August 31, 2009

NASA: Astronauts busy aboard the ISS

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have begun a week's work of joint operations that will include three spacewalks, NASA said.

Space shuttle Discovery docked with the space station at 8:54 p.m. EDT Saturday, delivering more than seven tons of cargo and a new crew member for the station and its Expedition 20 crew.

The space agency said the astronauts will, among other things, transfer 15,000 pounds of supplies to sustain the six-person crew on the station.

NASA said the astronauts Monday were to transfer the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module from Discovery's payload bay to the station's Harmony node.

Astronauts Nicole Stott and Tom Kopra swapped duties after the docking, with Stott handling flight engineer responsibilities aboard the station until her return home aboard space shuttle Atlantis during its STS-129 mission in November. Kopra is to return aboard Discovery Sept. 10 after 57 days in space.

The docking marked only the second time in history 13 people are on one spacecraft -- seven STS-128 astronauts and six Expedition 20 crew members -- and only the second time two European Space Agency astronauts -- Christer Fuglesang of Sweden and Frank De Winne of Belgium -- were on board the ISS.

The ESA said Fuglesang, during his first space trip in December 2006, was welcomed to the orbital outpost by Thomas Reiter of Germany -- the first ESA astronaut to be a member of an ISS Expedition crew.