Friday, February 18, 2011

Japanese Freighter Clears Way For Discovery

A robotic Japanese cargo carrier was moved from one port to another at the International Space Station today, clearing the way for the arrival next week of shuttle Discovery and an outpost assembly crew.

Operating the station's Canadian-built robot arm, station skipper Scott Kelly teamed up with U.S. astronaut Cady Coleman and Italian flight engineer Paulo Nespoli to move the 15-ton space freighter from a port on the bottom of the U.S. Harmony module to one on the top.

The painstakingly slow move started around 7 a.m. this morning and wrapped up just before noon.

"This was the first time we've done this operation so it was a big day for the crew," said NASA astronaut Terry Virts, head of the robotics branch within the NASA Astronaut Corps.

Discovery and its six-member crew are slated to launch next Thursday and then arrive at the station two days later. The Japanese HTV-2 vehicle docked at the nadir, or Earth-facing, port of the Harmony module in late January; the move to the zenith port cleared the way for Discovery to dock at the forward end of the Harmony module.

"That makes room for the shuttle," Virts said.

The arrival of Discovery will mark the first time all current "visiting vehicles" -- Russian Soyuz crew transports, Russian Progress cargo carriers, a European Automatic Transfer Vehicle and a Japanese HTV -- have been simultaneously docked at the outpost.

Two Soyuz spacecraft always are moored at the station and serve as emergency lifeboats. A Russian Progress and the Japanese HTV arrived at the outpost in late January and Europe's second ATV -- which launched this week from Guiana Space Center in South America -- is due at the station about six hours before Discovery's launch.

Discovery is slated for liftoff at 4:50 p.m. next Thursday.

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