Discovery crew performs well first 24 hours of mission
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Web posted at: 8:08 p.m. EST (0108 GMT)
JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Houston (CNN) -- All members of the shuttle Discovery crew, including 77-year-old John Glenn, have adapted well to the zero gravity environment and are keeping pace with the demanding schedule of experiments planned for the mission, NASA officials said in a mission briefing Friday.
"This crew has been very busy during the last 24 hours," said Dr. Dave Williams, director of the Space and Life Sciences Directorate at Johnson Space Center. "They have done a fantastic job keeping to the timeline and, in fact, they have sometimes gotten ahead of it. It's been a very exciting start to a historic mission."
Glenn, who was the first American to orbit the globe in 1962, is playing a key role in the Discovery mission in experiments that study the effects of aging in a space environment.
"Glenn is really enjoying being back in space, and he's doing very, very well," Williams said. "None of us are going to be able to look at our grandparents in the same way after this."
Glenn, looking puffy and red-faced but sounding jovial, appeared in a satellite video hookup from the shuttle late Friday.
"It's been a great ride so far," Glenn said. "To be able to float around in Zero-G, I just wish everybody could experience this. The view is so hard to describe. It's moving, it's emotional, when you see the curvature of the earth."
Since Discovery left Cape Canaveral Thursday afternoon, Glenn has acted more like the 40-year-old high-flyer he was than the U.S. senator from Ohio he has been since 1975.
He explained his swollen face as a side effect of fluid shifting in the space environment, and said he expected to stop looking "like the Pillsbury Doughboy" by Saturday.
He said he had been concerned about moving around in Discovery, since in his 1962 mission he was strapped in, but he adapted quickly.
The biggest problem Glenn described was getting oatmeal on his eyeglasses during breakfast. "If your food gets away from you, it gets on everybody," he said.
The crew spent most of the first 24 hours transforming the vehicle into a laboratory for the 83 different research projects that will be conducted during the mission.
Glenn swallowed a capsule at bedtime Thursday that contains a tiny thermometer and a transmitter, to measure his body temperature overnight as part of a sleep study. On Saturday, blood will be drawn from Glenn at regular intervals and kept frozen for later analysis.
The crew began work Friday on a protein crystallization experiment that could lead to the development of new drugs to fight diabetes, as well as other experiments for osteoporosis and cancer research.
The crew's other duties Friday included deploying the PanSat satellite, a telecommunications device, and testing the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm that will be used Sunday to deploy and later retrieve the Spartan satellite.
NASA officials downplayed the loss of an 11-pound aluminum panel that ripped away from the shuttle body and struck the main engine during liftoff.
The panel served as a door to a drag chute that is used during landings, but the chute is not essential, and the loss of the door will not likely affect the mission, said Jeff Bantle, mission operations director.
NASA recovered "90 percent of the door" and fragments of a shear pin that may have broken and caused the door to fall off, Bantle said.
He said NASA is investigating to determine the cause of the incident and whether the chute has been damaged. The retention device for the drag chute is believed to remain intact, and it would be unlikely for the chute to deploy accidentally during orbit, Bantle said.
The chute can be used during landing to slow the speed of the craft but is not necessary, and NASA will defer from using it in case it has been damaged, Bantle said.
He said the 15,000-foot-long runway at Kennedy Space Center, where the shuttle is scheduled to touch down next Saturday, "is plenty long without using a chute. There is a significant margin built in for brake failures."
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