Shuttle to stay docked to Alpha an extra day
JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas -- The crews of the space shuttle Discovery and space station Alpha stayed up 1 1/2 hours late Thursday, trying to finish repacking the Leonardo cargo module.
So NASA gave them an extra day in space to finish the job.
"We've got every confidence that you could get the stowage done, but we've actually got quite a lot of analysis to do down here on the ground," Mission Control said. "We need a little more time."
Discovery will now undock from space station Alpha on Sunday and return to Earth on Wednesday, bringing back not only space station trash but the three men who lived aboard the orbiting complex for four months. Their mission stretched to 141 days with the one-day extension.
After the crews spent Thursday unloading 5 tons of experiments and supplies brought up in the 21-foot-long Italian-built module, they started repacking the module with trash, unneeded equipment and luggage for return to Earth.
But just like on the ground, packing always take longer than expected.
NASA spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said packing the cargo module is more complicated than stowing stuff in the family vehicle for a vacation.
"You have to preserve the shuttle's center of gravity, so it's not like packing a car," Hawley said.
Space junk threat a false alarm
Discovery commander Jim Wetherbee on Wednesday fired the shuttle's booster jets to move the joint shuttle-space station complex away from a piece of floating junk. The debris -- a 10.5-pound portable foot restraint attachment device, or PAD -- was dropped by astronaut Jim Voss during the mission's first spacewalk.
NASA later determined the PAD posed no hazard. It passed about 800 feet below and one mile ahead of Discovery and Alpha, Hawley said. The device is moving away from Discovery and Alpha and eventually will burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
Relief team goes to work
Inside the space station Thursday, Voss and fellow Alpha flight engineer Susan Helms spent most of their day working on the control station for a 58-foot-long Canadian-built robot arm that will be delivered to Alpha next month.
Voss and Helms, along with their commander, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev, have moved into Alpha for a four-month stay. Their mission, which officially begins when the shuttle and space station undock, is called Expedition Two.
They are relieving Expedition One commander Bill Shepherd and his two Russian shipmates, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev. The three have spent more than four months aboard Alpha. They're coming back to Earth with the Discovery crew on March 20 with landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
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