Discovery Prepares for May 31st Launch

Shuttle Discovery is set to launch May 31st. It’ll carry the largest part of a Japanese laboratory being assembled as part of the International Space Station. Capella Tucker reports shuttle crews will have to change the way they inspect the heat shields on the shuttle because of it.


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The 13 day mission is the second of three space flights to put the Japanese Kibo laboratory together. NASA Shuttle Flight Director Matt Abbott says it’s a milestone for both space agencies.

“The major assembly task of this mission is to install what is really the largest and heaviest module that we’ve attached to the International Space Station, the Japanese experiment module, the pressurized module Kibo.”

Kibo is designed for at least a ten year life-span. Masafumi Yamamoto is the leader of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency liaison office in Houston. He says it’ll take a couple of years to get just half of Kibo’s capabilities up and running with research.

“The beginning of the ISS means the beginning of human space systems utilization because this is first opportunity for Japan to design and operate our own human space systems.”

This part of the Kibo lab is about the size of a bus and weighs more than 32-thousand pounds. It’s so large that the last shuttle crew had to leave the large boom arm at the space station to make room in the cargo bay. One of the duties of the boom is to inspect the shuttles heat shields. Again, shuttle flight director Matt Abbott.

“So another one of our major objectives is to retrieve that boom so that we can use it for inspections later on in the mission and after undocking. And so that was done specifically to fit the Kibo module in the bay.”

Abbott says some of the heat shield inspections that are usually done on the second day of space flight will instead be done toward the end. Abbott says there will be enough time to review the data before Discovery heads for home.

“We do have one extra day already planned during the mission, an off-duty day for the crew, while we analyze the data from the boom sensors.”

The installation of the Japanese module was originally supposed to be done in two missions. But because of the stepped up shuttle launch schedule following the 2003 Columbia disaster, the unit is being installed in one shuttle flight.

Capella Tucker, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

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