STS-124/ISS-1J MISSION ARCHIVE (FINAL)
Updated through: 06/18/08

By William Harwood
CBS News/Kennedy Space Center

The following copy originally was posted on the Current Mission space page at http://cbsnews.com/network/news/space/current.html.

Comments, suggestions and corrections welcome!

TABLE OF CONTENTS


5:35 PM, 6/16/08, Update: Pad repair likely will involve brick removal, application of spray-on Fondu Fyre

Engineers assessing extensive damage to launch pad 39A during the shuttle Discovery's May 31 takeoff said today they are confident the "flame trench" that diverts exhaust to either side can be repaired in time for NASA's next mission, the Oct. 8 launch of shuttle Atlantis on a flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

Repair options will be presented to shuttle Program Manager John Shannon on June 26, leaving about two months to complete the pad rehab before the planned Aug. 29 rollout of Atlantis.

"We feel we're on the right path for a design solution and we're working to get there," Perry Becker, chief of NASA's structural systems branch at the Kennedy Space Center, told reporters today. "We're working very extensively with a few vendors in industry, we're starting to put that plan together. ... We're confident, regardless of the scope of the work here, that we can repair this pad in time and support the rollout."

During Discovery's takeoff, some 5,300 heat-resistant bricks lining the northeast wall of the flame trench under the shuttle's mobile launch platform were blown away, some blasted more than 1,800 feet, heavily damaging a security fence around the pad perimeter. The interlocking bricks, held in place by epoxy and metal clips anchored in concrete, are used to protect an underlying 3-foot-thick concrete wall that helps form the structural backbone of the pad.

The missing bricks exposed an irregular area of the concrete wall measuring roughly 20 feet by 75 feet. New bricks cannot be manufactured in time to support the Hubble mission, but Becker said engineers believe the trench can be repaired by stripping away additional bricks around the damage area, erecting a steel mesh framework and then spraying on a thick coating of a refractory material like Fondu Fyre.

A five-inch-thick coating of Fondu Fyre currently covers the inverted V-shaped flame deflector that diverts main engine exhaust to one side of the pad and booster exhaust to the other. About 20 feet of the flame trench extending from the deflector on the booster side already is covered by Fondu Fyre, giving way to bricks. The idea would be to extend that coating to cover the areas damaged during Discovery's launching.

"We're certainly looking strongly at Fondu Fyre, we've got a history with it out here, we know its properties," Becker said. "There are a couple of other materials on the market that we're looking at, so we haven't down selected that definitively. But it is a leading candidate."

Despite the intense heat and pressure produced by the shuttle's solid-fuel boosters, Becker said the Fondu Fyre coating the flame deflector holds up well to the extreme heat and pressures produced by the shuttle's huge solid-fuel boosters.

"The erosion rate we would expect on the side walls (of the flame trench) would be very, very minimal based on some Fondu Fyre that we have up near the main flame deflector itself," he said. "That has performed very well."

It is not yet known how many more bricks will need to be stripped away or how large an area might ultimately be covered by Fondu Fyre, assuming program managers approve that approach.

"I like to talk about it as if you're redoing tile in your bathroom at your house," said Ed Mango, launch director for the Hubble servicing mission. "One tile gets loose, then you've got to chase it. This is a similar thing. The tile in your shower is there to protect the wall behind it. We have the brick here to protect the concrete behind it. Of course, the over pressure and the amount of water is much worse!"

Looking at trowel marks on the exposed concrete, engineers believe the epoxy used to help hold the bricks to the wall was not uniformly applied. So-called "tap tests" have revealed possible voids behind other sections of the flame trench where bricks are still in place.

"We have seen indications on the visibly damaged sections of trowel marks in some areas on the wall there that shows less than full engagement of the bricks to the back wall structure when it was originally manufactured," Becker said. "Certainly, that is one component of several possibilities of the root cause of failure."

Becker downplayed the question of whether the original construction was flawed, saying "there's no such thing as a perfectly vertical or smooth wall. So there are going to be voids and surface imperfections, that's common in the construction industry."

The Hubble crew cannot take advantage of "safe haven" aboard the international space station if Atlantis suffers any damage that might prevent a safe re-entry. As a result, NASA plans to have a second shuttle, Endeavour, ready for takeoff from nearby pad 39B if a rescue mission is required.

Both shuttle pads were built in the 1960s for the Apollo moon program and engineers are carrying out tests and inspections to assess the health of pad B.

"We're evaluating that state of pad B as we speak and if we find anything, we'll take the appropriate action," Becker said.

First used in 1967, pad 39A has withstood 12 Saturn 5 launchings, including the first Apollo moon landing mission, and 70 shuttle flights. Pad 39B, first used in 1969, supported one Saturn 5 launch, four Saturn 1B flights and 53 shuttle missions, including Challenger's final flight.


11:30 AM, 6/14/08, Update: Shuttle Discovery glides to Florida landing (UPDATED at 1:11 p.m. with crew exit from shuttle; quote from commander; UPDATED at 4:55 with crew news conference)

Commander Mark Kelly guided the space shuttle Discovery to a sun-drenched Florida landing today, setting down on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a virtually flawless space station assembly mission, leaving a new Japanese lab module behind and bringing flight engineer Garrett Reisman back to Earth after 95 days in space.

Strapped into a reclining seat on Discovery's lower deck, Reisman endured the uncomfortable return to the tug of Earth's gravity as Kelly deftly piloted Discovery to a tire-smoking touchdown at 11:15:19 a.m. Barreling down the 300-foot-wide runway at more than 200 mph, Kelly brought the nose down, Ham released a red-and-white braking parachute and the orbiter coasted to a halt.

"Houston, Discovery, wheels stopped," Kelly radioed in a traditional call to mission control.

"Roger wheels stopped, Discovery," replied astronaut Terry Virts in Houston. "Beautiful landing, Mark, and congratulations on a great mission."

"OK, Terry, thanks, great to be back," Kelly said. "It was great for all of us to be part of a big team that made the station a little bit bigger and a little bit more capable."

Mission duration was 13 days 18 hours 13 minutes and seven seconds, covering 217 complete orbits and 5.7 million miles since blastoff May 31 from nearby pad 39A.

"What an awesome sight to be able to watch the space shuttle land live here on board the space station," Gregory Chamitoff, Reisman's replacement, called down from orbit. "And What a beautiful landing! Congratulations to the entire team. It was a spectacular mission from end to end, practically flawless. We have a new 'hope,' the Kibo module, here on the space station and it's a great success."

With Discovery safely home, NASA will set its sights on readying the shuttle Atlantis for blastoff Oct. 8 on a long-awaited flight to service and repair the Hubble Space Telescope. It will be NASA's final visit to Hubble, launched from Discovery 18 years ago, and the only mission in the 10 remaining shuttle flights that doesn't go to the space station.

Key to making the Oct. 8 launch target is repairing the "flame trench" at pad 39A, which was heavily damaged during Discovery's liftoff.

NASA managers are optimistic the work can be done, but engineers have not yet completed their assessment of the damage. More than 5,300 Apollo-era firebricks lining the flame trench under the shuttle's boosters were blown out during Discovery's takeoff and the walls must be shored up before Atlantis can take off.

Because the Hubble crew cannot take advantage of "safe haven" aboard the space station if the shuttle suffers damage that might prevent a safe re-entry, the shuttle Endeavour will be processed for launch from nearby pad 39B to serve as a rescue vehicle if needed.

