ISS Piece, Microsatellites to Ride Aboard Discovery Shuttle

ISS Piece, Microsatellites to Ride Aboard Discovery Shuttle
With the payload successfully installed inside, the payload bay doors on the space Shuttle Discovery are closing in preparations for its STS-116 launch on Dec. 7. (Image credit: NASA.)

Sevenastronauts may be the most visible participants in NASA's planned launch of theshuttle Discovery this week,but the orbiter is also hauling a cargo bay full of vital supplies andcomponents to the InternationalSpace Station (ISS).

Ridinginside Discovery's 60-foot (18-meter) payload bay will be a pressurizedSPACEHAB cargo container, a spare parts platform also laden with ready-to-launchmicrosatellites, and--as the centerpiece--an $11-million addition for the spacestation's main truss.

"It's anexciting mission," Sharon Castle, NASA's launch package manager for Discovery'sSTS-116mission. "It's packed with everything."

Altogether,Discovery's STS-116astronauts will haul more than 5,000 pounds (2,267 kilograms) of internalcargo and 800 pounds (362 kilograms) of external hardware--not counting thetruss--to the ISS when their construction mission launches on Dec. 7. Theshuttle is expected to return some 4,400 pounds (1,195 kilograms) when its12-day mission returns to Earth.

One of themost precious of items sitting in Discovery's payload bay is the Port 5(P5) truss. The spacer-like addition fits at the portside (or leftmost) endof the space station's Port 3/Port4 (P3/P4) solar array segment, which arrived during September's STS-115shuttle flight.

"It's asmall structure compared to the other major elements," Chuck Hardison, ISS sitemanager for P5's builder Boeing, told "But its function isabsolutely critical."

With itsattached power and data lines, P5 is designed to serve as a bridge betweenP3/P4 and an older solar array that will be moved into position during a futureshuttle mission.

The4,110-pound (1,864-kilogram) P5 truss segment runs about 11 feet (3.3 meters)long, about 14 feet (4.5 meters) wide and stands about 13 feet (4.2 meters)high. The ISS segment arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in 2001, and nowsits between the SPACEHAB module and a cargo palette inside Discovery's cargobay.

"It lookedgreat out there in the payload bay," Hardison said, adding that he has alreadysaid his goodbye's to the boxy station piece. "We're really looking forward toseeing it go."

Castle saidthat a variety of supplies and spare parts are stuffed inside the SPACEHABmodule, which astronauts can reach via aconnection at Discovery's airlock. SPACEHAB, Inc. officials added that their module is filledwith crew provisions, such as food, spacewalking tools and health equipment.

Missionspecialist JoanHigginbotham will serve as Discovery's loadmaster to oversee cargo transferduring the STS-116 mission. She is also charged with launching a trio of small,experimental microsatellites currently stowed in a cylindrical containerattached to the SPACEHAB-built Integrated Cargo Carrier riding in the aft ofshuttle's cargo bay.

The cargocarrier is also laden with a series of debris panels that will shield the spacestation's Russian-built Zvezda service module from micrometeorite damage onceinstalled. The panels will be arranged in a configuration known as the"Christmas Tree" for delivery to the ISS exterior during a planned Dec. 14spacewalk.

"It'sappropriate that we're moving a Christmas tree around at that time of year,"STS-16 mission specialist NicholasPatrick said in a NASA interview. "I should add to that end, [it's]essentially a Christmas present for the space station."

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.