The Progress, attached to the docking port at the rear of the Zvezda service module, is the fifth to visit the station. It will undock at 10:06 a.m. CST Thursday, to be deorbited and burn up in the atmosphere with its load of trash and unneeded equipment. Its undocking makes room for Progress 6, scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:24 p.m. CST Monday. The new Progress, filled with fresh supplies, is planned to dock to the station at 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
The Expedition Three trio also began preparations for their return home after about four months in space. They began packing up gear and readying station equipment in anticipation of the arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour, targeted for a launch to the space station from Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 29 at 6:41 p.m. CST on the STS-108 mission. Endeavour is commanded by Dom Gorie. Pilot is Mark Kelly and Mission Specialists are Linda Godwin and Dan Tani.
The major purpose of the mission is bring the Expedition Four crew, cosmonaut and Commander Yury Onufrienko and Astronauts Dan Bursch and Carl Walz, to the station and bring home Expedition Three. Also during the flight, Godwin and Tani will do a spacewalk to install thermal blankets over the station's beta gimbal assemblies of the orbiting laboratory's solar wings, which stretch 240 feet from tip to tip. The assemblies let the wings track the sun to provide maximum power.
Flight controllers at Houston's Mission Control Center have seen in those mechanisms occasional unexpected surges in the power required to turn the wings. They believe the surges are related to extreme temperature swings that occur as the station moves in and out of direct sunlight. Installation of the blankets is expected to reduce the temperature fluctuations and eliminate the "power spikes" seen as the wings pivot.
The spacewalkers will go out of Endeavour's airlock, then get a 50-foot lift from the shuttle's robotic arm. They will have to climb with the blankets another 30 feet to the worksite, atop the P6 Truss and about 80 feet from Endeavour's cargo bay.
With systems operating normally, the station is orbiting at an average altitude of 247 statute miles (397 km).
Human physiology experiments continue to be a focus of crew science activities as the crew prepares for its return home. Autonomous microgravity materials research continued to accumulate scientific experiment run time hours in a variety of disciplines. Overall coordination of the research is the responsibility of the Payload Operations Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The Human Research Facility is managed by the Johnson Space Center.