Assuming all goes well with Atlantis, however, Endeavour will be hauled to pad 39A and launched Nov. 10 on the year's final shuttle flight, a space station assembly mission to deliver critical supplies and Chamitoff's replacement, astronaut Sandy Magnus. Chamitoff will return to Earth aboard Endeavour after a six-month stay in space.

But for now, NASA managers, engineers and technicians were focused on welcoming Discovery's crew back to Earth after a virtually trouble-free mission.

Kelly, Ham, Reisman and their crewmates - flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide - doffed their pressure suits and met managers and technicians on the runway about an hour and 45 minutes after touchdown. All looked fit and in good spirits, although Nyberg appeared a bit shaky as she readjusted to gravity.

"It's great to be here on the runway in sunny Florida and it's great to bring Discovery back in good shape," Kelly said. "We had a really exciting mission that from our point of view was very successful. We're really glad to have been involved in making the space station a bigger and more capable place."

Returning space station astronauts typically do not attempt to walk around on the runway after landing, but Reisman showed up in a blue flight suit, smiling and chatting with well wishers, moving carefully but looking relatively fit after three months in space.

In orbit, he joked about the advantages of being short, saying "my sensory organs are a little closer to my center of gravity and my heart has a little less distance to pump to my brain. I've been waiting my whole life and finally I think being short is going to come in handy!"

At a post-landing news conference late today, he said "I think maybe we're on to something here! We need to get more short people in the astronaut office."

"There's probably a variety of reasons I'm feeling a little better than I expected and I'm very happy about that," he said. "We have a very good countermeasures program now and I kept up with that rigorously when I was on orbit. There's a lot of variation from person to person, too. We don't know the science yet because we don't have enough data points, but we're working on that.

"But I think it's mostly because I'm short. I'm happy that's finally come in handy for something other than limbo contests! It's great to be here."

It typically takes returning station astronauts a month or so to get their land legs back and up to a full year to completely recover from the effects of weightlessness on bones and muscles. But judging by Reisman's appearance, it might not take that long this time around.

In orbit, he said his top priority after getting back to Earth was seeing his wife, Simone. She was waiting in crew quarters when the astronauts arrived after landing.

"The reunion was fantastic," Reisman said. "It was everything I was hoping for. She got a hair cut, actually, while I was gone. And so I hesitated for a moment as soon as the doors to the elevator opened up and I saw her. But it was fantastic, it was a very tender moment when I got a chance to go over and hold her again. It was really nice."

Reisman was launched to the station in March. He was replaced by Chamitoff, who joined Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko the day Discovery docked with the lab complex.

Along with swapping out the two U.S. flight engineers, Discovery's crew also delivered and installed Japan's 15-ton Kibo laboratory module and carried out three spacewalks by Fossum and Garan to outfit the lab; retrieve a shuttle heat shield inspection boom; install a nitrogen tank needed by the station's cooling system; and test techniques for cleaning contamination from a critical solar array drive gear.


10:15 AM, 6/14/08, Update: Shuttle braking rockets fired

Flying upside down and backward over the Indian Ocean, commander Mark Kelly and pilot Kenneth Ham fired the shuttle Discovery's twin braking rockets for two minutes and 34 seconds starting at 10:10:12 a.m. to being an hourlong descent to touchdown on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There are no technical problems with the shuttle and the weather forecast is "go" for a landing at 11:15 a.m.


8:30 AM, 6/14/08, Update: Payload bay doors closed; runway selection; updated deorbit time

The Discovery astronauts closed the shuttle's cargo bay doors at 7:33 a.m. and after evaluating possible sun glare in the cockpit, flight controllers have agreed to proceed with an approach to runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center. Time of ignition for Discovery's deorbit rocket firing has changed by a few seconds to 10:10:12 a.m. and the duration of the burn is now two minutes and 34 seconds. There are no technical problems aboard the shuttle and with good weather expected, touchdown remains on track for 11:15 a.m.


6:15 AM, 6/14/08, Update: Astronauts gear up for landing

With good weather expected, the Discovery astronauts prepared the shuttle for re-entry and landing today to close out a two-week space station assembly mission. Commander Mark Kelly and pilot Kenneth Ham plan to fire Discovery's twin orbital maneuvering system rockets at 10:10 a.m., setting up touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center at 11:15 a.m. A second opportunity is available one orbit later, at 12:50:44 p.m. If the weather or technical problems prevent a Florida landing today, the astronauts will stay in orbit and try again Sunday.

But Discovery is in good shape and the Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center in Houston is predicting near ideal conditions for the first opportunity, with just a few clouds at 3,000 feet and winds out of the northeast at four knots, gusting to six.

"Yeah, Mark, it's still looking good for the first attempt. The winds are pretty light out of the northeast, you'll have a crosswind, zero six zero at six (knots), and there's no rain in the forecast for the first opportunity," astronaut Terry Virts radioed from Houston a few minutes before 6 a.m. "There'll be a sea breeze picking up as the day goes on, but early in the morning at our (landing) time it should not be a factor. The second opportunity does have a slight chance of rain showers. But right now, it looks pretty good."

"OK, copy, thanks," Kelly replied.

Kelly, Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and returning space station flight engineer Garrett Reisman were awakened at 2:32 a.m. by a recording of "A Life on the Ocean Wave," the official march of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Kelly graduated from the academy in 1986.

"Good morning, Houston," he radioed. "Want to thank the staff, midshipmen and alumni of the Merchant Marine Academy for sending that up to us. The mission's coming to an end, but it's going to be good to get home today."

Discovery took off May 31 from pad 39A, carrying Japan's 15-ton Kibo laboratory module and Reisman's replacement, Gregory Chamitoff. Fossum and Garan staged three spacewalks to outfit Kibo, install a fresh tank of high pressure nitrogen for the station's cooling system and to test techniques for cleaning contamination from a solar array drive gear.

Launched to the space station in March, Reisman is returning to Earth after 95 days in space. He will make the trip home resting on his back in a recumbent seat on the lower deck of Discovery's crew cabin.

"As far as what I'm looking forward to the most, that's easy," Reisman said earlier. "I can answer that with two words and it's Simone Francis, who's my wife. No doubt about that. And our cat, Fuzzy. Not really, but Simone, yeah, definitely."

Answering a wakeup call Friday, Reisman told his wife: "Get ready, doll face. Discovery's coming home!"

Garan and Nyberg plan to close Discovery's cargo bay doors at 7:30 a.m.

If all goes well, Kelly and Ham will fire Discovery's twin braking rockets at 10:10:17 a.m. for two minutes and 36 seconds, slowing the shuttle by 197 mph. A half hour later, the shuttle will fall back into the discernible atmosphere at an altitude of 75.7 miles above the south Pacific Ocean.

The shuttle's ground track will carry the ship over the western coast of Mexico near the border of Guatemalo and then over the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico just west of Cuba. Crossing the Florida coast near Naples, Discovery's flight computers will guide the shuttle to the Kennedy Space Center where Kelly will take over manual control at an altitude of about 50,000 feet.

Flying the shuttle through a sweeping 244-degree left overhead turn, Kelly plans to give Ham about 20 seconds of hands-on "stick time" before taking over for the final moments of the descent to runway 15. Because of possible sun glare in the cockpit, Kelly could opt for a right overhead turn to line up on runway 33 instead. Either way, flight surgeons will be standing by to assist Reisman.

