Monday, February 28, 2011

Discovery crew prepares for spacewalks

Space shuttle Discovery and International Space Station crew members greet each other on Saturday after the opening of the hatches between the spacecraft in this still image taken from NASA TV. Reuters/NASA TV

Discovery crew prepares for spacewalks

Twelve astronauts hustled Sunday to haul fresh supplies from space shuttle Discovery into the International Space station and got ready for Monday's spacewalk, the first of two planned for the week.

During Monday's outing Stephen Bowen, with five spacewalks already under his belt, and Alvin Drew will move a broken ammonia pump to a better storage area on the station's exterior and install an extension power cable. The cable extension needs to be hooked up before a chamber full of supplies can be installed permanently on the orbiting lab. The Italian-built compartment was carried up aboard Discovery to serve as an extra closet.

On Sunday, Mission Control told the shuttle fliers that Discovery made it through its final liftoff on Thursday relatively unscathed, and that no further inspections would be needed before undocking from the orbiting station next weekend.

NASA officials said they did not suspect any damage from a section of insulating foam that broke off the fuel tank and struck Discovery's belly. At least four pieces of debris came off the tank during Thursday's launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, though none posed a safety concern.

More than 300 digital photographs snapped from the space station during Discovery's close approach Saturday confirmed the shuttle's thermal armour is free of any serious deformities. The pictures still are being analyzed, but nothing worrisome has popped up, said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.

This is the last flight for Discovery, after 39 missions spread over 26 years. The shuttle will be retired when it returns to Earth in just over a week and sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Two shuttle launches remain by Endeavour in April and by Atlantis at the end of June.