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Shuttle 'houseguests' arrive for a weeklong visit

December 12, 2006|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

The shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station at 2:12 p.m. PST Monday, beginning a weeklong visit to deliver a major structural component, rewire the station's electrical system and deliver astronaut Sunita Williams for her six-month stay in the orbiting laboratory.

Two days after the craft's spectacular nighttime launch from Kennedy Space Center, its commander, Mark Polansky, eased the orbiter's docking port against the space station's port high over Southeast Asia.

"You've got a resident and six houseguests that are ready to come aboard," Polansky radioed the space station.

The station's commander, NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, responded: "You guys won't even have to wipe your feet when you come in."

Five of the seven astronauts are making their first visit to the station.

An hour before docking, Polansky flipped the shuttle over to expose its belly to the station so crew members could photograph the heat shield tiles crucial for the craft's scheduled reentry Dec. 21.

The digital photos were transmitted to the ground for closer examination. There was no immediate indication of any damage to the shuttle or its tiles from insulating foam or ice breaking free during launch.

An hour after docking, the two crews opened their airlock doors and the shuttle astronauts boarded the station. Williams joined Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin as part of the 14th crew to reside in the laboratory.

She replaces the European Space Agency's Thomas Reiter, who will return to Earth with the shuttle crew.

After a good night's sleep, the crew was scheduled to begin the first of the mission's three scheduled spacewalks at 12:42 p.m. today to begin installing the 2-ton, $11-million P5 truss that will support two sets of solar panels delivered by the shuttle Atlantis in September, and two more sets to be delivered in a future mission.

During the crew's seven-day stay at the space station, they will also rewire the station's electrical system to connect the solar panels. The extra power will be needed to accommodate new station modules built by Japan and Europe that will be delivered into orbit next year.

The crew will also deactivate the station's temporary cooling system and activate a permanent one.

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thomas.maugh@latimes.com

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