"I've been very diligent about keeping up with the exercise regimen we use as our primary countermeasure for keeping our bones and muscles healthy," he told CBS News in an interview Friday. "Of course, vestibular effects, balance and stuff, it's a little more difficult to predict how that's going to hit me. I'm cautiously optimistic on the basis of anecdotal evidence because I'm short. So my sensory organs are a little closer to my center of gravity and my heart has a little less distance to pump to my brain. I've been waiting my whole life and finally I think being short is going to come in handy!"

Here is the timeline for today's re-entry and landing opportunities (in EDT; statute miles):

EDT...........EVENT

Rev. 217 Deorbit to Kennedy Space Center

06:10 AM......Begin deorbit timeline
06:25 AM......Radiator stow
06:35 AM......Mission specialists seat installation
06:41 AM......Computers set for deorbit prep
06:45 AM......Hydraulic system configuration
07:10 AM......Flash evaporator cooling system checkout
07:16 AM......Final payload deactivation
07:30 AM......Payload bay doors closed
07:40 AM......Mission control 'go' for OPS-3 entry software load
07:50 AM......OPS-3 transition
08:15 AM......Entry switch list verification
08:25 AM......Deorbit maneuver update
08:30 AM......Crew entry review
08:45 AM......Commander/pilot don entry suits
09:02 AM......Inertial measurement unit alignment
09:10 AM......Copmmander/pilot strap in; mission specialists don suits
09:27 AM......Shuttle steering check
09:30 AM......Hydraulic system prestart
09:37 AM......Toilet deactivation
09:45 AM......Payload bay vent doors closed for entry
09:50 AM......Mission control 'go' for deorbit burn
09:56 AM......Mission specialists strap in
10:05 AM......Single hydraulic power unit start

10:10:17 AM...Deorbit ignition (dV: 197 mph; dT: 2:36)
10:12:53 AM...Deorbit burn complete (alt: 218.8 miles; vel: about 17,200 mph)

10:43:37 AM...Atmospheric entry (alt: 75.7 miles; vel: about 16,978 mph)
10:48:36 AM...1st roll command to left (80 degrees)
10:50:00 AM...Start peak heating (approx)
11:00:00 AM...End peak heating (approx)
11:02:00 AM...C-band radar acquisition
10:58:33 AM...1st left to right roll reversal (62 degrees)
11:08:46 AM...Velocity less than mach 2.5 (alt: 85,500 feet)
11:11:00 AM...Velocity less than mach 1 (alt: 50,200 feet)
11:11:50 AM...Start 244-degree left overhead turn (alt: 38,000 feet)
11:15:18 AM...Landing on runway 15


Rev. 218 Deorbit to KSC

11:26 AM......Mission control 'go' for deorbit burn
11:32 AM......Mission specialists seat ingress
11:41 AM......Single hydraulic power unit start

11:46:32 AM...Deorbit ignition (dV: 198 mph; dT: 2:37)
11:49:09 AM...Deorbit burn complete (alt: 220.6 miles; vel: about 17,200 mph)

12:19:03 PM...Atmospheric entry (alt: 75.5 miles; vel: about 16,978 mph)
12:23:59 PM...1st roll command to right (80 degrees)
12:25:00 PM...Start peak heating
12:35:00 PM...End of peak heating
12:37:02 PM...1st right-to-left roll reversal (61 degrees)
12:44:13 PM...Velocity less than mach 2.5 (alt: 85,900 feet)
12:46:27 PM...Velocity less than mach 1 (alt: 49,700 feet)
12:46:57 PM...Start 281-degree left overhead turn (alt: 42,300 feet)
12:50:44 PM...Landing on runway 15


5:00 PM, 6/13/08, Update: Discovery cleared for Saturday landing in Florida; good weather expected; NASA will not staff backup sites before Monday

The shuttle Discovery is in good shape and ready for landing Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a successful space station assembly mission, entry Flight Director Richard Jones said today. The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center in Houston is predicting near ideal conditions for the first of two landing opportunities Saturday.

But if the weather doesn't cooperate, or if a technical problem develops that might prevent an on-time re-entry, Jones said the shuttle has enough supplies on board to stay in orbit until Tuesday if necessary. But NASA's focus is getting Discovery back to Florida this weekend and given the forecast, Jones said NASA would not staff its backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., until Monday at the earliest.

"Tomorrow, we're going to be looking at end of mission at KSC only," Jones said. "The weather is looking very good tomorrow, we have a decent shot. ... All of the ceilings and the surface winds are all going to be within flight rule limits and we're looking at a pretty good opportunity tomorrow."

LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, said analysts had finished an assessment of the shuttle's heat shield and concluded the ship was in good shape for entry.

"As of today, Discovery's TPS system is all in very good shape, including all the thermal protection system tiles, all of the blankets, all of the reinforced carbon carbon on the wing leading edge and nose cap and all of the associated support systems," Cain said. "All of that has been determined to be good and acceptable and safe for entry and landing. ... There were no dissenting opinions on that. Just a very clean vehicle overall with regard to the TPS."

As for a small 1-inch by 2.5-inch thermal barrier clip that floated away from Discovery's rudder/speed brake earlier today, Cain said the hardware was only needed during launch and that its absence posed no threat to the shuttle during entry.

Discovery commander Scott Kelly and pilot Kenneth Ham plan to fire Discovery's twin braking rockets at 10:10:17 a.m. Saturday for two minutes and 36 seconds, slowing the ship by 197 mph to drop it out of orbit. After a half-hour free fall, the shuttle will slip into the discernible atmosphere 400,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean at 10:43 a.m.

If all goes well, the shuttle will cross Central America and the Yucatan Peninsula, skirt the west coast of Cuba and cross the Florida coast south of Fort Myers. Approaching the Florida spaceport from the southwest, Kelly will guide Discovery through a sweeping left overhead turn to line up on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center. Touchdown is expected at 11:15 a.m.

Here is a timeline of re-entry events for both of the crew's Saturday landing opportunities (in EDT throughout):

EDT...........EVENT

Rev. 217 Deorbit to Kennedy Space Center

02:32 AM......Crew wakeup
05:12 AM......Group B computer powerup
05:27 AM......Inertial measurement unit alignment
06:10 AM......Begin deorbit timeline
06:25 AM......Radiator stow
06:35 AM......Mission specialists seat installation
06:41 AM......Computers set for deorbit prep
06:45 AM......Hydraulic system configuration
07:10 AM......Flash evaporator cooling system checkout
07:16 AM......Final payload deactivation
07:30 AM......Payload bay doors closed
07:40 AM......Mission control 'go' for OPS-3 entry software load
07:50 AM......OPS-3 transition
08:15 AM......Entry switch list verification
08:25 AM......Deorbit maneuver update
08:30 AM......Crew entry review
08:45 AM......Commander/pilot don entry suits
09:02 AM......IMU alignment
09:10 AM......CDR/PLT strap in; mission specialists suit don
09:27 AM......Shuttle steering check
09:30 AM......Hydraulic system prestart
09:37 AM......Toilet deactivation
09:45 AM......Vent doors closed for entry
09:50 AM......Mission control 'go' for deorbit burn
09:56 AM......MS seat ingress
10:05 AM......Single hydraulic power unit start

10:10:17 AM...Deorbit ignition
10:12:53 AM...Deorbit burn complete

10:43:37 AM...Entry interface
10:48:36 AM...1st roll command to left
10:50:21 AM...Start peak heating (approx)
11:00:21 AM...End peak heating (approx)
11:02:00 AM...C-band radar acquisition
10:58:33 AM...1st left to right roll reversal
11:08:46 AM...Velocity less than mach 2.5
11:11:00 AM...Velocity less than mach 1
11:11:50 AM...Shuttle on the HAC
11:15:18 AM...Landing


Rev. 218 Deorbit to KSC

11:26 AM......Mission control 'go' for deorbit burn
11:32 AM......Mission specialists seat ingress
11:41 AM......Single hydraulic power unit start

11:46:32 AM...Deorbit ignition
11:49:09 AM...Deorbit burn complete

12:19:03 PM...Entry interface
12:23:59 PM...1st roll command to right
12:25:47 PM...Start peak heating
12:35:47 PM...End of peak heating
12:37:02 PM...1st right-to-left roll reversal
12:44:13 PM...Velocity less than mach 2.5
12:46:27 PM...Velocity less than mach 1
12:46:57 PM...Shuttle on the HAC
12:50:44 PM...Landing
If Discovery is unable to land Saturday, the crew will have two more opportunities to make it back to Kennedy on Sunday, at 10:03 a.m. and 11:38 a.m.


