Volume: 04, Issue: 19 05/17/2006 
The orbiter Discovery is lowered via a crane and sling into high bay 3 of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building. Image credit: NASA/Charisse Nahser.
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These seven astronauts take a break from training to pose for the STS-121 crew portrait. Image credit: NASA.
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STS-121 Pilot Mark Kelly, right, helps Mike Fossum train for a spacewalk. Image credit: NASA.
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NASA Satellites Observe Cometís Trail
Tibet Provides Passage for Chemicals to Reach the Stratosphere
Contract for the Innovative Flexible Broadband Satellite HYLAS
Online Science Courses

Discovery Mated to Tank and Boosters

A wave of excitement rippled across NASAís Kennedy Space Center on May 12, 2006, as the orbiter Discovery rolled out of its processing facility and into the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building. Inside, the orbiter was mated to the external tank and twin solid rocket boosters May 13 and 14. Space Shuttle Discovery is set to launch on the STS-121 mission, currently targeted for launch no earlier than July 1.

The flight will continue the evaluation of flight safety procedures, including shuttle inspection and repair techniques. It also will deliver more supplies and cargo for future station expansion.

Discovery will carry the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) Leonardo, with more than two tons of equipment and supplies aboard. This will be the fourth trip to the station for Leonardo, the first of three Italian-built MPLMs. Equipment and supplies no longer needed on the station will be moved to Leonardo before it is unberthed on Flight Day 10 and put back into Discovery's cargo bay for return to Earth.

Steve Lindsey will command the mission, flying with pilot Mark Kelly, spacewalkers Mike Fossum and Piers Sellers, and mission specialists Stephanie Wilson and Lisa Nowak. European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter is also part of the crew and will remain on the station for several months. Reiterís arrival will give the station its first three-person crew since May 4, 2003.

Two 6.5-hour spacewalks are scheduled for Sellers and Fossum on the fifth and seventh days of the mission. The first spacewalk will test the 50-foot robotic arm boom extension as a work platform. They will also begin maintenance of the stationís Mobile Transporter (MT) by safing or replacing a cable cutter unit to allow the stationís mobile robotic system to be translated in support of the second spacewalk. During the second spacewalk the crew will replace the detached cable on the MT, which was inadvertently cut, and its reel assembly. They will also install a spare part for the stationís thermal control system for future use. During STS-121, mission managers expect to evaluate the high probability of shuttle consumables supporting an extra day for the mission. If an extra day is available, the crew and flight control team are training for a third spacewalk. The third spacewalk would include tasks to test techniques for inspecting and repairing the Reinforced Carbon-Carbon segments that protect the orbiterís nose cone and wing leading edges.

Inspections of the orbiterís heat shield with a 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS) are scheduled before Discovery arrives at the station and again near the end of the mission, on the day before and the day of undocking from the space station.

Undocking is set for Flight Day 11. Discovery's crew will make final preparations for the return home on Flight Day 12, concluding with landing at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility on Flight Day 13.

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