the orbiter's heat shield.
In the interim, only Russian Progress cargo ships and Soyuz spacecraft delivered fresh crews and supplies to the ISS.
After Discovery's launch, at least three pieces of external tank foam - the largest weighing about a pound - fell from the orbiter's external tank, disappointing the shuttle's astronauts and mission managers who had hoped they had solve d the problem. Shuttle officials grounded future launches until they understand and solve the new foam loss problem.
To prepare for another potential delay between shuttle resupply flight to the ISS, STS-114 mission controllers gave Discovery and the space station crew an extra day of docked operations to allow more time to collect spare parts and other items around the shuttle to leave onboard the orbital laboratory.
Laptop computers, additional water, spare exercise equipment parts and tools were among the added few hundred pounds that Discovery's crew pulled from
"The most important thing, I think, are the laptop computers," said Mark Ferring, lead ISS flight director during the STS-114 mission, earlier this week. "We're going to steal most of those computers that the shuttle has."
Laptop computers are the sole display and control devices aboard the ISS, and some of the station machines have experienced screen problems, station officials have said.
Batteries, spacewalk and cabin tools and water were also on the docket for the additional transfer, Ferring said.
Later today, Discovery astronauts will wield both the station and shuttle robotic arms to hand off the orbiter's 50-foot (15-meter) inspection boom for stowage inside the payload bay.
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