March 19, 2009

ISS Crew Prepares For Final Solar Panel Install

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station on Thursday prepared for the first of three spacewalks to take place in order to install the final pair of solar wings to the orbiting outpost.

The first spacewalk will be conducted by crewmembers Steven Swanson and Richard Arnold II. They will install new folded-up solar panels that will almost double the amount of power on the ISS so that more crewmembers will be able to board the laboratory for longer periods of time. Robotic arm operators in the station will move the 31,000-pound segment into position, NASA said.

"As the crew prepared for the first spacewalk to assist with the truss installation, Mission Control radioed that no further inspection of Discovery's heat shield is necessary clearing the way for an earlier deployment of the solar wings Friday," NASA said.

Space shuttle Discovery docked with the space station at 2119 GMT Tuesday for the crew's 13-day mission, which will also include the installation of including a replacement machine that converts urine into drinking water.

Discovery left the Kennedy Space Center launch pad on Sunday. Launch director Mike Leinbach described Discovery's launch as "the most visually beautiful launch I've ever seen. It was just spectacular."

Discovery's launch was held back by five delays, and NASA was forced to scrap one of its initially planned spacewalks. In February, NASA had problems with Discovery's hydrogen valves, and then a hydrogen leak during fueling prevented launch Wednesday.

NASA mission managers told the AP they would still be able to complete 80 to 90 percent of the tasks they had planned.

"It's not a major setback to us," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, after Sunday evening's launch. "We're able to accomplish everything we want."

NASA said Discovery must return to Earth before a Russian Soyuz rocket launches on March 26 carrying a new set of crewmembers to the orbiting outpost.


Image Caption: The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by a STS-119 crewmember as Space Shuttle Discovery and the station approach each other during rendezvous and docking activities on flight day three. Docking occurred at 4:20 p.m. (CDT) on March 17, 2009, as the two spacecraft flew over Western Australia.


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