CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - While sevenastronauts prepare to ride NASA's Discovery shuttle toward the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) this week, the orbital laboratory's two-man crew isgearing up for the spacecraft's arrival.
ISS Expedition13 commander Pavel Vinogradov and flightengineer JeffreyWilliams said Tuesday that they welcome Discovery's planned July 3 docking,not the least of which because it will bring their first human visitors - and anew crewmember - to the station after three months of orbital work. NASA plansto launch Discovery on its STS-121mission on July 1at 3:49 p.m. EDT (1949 GMT).
"It's ahuge event," Williams told reporters here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC)via video link of the upcoming launch. "It's probably the capstone event of oursix months on orbit."
The STS-121shuttle mission is NASA's second orbiter test flight since the 2003 Columbia accident, whichled to the loss of one spacecraft and seven astronauts as they reentered theEarth's atmosphere. While the space agency has launchedone shuttle mission to the ISS since that tragedy - the STS-114 return to flight missionaboard Discovery - the size of space station crews have remained at their reduced,two-astronaut levels.
ButWilliams said the STS-121 spaceflight will change all that when it bringsEuropean Space Agency (ESA) astronaut ThomasReiter to the ISS. Reiter, who hails from Germany, is expected to serve alongside theExpedition 13 crew for three months, and then join the Expedition14 crew when it arrives at the station in September.
"Obviously,we'll have more crew time to dedicate to science and research, which is a greataddition to our capability," Williams said. "It puts us back on tack tocompleting the assembly of the space station and bringing it to fullutilization."
Vinogradovand Williams are also prepared to host the STS-121 crew, which is commanded byveteran shuttle commander StevenLindsey, for an extended stay should Discovery suffer critical damageduring launch and be unfit for the return trip. The plan, known as ContingencyShuttle Crew Support (CSCS) or safe haven, calls for shuttle crews to stayaboard the ISS until a rescue flight could be launched aboard a NASA orbiter orRussian Soyuz vehicle.
"That woulddefinitely be a difficult stage for us, however, our system will be able tosupport the entire crew," Vinogradov said. "We haveenough food, we won't have any doubts that we can'tcontinue working here."
Discovery'splanned July 3 docking at the ISS will mark the second spacecraft to visit theorbital research laboratory in one week. On June 26, an unmanned Russian cargo ship mooreditself to the station's Pirs docking compartmentto deliver 2.5 tons of new supplies and equipment.
The STS-121crew is also carrying a full load of cargo for the ISS crew, which will have tobe unpacked and stowed while Discovery is docked at the ISS.
"It is alittle bit difficult for us to perform the work, we will have to work hard, butit will be a pleasure to deal with this challenge," Vinogradovsaid. "It's always nice to accept crews of a vehicle, especially consideringthat our colleagues and friends are coming up."
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