11:05 AM, 6/13/08, Update: Debris may be one of three insulation clips from shuttle rudder (UPDATED at 11:30 a.m. with confirmation of debris identity; not a concern; UPDATED at 1 p.m. with CBS News crew interview)

Engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston believe a flashing bit of debris spotted floating away from the shuttle Discovery this morning was a clip used to secure thermal insulation in the ship's rudder/speed brake to protect against engine heat during ascent. Flight controllers told the astronauts the lost clip poses no threat to a safe re-entry.

As for an apparent bump, or protrusion, spotted on the shuttle's vertical rudder/speed brake, engineers concluded it looked that way before launch and was not considered a problem, welcome news on an already busy Friday the 13th.

"As you know, we've been talking about this down here and we're confident this is going to be no impact to entry," said astronaut Terry Virts in mission control. "I'll talk about the two different objects we saw separately. First of all, the bump that you saw on the rudder/speed brake we think is nominal. We compared it with pre-flight imagery and it looks exactly like it did pre flight. I think the reason you could see it was because the rudder was kind of angled to the left after the FCS (flight control system) checkout a little bit. But there's no issue with that.

"The other object that floated away, turns out was a trailing edge split-line barrier. Thanks to the pictures you took the resolution was very good, we were able to confirm it was that. That trailing edge split-line barrier, it looks like a (V-shaped) clip, its function is for ascent heating only. This is something we've seen ever since STS-1, orbiters have come back with those missing. It's just not a factor for entry."

Commander Mark Kelly told CBS News a few minutes later during an already scheduled interview that he had no concerns.

"Mike (Fossum) happened to be looking out the window when we were doing FCS checkout to try to get some images of the aerosurfaces moving and saw what turned out to be a clip floating away and fortunately, got a really good picture of it," Kelly said.

Flight controllers later sent up a Powerpoint presentation that compared Fossum's pictures with engineering drawings and "we were impressed at how quickly, the quality of the work they were able to do in that short amount of time," Kelly said. "It was interesting, the picture that Mike took had those three tack welds on it. ... You could line those up with the ground images and you can pretty conclusively say that's the same clip."

Otherwise, Kelly said, Discovery's entry systems checked out well and with good weather expected in Florida, the crew is optimistic about making an on-time return to the Kennedy Space Center to close out a successful space station assembly mission. Touchdown on runway 15 is targeted for 11:15 a.m.

Astronaut Garrett Reisman, returning to Earth after three months aboard the international lab complex, said he's looking forward to seeing his wife, friends and family again, "sleeping in my own bed and using my own toilet."

Reisman will make the trip back to Earth resting on his back in a reclining seat on Discovery's lower deck to ease his return to the uncomfortable tug of Earth's gravity. He said today he's hopeful a strict exercise schedule will help him re-adapt without any major problems.

"I've been very diligent about keeping up with the exercise regimen we use as our primary countermeasure for keeping our bones and muscles healthy," he told CBS News. "Of course, vestibular effects, balance and stuff, it's a little more difficult to predict how that's going to hit me. I'm cautiously optimistic on the basis of anecdotal evidence because I'm short. So my sensory organs are a little closer to my center of gravity and my heart has a little less distance to pump to my brain. I've been waiting my whole life and finally I think being short is going to come in handy for once!"

Reisman, Kelly and their crewmates - pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide - were awakened shortly after 3 a.m. to begin their final full day in space. Appropriately enough, mission control beamed up a recording of "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" by Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

"Good morning, Houston. And a special good morning to Simone, my favorite earthling," Reisman radioed to his wife. "Get ready, doll face. Discovery's coming home!"

Kelly, Ham and Garan tested Discovery's re-entry systems early today, firing up one of the ship's three hydraulic power units, cycling the orbiter's ailerons and rudder and test firing maneuvering jets. There were no problems of any significance.

But a few minutes after the tests concluded, Kelly reported seeing a piece of debris floating away around 7:35 a.m.

"We observed an object depart aft of the starboard wing," Kelly said. "Looked like, and obviously it's hard to tell dimensions and size looking out the aft windows, but it looked like it might have been a foot to a foot and a half in width. And we've got a pretty reasonable image of it."

A few minutes later, the crew reported seeing a small protrusion where two sections of the rudder/speed brake come together. They downlinked a short video clip of the debris, along with still pictures shot with a digital camera, and offered to power up Discovery's robot arm for a closer look at the rudder.

Flight controllers told the astronauts to sit tight and a few hours later, Virts told Kelly that engineers were able to confirm the debris was, in fact, a clip used to hold a thermal barrier in place in the rudder/speed brake.

"Well there was a little bit (of concern) when we saw it, not knowing what it was," Kelly told WCBS Radio. "But fortunately, Mike got some good pictures of it, sent them down to the ground and within a couple of minutes they took a look and were able to narrow it down to a part that protects the rudder/speed brake during ascent, from the heating during liftoff. So we've seen these things come off before and it's not a concern at all for entry."


6:45 AM, 6/13/08, Update: Astronauts test entry systems; pack for Saturday landing (UPDATED at 8:10 a.m. with crew report of object departing shuttle; protrusion on rudder/speed bake)

The Discovery astronauts tested the shuttle's re-entry systems today and packed up for landing Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center. The tests went well, but the crew reported seeing a piece of debris of some sort floating away from the shuttle a few minutes later. They also called attention to a small protrusion on the shuttle's rudder/speed brake where a bit of insulation might have been displaced. It did not appear serious, but flight controllers are discussing whether any additional observations might be required.

The astronauts have two landing opportunities Saturday, at 11:15 a.m. and 12:50 p.m., and with good weather expected, NASA is not staffing its backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The astronauts were awakened at 3:02 a.m. today by a recording of "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" by Louis Prima and Keely Smith. The song was beamed up from mission control for space station flight engineer Garrett Reisman, who is returning to Earth after 95 days in space.

"Good morning, Houston. And a special good morning to Simone, my favorite earthling," Reisman radioed to his wife. "Get ready, doll face. Discovery's coming home!"

Commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham and flight engineer Ronald Garan began testing the shuttle's re-entry systems around 6:30 a.m., firing up one of three hydraulic power units and exercising the ship's control surfaces. Reisman, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide spent the morning packing up and readying the shuttle for entry.

The flight control system checkout went smoothly, but around 7:35 a.m. Kelly called down and told mission control the crew had spotted an apparent piece of debris of some sort floating away from the shuttle.

"We observed an object depart aft of the starboard wing," Kelly said. "Looked like, and obviously it's hard to tell dimensions and size looking out the aft windows, but it looked like it might have been a foot to a foot and a half in width. And we've got a pretty reasonable image of it."

