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Discovery set to freight Japanese science lab to ISS

by Staff Writers
Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP) May 31, 2008
All systems were go early Saturday ahead of a launch of the US space shuttle Discovery that will carry the main unit of Japan's ambitious Kibo science lab to the International Space Station.

The shuttle stood gleaming on the launchpad at the Kenndy Space Center here late Friday as NASA engineers continued to check over the equipment and prepare for the next step, fueling up the massive rockets in the morning.

The forecast was for fair weather for the blastoff scheduled for 17:02 (2102 GMT) Saturday afternoon, NASA officials said.

Isolated coastal showers could be expected in the area during the morning hours, the officials said, but a sea breeze will develop in the afternoon, clearing the coast and causing any showers to move inland.

There is an 80 percent chance of favorable weather at launch time.

"Discovery and crew are ready to fly," said National Aeronautics and Space Administration shuttle test manager Jeff Spaulding on Friday. "All of our systems are in great shape. We are tracking no issues."

Scores of Japanese officials and a huge contingent from the Japanese press were on hand for the start of the 14-day mission, which will see Kibo's massive pressure module (JPM) delivered and installed on the orbiting station.

When in place, it will be the single largest room on the station (ISS), with space for four scientists to work.

Also being carried up to the ISS on Discovery are much-needed parts for the Russian toilet there, which partially failed this week forcing the three astronauts living on the station to use the bathroom on the Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station.

Going up as well, NASA said Friday, was 30 centimeter- (12 inch-) tall Buzz Lightyear, the astronaut in the animated Disney hit "Toy Story." The action figure is being sent up to herald an educational program aimed at encouraging children to pursue science studies. An interactive program for kids at NASA's website launches Saturday, along with the shuttle.

The seven Discovery crew -- six men, one woman; two with shuttle experience and five without -- were to be awakened at 6:30 am Saturday to prepare for the launch. Shuttle commander Mark Kelly spent part of Friday screaming around the Kennedy Space Center in a jet used as a shuttle training aircraft.

The crew will include a replacement astronaut for the ISS, with US robotics specialist Greg Chamitoff stepping in for another American, Garrett Reisman, who will return to Earth after three months at the station.

Three spacewalks are also planned for the mission, including one in which an astronaut will attach himself to a massive robotic arm for a soaring, 20-minute ride through space to replace a depleted nitrogen tank, in a giant arc NASA officials described as a "windshield wiper motion."

"It will be a pretty spectacular ride," said spacewalker and mission specialist Ronald Garan, 46.

The centerpiece of the mission will be the delivery and installation of the bus-sized Japanese laboratory, which measures 11.2 meters (36.7 feet) and weighs 14.8 tonnes (32,600 pounds).

Installation of the JPM will be overseen by Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, also flying aboard Discovery.

It is the second of three missions to take up key components of Kibo -- "Hope" in Japanese -- which will host experiments in space medicine, biology and biotechnology, material production, and communications.

Another piece of equipment of the 2.8-billion-dollar Japanese contribution to the ISS, a 10-meter (33-foot) robotic arm, is also going up with the Discovery, for use in Kibo experiments and maintenance tasks.

Kibo's third main section, a "terrace" outside the JPM completely exposed to outer space, is to be delivered by a shuttle flight in March 2009.

When fully assembled, Kibo will complete the architecture of the ISS, built together with the United States, Russia and Europe.

Astronauts will also inspect damage to a key joint that helps the station's power-generating solar arrays to follow the sun, and complete toilet repairs aboard the ISS.

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NASA packs new toilet parts on shuttle for ISS
Washington (AFP) May 28, 2008
NASA stowed replacement parts aboard the Discovery shuttle Thursday to be sent up to the International Space station to fix its broken Russian toilet, the US space agency said.

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