Monday, August 31, 2009

Live in Orbit: Crew set to move "moving van"

Seven Discovery astronauts woke up this morning to the Gloria Estefan tune "Mi Tierra," played for mission specialist Jose Hernandez.

Hernandez will help supervise the unloading of more than 15,000 pounds of supplies and equipment from the giant cargo canister called Leonardo, which Discovery's crew will hoist from the payload bay and attach to the International Space Station later today.

Managers gave the go-ahead for that job earlier today after determining that no further inspection was required to parts of the starboard wing's heat shield.

Leonardo - officially called a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, or MPLM, and commonly called a "moving van" - would have blocked the shuttle's scanning devices from reaching that portion of the orbiter.

Analysis is ongoing of the rest of the shuttle's heat shield, including tiles covering its belly that were photographed as Discovery approached the station Sunday and performed a back flip.

The shuttle crew has some off-duty time to start the day.

Starting around 3:30 p.m. EDT, shuttle pilot Kevin Ford and Mike Barratt, a flight engineer on the station's Expedition 20 crew, will grab Leonard with the station's 58-foot robotic arm.

They'll maneuver the 21-foot long cylinder, which measures 15 feet in diameter, to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony node.

The crew won't access the contents inside until about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Those contents include about 1,000 pounds of food, an air purification system, a sleeping station and a treadmill named for cable TV comedian Stephen Colbert - all needed to support the outpost's crew of six.

That crew now includes former KSC engineer Nicole Stott, who rode up on Discovery and swapped places with Tim Kopra.

Also inside Leonardo are two stations for materials and fluids research, and a freezer for storing biological samples before their return to Earth.

NASA considers this mission a turning point from the station's construction phase, which began more than 10 years ago, to its full use as a national science lab.

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