The crew managed to capture a few seconds of video showing a rectangular object floating away to the left of the shuttle's tail fin, flashing with reflected sunlight as it slowly tumbled. The object was seen a few minutes after the crew finished test firing the shuttle's maneuvering jets.

The astronauts also called attention to a small protrusion toward the back of the shuttle's big rudder/speed brake. It was barely visible and not an obvious problem, but the crew offered to take a closer look with the shuttle's robot arm. Flight controllers said they would consider that option.

This afternoon, the astronauts will set up a special reclining seat on Discovery's lower deck that Reisman will use Saturday to provide extra support as he returns to the uncomfortable tug of gravity after three months in space.

CBS News, WCBS Radio and WINS Radio will interview the astronauts starting at 11:52 a.m. Entry Flight Director Richard Jones plans to brief reporters on landing plans at 2 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision P of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/13/08
03:02 AM...12...10...00...Crew wakeup
06:07 AM...12...13...05...Cabin stow begins
06:37 AM...12...13...35...Flight control system checkout
07:47 AM...12...14...45...Reaction control system hotfire
09:37 AM...12...16...35...Landing simulator practice
10:22 AM...12...17...20...Deorbit review
10:52 AM...12...17...50...Crew meal
11:52 AM...12...18...50...CBS News crew interview
12:12 PM...12...19...10...Cabin stow resumes
12:12 PM...12...19...10...Landing comm checks
01:42 PM...12...20...40...Ergometer teardown
01:57 PM...12...20...55...Recumbent seat setup
02:00 PM...12...20...58...Mission status briefing on NTV
02:27 PM...12...21...25...Launch/entry suit checkout
03:00 PM...12...21...58...Mars Phoenix lander briefing on NTV
03:02 PM...12...22...00...KU antenna stow
06:32 PM...13...01...30...Crew sleep begins
07:00 PM...13...01...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV

06/14/08
02:32 AM...13...09...30...Crew wakeup
05:12 AM...13...12...10...Group B computer powerup
05:27 AM...13...12...25...Inertial measurement unit alignment
06:10 AM...13...13...08...Deorbit timeline begins
07:30 AM...13...14...28...Payload bay door closing
10:10 AM...13...17...08...Deorbit ignition (rev. 217)
11:02 AM...13...18...00...C-band radar acquisition
11:15 AM...13...18...13...Landing


5:30 PM, 6/12/08, Update: Cain optimistic about launch pad repair; says Hubble flight not threatened

Serious damage to the "flame trench" at launch pad 39A during the shuttle Discovery's May 31 takeoff will require extensive repairs, officials said today, but engineers believe the work can be completed in time to support the planned Oct. 8 launch of shuttle Atlantis on a long-awaited flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

"We have a plan to fix pad A and we have a high degree of confidence in our ability to do that," LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, told reporters today. "We don't have any issues relative to being able to do this work and be ready to launch the HST mission."

During Discovery's climb out, the exhaust plume from the shuttle's two solid-fuel boosters blew out about 5,300 heat-resistant bricks lining one side of the flame trench below the orbiter's launch stand. Blasted out like shrapnel, bricks and fragments littered the pad perimeter and severely damaged a heavy duty security fence some 1,800 feet away.

The shuttle was not struck by any debris and Cain said a re-assessment of the environment in the flame trench during launch that was carried out after DIscovery's take off confirmed there is virtually no chance for debris from inside the trench to ricochet or otherwise overcome the exhaust plume to strike the orbiter.

Recommendations on what sort of repair work might be needed will be presented to shuttle Program Manager John Shannon on June 26. Cain said he did not want to provide details of proposed fixes until the engineering team has had time to fully assess the options. But he said engineers believe enough time is available to implement any of the repair scenarios under discussion.

"By the end of this week I think we're going to be done inspecting in the pad A area and we're going to get to work in earnest on doing the cleanup work and on putting a repair in place after we hear it at the program board," he said. "We're going to better understand this problem, obviously, as a result of all this.

"We will be able to repair the pad A flame trench damage that we've sustained here and it's going to be in time to support the STS-125 Hubble mission. There's no reason for us to look at going to pad B for that mission, we have high confidence in being able to go do this."

NASA has set up two teams to assess the pad damage and its implications. John Casper, a veteran shuttle commander and program official who is participating in the damage assessment, told CBS News today he agrees with Cain's optimism about getting repairs done in time for the Hubble flight. But he described the work as "a big job."

"It's amazing when you think about what those pads have been through," he said. "They've really held up remarkably well."

NASA's two shuttle launch pads, LC-39A and LC-39B, were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s to support the Apollo moon program and later, launches for the Skylab space station and Apllo-Soyuz Test Program. The pads were modified in the mid 1970s to support the space shuttle.

First used in 1967, pad 39A has withstood 12 Saturn 5 launchings, including the first Apollo moon landing mission, and 70 shuttle flights. Pad 39B, first used in 1969, supported one Saturn 5 launch, four Saturn 1B flights and 53 shuttle missions, including Challenger's final flight.

The pads are built around long rectangular flame trenches that measure 490 feet long, 58 feet wide and 42 feet deep. The space shuttle, mounted atop a mobile launch platform, is positioned directly above the flame trench. Exhaust from three hydrogen-fueled main engines and two solid-fuel boosters passes through cutouts in the mobile launch platform and into the trench. A flame deflector, shaped like an inverted V, is positioned directly below the MLP openings to divert engine exhaust to one side of the pad and booster exhaust to the other.

The pressures and temperatures in the main engine section of the flame trench are much less than what the structure must endure from the shuttle's boosters. At ignition, each booster generates some 3.3 million pounds of thrust and a 5,000-degree exhaust plume.

The flame deflector is covered with a 5-inch-thick coating of Fondu Fyre, a heat-resistant Apollo-era material that is mixed with water, sprayed on and allowed to cure. The walls of the flame trench were built using interlocking heat-resistant bricks that use epoxy and metal clips to hold them to a 3-foot-thick concrete wall. The clips are attached to every other brick horizontally and every sixth row vertically.

Each brick measures 6-by-3-by-13.5 inches and features a half-moon-shaped groove on one surface and an opposite protrusion on the other. The protrusion on one brick fits into the groove on the one above or below to lock them together. The epoxy was used to help hold the bricks to the underlying concrete wall.

For added protection from the heat of booster ignition, Fondu Fyre covers bricks in the floor and side walls of the trench from the flame deflector out to about 20 feet. After that, the trench walls are bare brick.

During Discovery's launching, some 5,300 bricks on the northeast side of the flame trench were blown out, leaving bare concrete in an area roughly measuring 20 feet by 75 feet. While engineers later found signs of ricochets in the flame trench, video and still images show nothing came close to hitting the shuttle or even the underside of the mobile launch platform.

Engineers soon discovered the metal clips that help hold the bricks to the walls of the flame trench were severely rusted and corroded, probably due to decades of exposure to the acidic byproducts of booster exhaust. Inspectors also found areas where the absence of trowel marks indicates the epoxy intended to help hold the bricks to the underlying concrete wall was not uniformly applied. Subsequent "tap tests" have indicated voids behind 30 percent of the bricks that are still in place.

Engineers suspect similar problems may be lurking at pad 39B. Inspections and tap tests are ongoing.

A variety of repair options are being assessed for pad 39A. The original brick vendor, A.P. Green, has inspected the pad, along with representatives of Atlantic Firebrick and Supply Co. Molds of the original bricks are still available, officials say, but there is no existing stockpile. New bricks can be made, but not in time for the October launching.

