Astronauts Pack Up Space Shuttle For Trip Home

Astronauts Pack Up Space Shuttle For Trip Home
An exterior camera reveals the space shuttle Discovery backlit by a bright blue Earth while docked at the International Space Station during the STS-128 mission. The Leonardo cargo module can be seen as the cylindrical pod to the right of Discovery in this view. (Image credit: NASA.)

Astronautsat the International Space Station closed up a portable cargo pod Monday andprepared to pack it aboard the visiting shuttle Discovery for the trip homethis week.

Shuttlecommander Rick Sturckow and his crew sealed the entry hatch to the cargo module - essentially amovingvan in space - and plan to return it to Discovery?s payload bay tonight usingthe station?s robotic arm.

Theastronauts delivered more than 8 tons of cargo to the station from the Italian-builtsupply module and Discovery over the last week. Before closing it Monday,they filled it with 2 tons of trash and other unneeded gear to be returned to Earth.

?All in all,it?s been a very successful mission,? shuttle astronaut Danny Olivas saidSunday in a televised interview. ?I think everybody here is in good spirits andwe are ready to finish up and come home.?

Discoveryand its seven-astronaut crew are due to undock from the space station Tuesdayafter just more than a week at the orbiting laboratory. Skywatchers in North America have multiplechances to spot theshuttle and station from Earth through Wednesday.

Packingup in space

Theshuttle launched Aug. 28 on a 13-day mission to deliver vital supplies,science experiment gear and a new crewmember - NASA astronaut Nicole Stott - tothe orbiting laboratory. Three spacewalks were performed to replace a largecoolant tank and upgrade station systems during the shuttle?s stay.

Theastronauts plan to pluck the cargo module, called Leonardo, free of the spacestation at about 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT) to stow it to Discovery?s payloadbay. At about 10:30 p.m. EDT( 0230 Sept. 8 GMT), all 13 astronauts aboard thelinked shuttle and station will hold a farewell ceremony before shutting thehatches between their spacecraft in preparation for tomorrow?s undocking.

Discovery?sastronauts also delivered a $5 million treadmill named after TVcomedian Stephen Colbert during the mission. Colbert won an online pollearlier this year to have a new space station room named after him thanks tothe help of fans of his Comedy Central show ?The Colbert Report.?

NASA,however, opted to name the new module Tranquility - after the Apollo 11 moonbase - to honor the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing in July1969. As a consolation prize, the space agency named the new station treadmillthe Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT.

Thetreadmill arrived in more than 100 pieces and will be assembled by Stott andher crewmates in late September after the arrival of a Japanesecargo ship at the station.

Stott is beginninga three-month mission to the station as a member of the outpost?s six-personcrew. She replaced fellow astronaut Tim Kopra, who will return home onDiscovery to wrap up his own two-month flight in space.

While Stottis ready to work in space, she?s also hoping to spend time gazing at the Earthand experimenting with painting during her free time.

?I?m goingto try some different things with watercolors and painting, and try and paintsome of the things that I see,? Stott said Monday in a televised interview. ??Idon?t know if it will be all that good, but it will certainly be fun for me totry.?

Discoveryis scheduled to land at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday.

SPACE.comis providing complete coverage of Discovery's STS-128 mission to theInternational Space Station with Managing Editor Tariq Malik and Staff WriterClara Moskowitz in New York. Clickhere for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.


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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.