Shuttle Discovery reaches space station

* Shuttle brings supplies and equipment for space station

* Astronauts navigate with backup systems after glitch

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 7 (BestGrowthStock) – Space shuttle
Discovery arrived at the International Space Station on
Wednesday for one of NASA’s last servicing and resupply runs
before the fleet is retired later this year.

Discovery commander Alan Poindexter and his six crewmates,
including Japan’s rookie astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, reached the
orbital space base at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT) as the ships
sailed 215 miles (346 km) above the Caribbean Sea.

The astronauts used backup systems, including star trackers
and hand-held lasers, to navigate to the station due to the
loss of the shuttle’s primary Ku-band communications system,
which took out the ship’s radars, television and main data
relay.

One of the crew’s first tasks will be to borrow the space
station’s communications lines to radio videotapes of their
heat shield inspection on Tuesday to Mission Control center in
Houston for analysis.

The inspection is part of the upgraded safety procedures
implemented after the 2003 Columbia disaster, which killed
seven astronauts. The shuttle broke apart during its return to
Earth due to an undetected hole in its heat shield.

Before parking at the station, Poindexter slowly
back-flipped the shuttle so astronauts aboard the station could
photograph Discovery’s belly, which was not part of Tuesday’s
inspection. The images will be sent to ground control teams for
analysis as well.

The loss of the shuttle’s main communications system is not
expected to adversely impact Discovery’s mission, though flight
directors have had to revamp some procedures, said LeRoy Cain,
head of NASA’s mission management team.

The shuttle is carrying an Italian-built cargo pod filled
with 17,000 pounds (7,700 kgs) of equipment and supplies for
the station. NASA plans three more missions to the outpost
before it retires Discovery and sister ships Atlantis and
Endeavour due to cost and safety issues.

The Obama administration wants to cancel a planned
follow-on program to send astronauts back to the moon, saying
the $108 billion project, known as Constellation, was too
expensive and lacked cache.

The president plans to hold a space summit at or near the
Kennedy Space Center on April 15 to build support for a
revamped space exploration initiative that initially will be
focused on technology developments needed to send people to
Mars.

The new plan also extends the life of the space station, a
$100 billion project of 16 nations that has been under
construction since 1998, to at least 2020.

The six-member station crew is led by Russian cosmonaut
Oleg Kotov, and includes Japan’s Soichi Noguchi.

The shuttle, which is scheduled to spend nine days at the
station, is due back at the Kennedy Space Center on April 18.

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(Editing by Eric Beech)

Shuttle Discovery reaches space station