HOUSTON - The seven astronauts aboard NASA'sspace shuttle Discovery will begin their third day in orbit on their own today, but willend it with friends once they dock at the InternationalSpace Station (ISS).
Discovery'sSTS-121astronaut crew is set to arrive at the space station at about 10:52 a.m.EDT (1452 GMT) during a docking that is eagerly awaited by ISS Expedition13 commander PavelVinogradov and flight engineer JeffreyWilliams. The two spacecraft crews will meet at the end of a two-day tripfor Discovery that began at launchon July 4.
"Obviously,that will be a good time," Williams said earlier of the prospectof having nine people living aboard the ISS.
Vinogradovand Williams were able to watch Discovery's STS-121 mission launchinto orbit via a television hook-up, but have had a busy few days preparingtheir orbital home for its first human guests of Expedition 13. They not onlymade space for the fresh supplies Discovery is bringing to the station, butalso sorted out trash or unneeded material to make the return trip to Earth.
"It's verycrowded on the station and stowage is an issue," Williams said before Discovery'sflight. "So we also need to get a lot of stuff off."
Last week,the space station astronauts also welcomed an unmanned Russian cargo ship - Progress22 - which docked at the aft end of the orbital lab's Zvezda service moduleon June 26 with its own shipment of cargo to be sorted and stowed.
"We willhave to work hard, but it is a pleasure dealing with this challenge,"Vinogradov said.
Led by veteranspaceflyer StevenLindsey, the STS-121 Discovery crew is hauling well more than 5,000 pounds (2,267kilograms)of food, equipment, spare parts and other supplies to the ISS. Also aboard is thirdISS crewmember - European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut ThomasReiter of Germany - to return to station back to a full crew. ISScrewswere scaled down to two astronauts, beginning with Expedition 7in April 2003, after NASA's Columbiashuttle tragedy.
Williams said he's looking forward to the STS-121 crew's arrival, not the least of which because the shuttle contains astronauts from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Williams himself is an Army man.
"Steve Lindsey has asked if he could bring an Air Force banner," Williams said before the STS-121 crew launched into orbit. "I welcome all of that kind of thing. It's a lot of fun and good sport, plus we have football season coming soon so we're looking forward to that kind of rivalry."
Photoinspection on tap
BeforeDiscovery can dock at the ISS, the Expedition 13 crew must complete aphotographic survey of the shuttle's tile-lined belly.
Usinghigh-resolution digital cameras, Vinogradov and Williams will each snap apreset series of photographs of Discovery's heat-resistant tiles as Lindsey guidesthe shuttle through a back flip known in NASA circles as the Rendezvous PitchManeuver.
Discoverywill be about 600 feet (182 meters) from the ISS when Lindsey puts the shuttle throughits orbital acrobatics at about 9:52 a.m. EDT (1352 GMT). Vinogradov andWilliams will use 800 mm and 400 mm digital still cameras to photographDiscovery's tile-lined undercarriage at resolutions of between one and threeinches, respectively.
Imageanalysts on the ground will pore through those photographs to determine if anyof the numerous small black tiles along Discovery's undercarriage were damagedby debris during launch.
"We'll haveour early assessment of the underside of the vehicle, the tiles of the vehicle,"said John Shannon, NASA's deputy shuttle program manager, of the plannedRendezvous Pitch Maneuver photography during a Wednesday press briefing here at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Third astronaut'sa charm
Alsobearing down on the ISS along with Discovery is Reiter, a German astronaut andthe first non-U.S. or Russian spaceflyer to take an extended flight to theorbital research laboratory.
But Reiter'sstatus as the third member of Expedition 13 won't be final until his Soyuz seatliner is transferred into place aboard the Russian-built Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraftthat brought Vinogradov and Williams to the ISS on April 1.
"As soon asmy seat liner is there, I will be an official member of the station crew,"Reiter said in a NASA preflight interview.
Transferringthe seat liner is one of Reiter's first activities and currently scheduled tooccur at 2:02 p.m. EDT (1802 GMT).
Reiter isexpected to serve aboard the ISS through the remainder of the Expedition 13mission and the first half of the Expedition14 mission, which is currently set to launch on Sept. 16. He is also slatedto return to Earth in December during Discovery's STS-116 shuttle mission, NASAsaid.
"Ithink this moment signifies that we are getting back on track, if I may say so,"Reiter said before launch. "There has been an interruption of three years whereonly two people were working on board the station, and now we are actually backin a state that we can continue with the assembly."
NASAwill broadcast Discovery's ISS docking beginning at 5:08 a.m. EDT (0908 GMT). Youare invited to follow along with the STS-121 and Expedition 13 crews using SPACE.com's NASATV feed, which is available by clicking here.
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