HOUSTON - NASA officially extended the flight of its first space shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster, giving astronauts an extra day at the International Space Station (ISS) to move spare equipment and water into the orbital facility.
The space shuttle Discovery will stay docked while its STS-114 crew cobbles together excess shuttle supplies for transfer into the station, mission managers said during a Saturday briefing.
"We'll sure appreciate getting that extra day," said NASA space station program manager William Gerstenmaier during the briefing here at Johnson Space Center (JSC).
The extra time will allow Discovery's crew to gather a few hundred pounds of items from around the spacecraft - including laptop computers, tools, pens, paper, printers and an additional 20-day supply of water - for use on the ISS since the STS-114 mission may be the last shuttle flight to visit the ISS until NASA solves an external tank foam shedding problem seen during the orbiter's July 26 launch.
But that debris issue should not affect Discovery's Earth return, now set for the early morning hours of Aug. 8.
During the briefing, NASA deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale also said that Discovery's heat-resistant ceramic tiles and a loose thermal blanket have been given a clean bill of health.
That clears 90 percent of Discovery for the return flight to Earth, with the final analyses of its wing leading edges expected Sunday to be followed a day later by aerodynamics reports on a pair of gap fillers jutting out from between the orbiter's belly-mounted tiles, he added.
"The orbiter is performing nearly flawlessly," Hale said. "The crew is performing in just an awesome manner...we had an outstanding EVA."
Earlier today, STS-114 mission specialists Soichi Noguchi and Stephen Robinson performed a six-hour and 50-minute spacewalk to test heat shield repair methods and perform ISS maintenance.
Discovery's STS-114 flight is NASA's first shuttle mission since the loss of the seven STS-107 astronauts aboard Columbia, which broke apart over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003.
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