Discovery's seven-member crew will link up with the International Space Station on Monday to begin a complex, week-long stay that will rewire the outpost and increase its power supply. During three spacewalks and intricate choreography with ground controllers, the astronauts will bring electrical power on line generated by a giant solar array wing delivered to the station in September.
Aboard Discovery are Commander Mark Polansky, Pilot Bill Oefelein, and mission specialists Nicholas Patrick, Joan Higginbotham, Bob Curbeam, Sunita Williams and Christer Fuglesang, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut. Aboard the station awaiting Discovery's arrival are Expedition 14 Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria and flight engineers Mikhail Tyurin and Thomas Reiter, also an ESA astronaut.
Williams and Reiter will switch places when Discovery arrives. Williams will begin a six-month stay as a station crew member and Reiter will journey home on Discovery. Reiter has been on the station since July.
After reaching orbit tonight, Discovery's crew began procedures to open the shuttle’s payload bay doors and set up computers and other equipment. They also plan to power up the shuttle's robotic arm to check its operation. They will use the arm on Sunday to inspect Discovery's heat shield. On Monday, Discovery is planned to dock to the station at about 3:47 p.m. CST.
During the mission, Fuglesang and Curbeam will conduct two spacewalks. Williams and Curbeam will perform a third spacewalk. The mission will retract one solar array on the station and begin the rotation of a giant joint on the complex to allow the recently added arrays to track the sun. The astronauts will rearrange the power cabling to a more resilient permanent setup, and they will prepare for the startup of new cooling systems.
Mission Control will power down virtually the entire station at one point or another to prepare it for the crew's work. The results will ready the complex for more solar arrays and laboratories to be added next year.
As Discovery launched, the station was 220 miles above southern England near Southampton. Discovery's crew begins a sleep period at 1:47 a.m. CST Sunday and will awaken for their first full day in space at 9:47 a.m. CST Sunday.