"We have talked to the original vendor," Cain said. "The brick contracting company and the original vendor were on site to evaluate this issue for us. There apparently are no applications similar, or necessary, today and so they don't make this kind of brick. Whether or not it could be done, I don't know if we know the answer to that yet."

Among the options under consideration are removing all the bricks and spraying the underlying concrete with a thick coating of Fondu Fyre or a similar material; removing the bricks and leaving bare concrete; and leaving the bricks in place and using Fondu Fyre to fill in the damaged areas.

"As an old structural engineer, I can't see how we'd launch with any of the existing bricks in place," said one senior manager. "Maybe on the (main engine side), but not on the SRB side. The little clips that hold the bricks to the steel beams imbedded in the concrete wall are rusted badly. Many (are) gone. So even the ones behind the bricks that are still standing must be in the same shape."

Removing bricks and spraying on a coating of Fondu Fyre "is a big job," he said, "but smaller than replacing all the bricks."

Cain declined to provide any details about possible repair options, saying "I don't want to talk about that today because I don't want to get out in front of the team that's working on all those options."

"But fundamentally, it's fair to say one of the options is looking at spraying the areas where we've lost brick," he said. "Possibly removing more brick and spraying would be a different option, or doing something other than spraying Fondu Fyre in the areas where we've lost brick to preserve those areas.

"What we're really saying is any of those options doesn't look like, in terms of time and schedule and resources, that they would be an issue for us to complete them. We just have to go figure out which ones make the most sense given the problem we're facing today."

Casper said the near-term goal is to come up with a fix in time for the Hubble mission that would carry over through the 2010 end of the shuttle program. A longer-term fix, possibly using a fresh batch of firebricks, may be implemented for the Constellation program's Ares rockets that will replace the shuttle.

NASA plans to haul Atlantis to the launch pad on Aug. 29 to prepare the ship for blastoff Oct. 8. If possible, Casper said, NASA would like to complete any spraying of Fondu Fyre or similar material before the shuttle is moved to the pad. But engineers are looking into the possibility of spraying after rollout if required.

The Hubble flight is the only mission left on the shuttle manifest that does not go to the space station. Because Hubble is in a different orbit than the lab complex, the crew of the servicing mission cannot take advantage of "safe haven" aboard the station if any major problems develop that might prevent a safe re-entry. As a result, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin decided early on to have a second shuttle prepped and ready for takeoff from nearby pad 39B if an emergency rescue mission is needed.

If so, the rescue flight would be launched from pad 39B as soon as possible. Otherwise, Endeavour will be moved to pad 39A for launch on a space station resupply mission currently targeted for launch Nov. 10.

The goals of that flight are to deliver supplies to the station and begin a spacewalk repair of a critical solar array rotary joint. Equally important, Endeavour will ferry a fresh space station flight engineer - Sandy Magnus - to the lab complex and bring Gregory Chamitoff home after six months in orbit.

Complicating the end-of-year schedule, NASA cannot launch shuttles to the station between around Nov. 27 and Dec. 17 and between Jan. 27 and Feb. 11 because of thermal issues related to the angle between the sun and the plane of the station's orbit. Because NASA wants to avoid missions extending from one year to the next, the so-called "beta angle cutout" effectively means no launches between the end of November and the first of the year.

It takes about a month to prepare the launch pad for another flight. If the Hubble mission is delayed more than three weeks or so, the November shuttle flight could be delayed into next year, extending Chamitoff's stay in space well beyond the currently planned six months.

"We've looked very hard at that, that is right in the middle of our radar screen, with the large beta cutout that we have at the end of this calendar year," Cain said. "I asked the team to look at that before this mission launched, actually."

THe result, he said, is that if Atlantis takes off by Oct. 27 or thereabouts, NASA could still launch the STS-126 station mission from pad 39A before the beta cutout begins. Just barely.

"We have almost three weeks, essentially, to get HST launched before it's going to begin to impinge on our ability to get 126 launched before the beta cutout," Cain agreed.


8:30 AM, 6/12/08, Update: Astronauts enjoy time off

The Discovery astronauts took the day off today, enjoying the view from 210 miles up and chatting with family members in private teleconferences. The only mission related activity on the schedule is a rocket firing around 4:20 p.m. to adjust the shuttle's orbit slightly to improve landing opportunities at the Kennedy Space Center. LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, will brief reporters today at 3:30 p.m. on the health of Discovery's heat shield and its overall readiness for landing Saturday to wrap up a successful space station assembly mission.

Commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham and flight engineer Ronald Garan plan to test the shuttle's re-entry systems Friday while their crewmates - Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and returning space station flight engineer Garrett Reisman - pack up and ready the ship for landing.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision P of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/12/08
03:32 AM...11...10...30...Crew wakeup
06:02 AM...11...13...00...Crew off duty
10:32 AM...11...17...30...Crew meal
11:32 AM...11...18...30...Crew off duty
01:32 PM...11...20...30...Crew interviews (ESPN/ABC News)
02:02 PM...11...21...00...Heat shield boom (OBSS) berthing
03:02 PM...11...22...00...Shuttle robot arm (SRMS) powerdown
03:30 PM...11...22...28...Mission Management Team briefing on NTV
04:20 PM...11...23...18...Orbit adjustment rocket firing
07:02 PM...12...02...00...Crew sleep begins
08:00 PM...12...02...58...Daily highlights reel on NTV
For readers interested in a look ahead, here is an updated list of deorbit burn and landing times for Saturday, Sunday and Monday (in EDT):

ORBIT...DEORBIT.......LANDING.......SITE

06/14/08

217.....10:10:17 AM...11:15:18 AM...Kennedy Space Center, FL (KSC)
218.....11:46:32 AM...12:50:44 PM...KSC
					
06/15/08

232.....09:01:00 AM...10:03:00 AM...KSC
233.....10:36:00 AM...11:38:00 AM...KSC
234.....12:06:00 PM...01:09:00 PM...Edwards Air Force Base, CA (EDW)
235.....01:42:00 PM...02:44:00 PM...EDW

06/16/08

248.....09:24:00 AM...10:27:00 AM...KSC
249.....10:56:00 AM...11:59:00 AM...Northrup Strip, NM (NOR)
........11:00:00 AM...12:02:00 PM...KSC
250.....12:30:00 PM...01:32:00 PM...EDW
........12:32:00 PM...01:34:00 PM...NOR
251.....02:06:00 PM...03:07:00 PM...EDW


3:45 PM, 6/11/08, Update: NASA managers consider cleaning, SARJ bearing replacement on next station assembly flight

NASA managers are considering a plan for the crew of the next space station assembly mission, scheduled for launch around Nov. 10, to clean up and lubricate a damaged, debris covered solar array drive gear and to replace 12 bearing assemblies in a bid to use the mechanism as long as possible before switching to a backup gear, an official said today.

Kenny Todd, space station integration and operations manager at the Johnson Space Center, said the replacement of a single bearing during the shuttle Discovery's mission, along with a spacewalk cleaning test, is giving engineers confidence about attempting a near-term repair.

"That will hopefully allow the joint to rotate a little more smoothly and cut down on the amount of vibration we're seeing," Todd said. "At this point, we're targeting the ULF-2 (mission) timeframe to go out and do something proactively with the starboard SARJ."

The space station is equipped with two motor-drive 10-foot-wide solar alpha rotary joints, one on either side of the lab's main power truss, that are designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to track the sun. The devices are crucial for maximizing the electricity the station's solar panels can generate.

