Space Shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station today shortly after 5:05 p.m. EST. It launched Saturday on what NASA has called “the most challenging and complex” of its 14 assembly flights to the International Space Station. Its objectives: to rewire the station’s electrical and thermal control systems, and to deliver the station’s newest crew member.
Three spacewalks are planned to allow the STS-116 crew to install a P5 truss structure and to reconfigure and redistribute power that is generated by the station. Before rewiring can take place, the astronauts will have to fold up half of the solar array that was providing short-term electricity. It’s a procedure that hasn’t been performed yet in space.
Before linking with the space station, Commander Mark Polansky will guide Discovery in a back flip in order to allow the Expedition 14 crew to photograph Discovery’s heat shield. At 7:02 p.m. EST today, the hatches between the shuttle and the station will open, and astronaut Sunita Williams will join Expedition 14 in progress as flight engineer. She will replace Thomas Reiter, who has been aboard the station since July.
This mission is the 117th space shuttle flight, the 33rd flight for Discovery, and the 20th U.S. flight to the International Space Station. Discovery is expected to land at 4:17 EST Thursday, December 21. Shuttle mission STS-117 is scheduled to launch in March 2007 and will deliver the second truss segment to the station.