Saturday, February 26, 2011

Docking day for Discovery

Two days after launching from Kennedy Space Center, six Discovery astronauts today plan to hitch their wagon to the International Space Station for at least a week.

The orbiter making its final flight is scheduled to dock at the outpost 220 miles above Earth around 2:15 p.m. EST, arriving for the 13th and last time.

Discovery's 13th and last station visit will complete an orbital roundup of all the spacecraft that currently fly to the station, with Russia's Soyuz and Progress vehicles, Japan's HTV and Europe's ATV already docked there.

That was the theme of this morning's 6:53 a.m. EST wake-up call to the crew, "Woody's Roundup" by Riders in the Sky, a Western ditty from the movie "Toy Story," played for Discovery mission specialist and spacewalker Alvin Drew.

"It seems pretty appropriate today that we're having our own roundup at the space station with about as many different visiting vehicle as you can imagine, and getting together with our crewmates aboard space station today," said Drew. "So we're looking forward to our own roundup and will perform well today."

"The space station guys and gals are all excited about you coming aboard," replied Mike Massimino, the astronaut communicating with the crew from Houston.

An engine burn around 11:30 a.m. will put Discovery on course for the rendezvous.

After closing within 600 feet beneath the station, commander Steve Lindsey will guide the orbiter through a backflip so station resident can shoot pictures of its underside, the next step in the heat shield inspection process.

Discovery will then swing in front of the station and back into its Harmony node, joining the other docked spacecraft.

Hatches will open about two hours later to allow the Discovery astronauts inside the station, doubling its population to a dozen cosmonauts and astronauts.

The crews will quickly get to work, removing a pallet holding a spare radiator from Discovery's payload bay and installing on the station in a series of handoffs between robotic arms.

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