The left-side SARJ is operating normally, but last summer engineers began noticing higher-than-usual vibration levels in the right-side SARJ mechanism, along with electrical current spikes indicative of increased friction as the gear rolled through 12 trundle bearing assemblies. During a subsequent spacewalk inspection, astronauts discovered extensive metallic contamination covering the active drive gear and degradation, or erosion, of at least one of the gear's bearing surfaces.

Despite extensive troubleshooting, engineers still don't know what might be causing the damage. One possibility is a small crack or breakdown in the hardened bearing surface that produced debris that was then crushed as it passed through the trundle bearings, causing more damage and creating more debris. Whatever the cause, it is a serious problem and flight controllers no longer operate the right-side SARJ in "auto-track" mode.

"Our thinking right now on the starboard SARJ is that in the ULF-2 timeframe, we will go out and most likely replace the trundle bearings," Todd said. "We did do that on one of the EVAs on this flight, we went in and installed a TBA so obviously, that helps us get more comfortable with that particular operation. Our thought right now is to go out and install the new TBAs during that flight. Prior to installing those TBAs, our thought is to do what we call lubing of the ring."

A cleaned and lubricated drive gear, along with new trundle bearing assemblies, may reduce vibration levels to the point where near-normal operation is possible. NASA managers still believe they ultimately will be forced to switch over to the SARJ's undamaged backup drive gear, but they don't want to take that step until there is no other choice.

"Every piece of hardware we can get down on the ground related to this anomaly gives us additional insight," Todd said. "Getting these TBAs on the ground will allow us to inspect the bearings within them and try to understand the makeup of any residue on the bearings, how are the bearings themselves fairing, are they coming apart, are there any cracks in them, is there anything there that gives us cause for concern?

"So our thought is, let's go replace all the bearings, get those down, do the investigation on them, see what that rolls into in terms of our fault tree. As far as lubing the ring itself, the existing ring, we did a detailed test objective on this flight that had us go out and take a small portion of the ring and do a wipe of it with some lubricant to see how successful we would be in trying to get some of the residue off the ring and get us in a position maybe to try to continue to use that ring with some additional lubrication. The crew gave us some very good anecdotal-type feedback."

As far as ultimately switching to the backup drive gear, "that's something we're looking at downstream," Todd said.

The Discovery astronauts undocked from the space station earlier today and spent the afternoon carrying out a detailed inspection of the shuttle's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels. Lead Flight Director Matt Abbott said no obvious damage could be seen during the initial stages of the inspection, but it will take engineers a full day or so to evaluate the data.

"The survey started right on time," he said. "We'll be taking all the data down from those surveys and inspections and the teams are already starting to look at them, of course. They'll look at those through the night and into the morning. We expect to have some early word mid morning tomorrow before the Mission Management Team meets tomorrow afternoon. We're looking forward to some good results there from the surveys."


7:50 AM, 6/11/08, Update: Discovery undocks from space station (UPDATED at 9;25 with final separation; quotes)

With pilot Ken Ham at the controls, the shuttle Discovery undocked from the international space station today as the two spacecraft sailed 210 miles above the south Pacific Ocean just north of New Zealand.

"Houston and station from Discovery, physical separation," shuttle commander Mark Kelly radioed at 7:42 a.m. as Discovery slowly pulled away.

Joining Ham and Kelly aboard Discovery were flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and outgoing space station flight engineer Garrett Reisman, returning to Earth after 95 days in space.

Reisman was replaced by Gregory Chamitoff, who remained behind on the station with Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko. The two Russians plan to return to Earth aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in October while Chamitoff will remain aloft until the next shuttle visit in November.

"I just want to say to Sergei, Oleg and Greg that we wish them the best with their expedition and we hope we left them a better, more capable space station than when we arrived," Kelly radioed shortly before undocking. "Sayonara."

"Copy that, Mark," Chamitoff replied. "It was a great adventure with all of you guys, the adventure of a lifetime. It's amazing how much got done here. I'm so glad everything worked out so well. We wish you guys a terrific flight back, an awesome landing and I look forward to seeing you on the ground."

"We'll see you in about, hopefully, a little less than six months," Kelly said.

After completing a 360-degree fly around, Ham fired Discovery's maneuvering jets to leave the area for good. Following naval tradition, Chamitoff rang the ship's bell in the Destiny lab module, saying "Discovery departing after a successful mission to the international space station, leaving behind great memories and new hope - Kibo - for the future."

He was referring to the Japanese laboratory module installed Discovery's crew. The module is known as Kibo, or "hope" in Japanese.

"Thank you, Alpha," Kelly replied. "It was great to spend some time with you guys there and we'll see you back on Earth."

"Thanks, Mark, it was terrific," Chamitoff said. "The whole mission was really enjoyable with everybody. We're sad to see you guys go, but we look forward to seeing you guys on the ground."

Reisman chimed in a few minutes later, saying "just wanted to let you know that you can have all my uneaten Snickers bars."

"And Garrett, we found those last night and broke into them," Chamitoff laughed. "Thanks!"

Discovery is scheduled to land Saturday morning at the Kennedy Space Center.


06:00 AM, 6/11/08, Update: Shuttle crew prepares for station undocking

The Discovery astronauts geared up for undocking from the international space station today at 7:42 a.m., leaving astronaut Gregory Chamitoff behind with Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko and bringing Garrett Reisman home after three months in space.

Reisman and his shuttle crewmates were awakened shortly after 4 a.m. by a recording of John Fogerty's "Centerfield" beamed up from mission control for pilot Kenneth Ham.

"Good morning, Discovery. And a special good morning to you today, Ken," astronaut Shannon Lucid radioed from Houston.

"Appreciate the song," Ham replied. "And that is from my absolutely wonderful wife, Michelle. Girl, you are my home. And all of us are going to start our journey home today. And by my rough calculation, that's a little over a million miles, but we're going really fast! So we're on our way. Just remember, babe. I love you more."

Ham will be at the controls when the shuttle undocks from the station, guiding the ship to a point roughly 400 feet directly in front of the lab complex. At that point, he will begin a one-lap photo-documentation flyaround, guiding Discovery over the top, directly behind and then below the station before looping back in front and leaving the area.

"I'm looking forward to that, of course," Ham told CBS News before launch. "It's kind of nice because over the years it has not gained as much attention, the details, as rendezvous. When Mark (Kelly) flies the rendezvous with station, he's under a lot of scrutiny. When I fly the fly around, there really aren't a whole lot of people watching. So I get to fly with looser constraints, if you will, maybe even be a little more creative with how to fly and experiment with the orbiter. And I think that's why we as an office have developed it, it's a chance for a pilot to get comfortable flying this big old quarter-million-pound spaceship so that maybe down the road, if he gets to be a commander, he has a lot more confidence in what he can do."

Once clear of the station, the astronauts will reconfigure the shuttle's computer network and take a break for lunch. Ham, Karen Nyberg and Michael Fossum then will position the shuttle's robot arm for a detailed inspection of the ship's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels, which experience the most heat during re-entry. Ronald Garan will take Nyberg's place for the nose cap and left wing surveys.

Discovery was launched without an orbiter boom sensor system, the 50-foot-long extension normally used the day after launch to look for signs of damage to the shuttle's most critical areas. Discovery's payload, the Kibo laboratory module, was so large there was no room for the OBSS in the shuttle's cargo bay.

