Shuttle Discovery, Cargo Prepared for December Spaceflight
The orbiter Discovery is suspended vertically above the floor of the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building in preparation for NASA's STS-116 mission.
Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller.

The pieces are coming together for NASA's next shuttle mission as workers hoisted the space agency's Discovery orbiter towards its flight position today.

Work crews hauled Discovery into a vertical position by crane inside NASA's cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) spaceport in Florida. There, the 122-foot (37-meter) orbiter will be mated to the external fuel tank and rocket boosters [image] that will aid its planned Dec. 7 launch towards the International Space Station (ISS).

"Everything is going smoothly," NASA KSC spokesperson Jessica Rye told SPACE.com, adding that shuttle workers want to make sure nothing is moving on the orbiter before they connect it to the external tank [image].

Discovery's STS-116 mission, commanded by veteran shuttle flyer Mark Polansky, will ferry a SPACEHAB cargo module and a new ISS segment--the Port 5 (P5) truss--to the orbital outpost in what is expected to be NASA's third shuttle flight this year. The STS-116 crew will also stage several spacewalks to rewire the station's electrical grid.

The Tuesday shuttle move was delayed several hours to allow time additional landing gear inspections, NASA official said.

Discovery rolled out of its hangar-like Orbiter Processing Facility Tuesday night at about 9:23 p.m. EST (0223 Nov. 1 GMT), making the short trip to the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building in about 34 minutes, Rye added.

Shuttle workers are expected to spend about a week mating Discovery to its launch stack and checking their work before the entire assembly and its Mobile Launch Platform are hauled to Pad 39B.

Meanwhile, a team of cargo specialists have installed the 4,110-pound (1,864-kilogram) P5 truss [image] into a container for later transport to Discovery's Pad 39B launch site. A SPACEHAB cargo pod will be placed into the canister on Nov. 4, with both elements due for delivery to the Pad 39B's payload changeout room on Nov. 6, NASA officials said.

The P5 truss runs about 11 feet (3.3 meters) in length and 14 feet (4.2 meters) in width and height. The Boeing-built segment is destined for installation on the outboard edge of the space station's Port 3/Port 4 (P3/P4) truss, which NASA's STS-115 shuttle crew delivered last month. P5 is designed to serve as both a truss spacer and conduit to allow power, cooling and other vital systems to reach outer ISS segments.

Polansky and his STS-116 crewmates examined their shuttle and launch stack last month, and are completing final training simulations for their planned December space shot.

"We are really pleased with all the work that everyone has been doing to support us," STS-116 mission specialist Joan Higginbotham told SPACE.com in a recent interview.

  • Mission Discovery: The ISS Rewiring Job of NASA's STS-116
  • Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage
  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 14
  • The Great Space Quiz: Space Shuttle Countdown