Discovery Saturday. Shuttle Discovery zoomed toward a Saturday afternoon check-in at the International Space Station. It is the final visit before being parked at a museum.
“Your reservation has been confirmed,” Mission Control notified the six shuttle astronauts first thing Saturday morning.
Commander Steven Lindsey and his crew spotted the space station from 40 miles out. “Tally ho,” one of the astronauts exclaimed.
Discovery — making its final voyage — will spend at least a week at the orbiting outpost. It’s carrying a closet-style chamber full of supplies as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space.
The compartment will be attached permanently to the space station early next week.
Altogether, there will be 12 people aboard the linked spacecraft, representing the United States, Russia and Italy.
Before docking, Discovery will perform a slow 360-degree backflip so space station cameras can capture any signs of launch damage. At least four pieces of debris broke off the fuel tank during Thursday’s liftoff, and one of the strips of insulating foam struck Discovery’s belly.
NASA officials do not believe the shuttle was damaged. That’s because the foam loss occurred so late in the launch, preventing a hard impact. As a precaution, every shuttle crew since the 2003 Columbia disaster has had to check thoroughly for possible damage to the thermal shielding, which must be robust for re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Discovery is the first in the fleet to be retired this year. Endeavour and then Atlantis will close out the 30-year shuttle program by midsummer.
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