Commander Brian Duffy, Pilot Pam Melroy and Mission Specialists Leroy Chiao, Bill McArthur, Jeff Wisoff, Mike Lopez-Alegria and Koichi Wakata rocketed away from Launch Pad 39-A at 6:17 p.m. Central time, lighting up the central Florida skies as they began their pursuit of the international complex. At the time of launch, the ISS was orbiting at an altitude of about 230 statute miles over the Indian Ocean, east of India.
Less than nine minutes after liftoff, Discovery's astronauts went to work to prepare the Shuttle's systems for their planned 11-day mission. The first major task on the flight plan was to open Discovery's cargo bay doors prior to receiving a "go" for orbital operations from Ascent Flight Director Wayne Hale. The astronauts are expected to set up computers and flight deck gear before beginning an eight-hour sleep period at 11:17 p.m. Central time. The crew will be awakened at 7:17 a.m. Thursday morning to begin its first full day in space.
With this evening's successful launch behind them, Discovery's astronauts will turn their attention to their chase of the International Space Station, performing several firings of the ship's jet thrusters over the next two days to set up a docking with the outpost on Friday at 12:43 p.m. Central time. Over the ensuing week, the crew will install the so-called Z1 truss structure and a third Pressurized Mating Adapter to the Unity module and will perform four space walks to electrically connect the new components.
The Station itself continues to orbit the Earth every 90 minutes in good shape with the exception of two sets of batteries in the Zvezda Service Module which have been disconnected from the module's electrical system because of suspected problems with voltage converters. Battery component spares are expected to be launched on the next unmanned Progress resupply ship to the ISS in November for installation by the first resident crew. Meanwhile, Zvezda is operating normally on six healthy batteries with more than enough electrical power for ISS systems.
After an engine firing to circularize its orbit, Discovery will be flying at an altitude of about 190 statute miles in pursuit of the international station and its linkup Friday afternoon.