As a result, the crew of a shuttle mission in March left their inspection boom behind on the space station. Fossum and Garan retrieved it during the first of their three spacewalks and it will be used today to carry out an inspection identical to what normally would have been done on flight day two.

"The only thing really that we haven't done is a detailed scan of the undersides, the lower surfaces of both leading edges," said lead Flight Director Matt Abbott. "Of course, from the (rendezvous) photography and the other imagery that we've taken, we haven't seen anything that gives us any indication of concern at this point. What we don't have is the detailed resolution that we get with the LDRI, the laser systems and the OBSS sensors. So that's what we'll be looking for, taking that very detailed look. But there certainly has been nothing to this point that warrants any concern."

If any problems are found, Discovery's crew would have the option of returning to the space station to attempt repairs. A repair kit to fix damage to leading edge panels normally stays on the space station, but Discovery is bringing it home.

"The next mission to launch is the Hubble (servicing) mission," Ham said in a NASA interview. "They need to fly that patch kit for their mission, obviously, because they can’t get to space station."

Today's inspection is scheduled to begin around 11:12 a.m. with an examination of Discovery's right wing. The nose cap survey will begin just before 1 p.m. with the left wing inspection on tap about 50 minutes later. A mission status briefing is scheduled for 2 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision O of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/11/08
04:02 AM...10...11...00...Crew wakeup
06:02 AM...10...13...00...ISS daily planning conference
06:27 AM...10...13...25...Centerline camera setup
06:37 AM...10...13...35...Group B computer powerup
06:57 AM...10...13...55...Undocking timeline begins
06:58 AM...10...13...56...Noon
07:17 AM...10...14...15...Docking port prepped for separation
07:26 AM...10...14...24...Sunset
07:42 AM...10...14...40...UNDOCKING
07:43 AM...10...14...41...ISS holds attitude
07:47 AM...10...14...45...Range: 50 feet
07:49 AM...10...14...47...Range 75 feet
07:52 AM...10...14...50...Docking port depressurization
08:02 AM...10...15...00...Sunrise
08:11 AM...10...15...09...Range: 400 feet; start fly around
08:20 AM...10...15...18...Range: 600 feet
08:22 AM...10...15...20...Shuttle directly above ISS
08:29 AM...10...15...27...Noon
08:34 AM...10...15...32...Shuttle directly behind ISS
08:45 AM...10...15...43...Shuttle directly below ISS
08:57 AM...10...15...55...Separation burn No. 1
08:57 AM...10...15...55...Sunset
09:25 AM...10...16...23...Separation burn No. 2
09:27 AM...10...16...25...Post undocking computer reconfig
09:27 AM...10...16...25...Group B computer powerdown begins (media channel)
09:52 AM...10...16...50...Undocking video replay
10:12 AM...10...17...10...Crew meal
11:12 AM...10...18...10...Starboard wing survey
11:45 AM...10...18...43...GLAST launch (media channel)
12:57 PM...10...19...55...Port wing survey
02:00 PM...10...20...58...Mission status briefing on NTV
03:00 PM...10...21...58...Mars Phoenix lander briefing
03:47 PM...10...22...45...Laser data downlink
05:32 PM...11...00...30...ISS crew sleep begins
07:32 PM...11...02...30...STS crew sleep begins
08:00 PM...11...02...58...Daily video  highlights reel on NTV


5:05 PM, 6/10/08, Update: Shuttle crew closes hatches, prepares for station undocking Wednesday

The shuttle Discovery's crew bid farewell to space station commander Sergei Volkov, Oleg Kononenko and incoming flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff today, sharing a few final thoughts, hugs and handshakes before closing hatches and preparing the shuttle for undocking early Wednesday.

Discovery's crew ferried Chamitoff to the station to replace outgoing flight engineer Garrett Reisman after a three-month stay in space. Now a member of Discovery's crew, Reisman had some final advice for his replacement:

"It's a huge responsibility, taking care of this tremendous national asset and the national assets of our international partners," he said, floating with the combined crew in the station's Harmony module. "And if that ever feels like a tremendous burden, just remember this advice I have for you: with great responsibility also comes great power!" Laughing, Reisman continued "you're going to do a fantastic job, from a running start you've been doing absolutely fantastic and you have some great crewmates to help you out, too. You're going to do great."

"For me, this is a very satisfying moment, one I was looking forward to for a long time," Reisman said. "It was not a perfect performance by myself, but I managed not to break anything really expensive. And I'm leaving now with the station in good hands and with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction."

For his part, Chamitoff said he could hardly believe the long-awaited moment had finally arrived.

"It's been an amazing adventure," he said. "Garrett's been a great host for us, he's really helped us with everything, especially me, teaching me the ins and outs of everything on the station," Chamitoff said. "I've really appreciated that very much. Garrett's done an amazing job taking care of this side of the space station, along with Sergei and Oleg. Everything's in really great shape and he's done a great job for NASA and all the international partners.

"It's really sad to see you guys go," Chamitoff said. "But I'm looking forward to the adventure ahead with Sergei and Oleg, getting the (Japanese lab module) up and running, getting the science program started, doing science in the U.S. module and (the European Space Agency's) Columbus."

Reisman, Discovery commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide then floating through a short tunnel into the shuttle and hatches were closed to set the stage for undocking at 7:42 a.m. Wednesday.

Over the course of the docked phase of the mission, the astronauts attached Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module, moved a logistics module to its permanent home atop Kibo and staged three spacewalks by Fossum and Garan to outfit the laboratory, install a fresh nitrogen tank for the station's cooling system and test techniques for cleaning a contaminated solar array rotary joint.

"It's really been a wonderful mission from the start up until this point," said lead Flight Director Matt Abbott. "We've got a few days to go, and I couldn't be more proud of this team and this crew for what they've been able to accomplish. ... The one thing that will make me happier is when we get Discovery and the crew safely on the ground and are able to see them on the runway looking up at the vehicle. That's how I feel every mission."

Discovery's crew plans to carry out a detailed inspection of the ship's nose cap and wing leading edge panels after undocking Wednesday. They will enjoy a day off Thursday before packing Friday for a landing Saturday back at the Kennedy Space Center. Touchdown is expected around 11:15 a.m., weather permitting.

Reisman will make the trip back to Earth resting on his back in a reclining seat on Discovery's lower deck to ease his re-adaptation to gravity after 95 days aloft.

During a crew news conference Monday, Reisman, laughing, said seeing his wife was No. 1 on his list of post-landing priorities. Today, he told a reporter "I talked to her last night on our IP telephone from up here and she was furious with me for embarrassing her like that. But the truth is, when I look out the window at the planet and I look down at all the people down there, I'm usually just thinking about just one of all those billions of people. And that's definitely who I'm looking forward to seeing the most."

He said he would miss the station, though, and the sheer fun of zooming about in weightlessness like a super hero.

"The station is enormous, it's really ready now for a six-person crew, we have enough room to spare," he said. "There's actually enough space that you can lose people. You can go from stem to stern and try and find somebody and not find them, that's how big this place is. It's incredibly complex and there's so much equipment up here and so much tonnage of material, it is ready to be utilized, especially now with the addition of this huge Japanese laboratory.

"Daily life, you know, it's extremely busy, especially for me. My whole time up here has been action packed, there hasn't been a dull moment at all. And so it's just a matter of operating this enormous space station. It's really something straight out of science fiction. And when you take a look around, it's just really impressive that we've pulled this off. The best part about it is being able to fly around like a super hero."

Chamitoff is scheduled to return to Earth in November with the crew of the next station assembly mission. He said years of training helped prepare him for his six-month stay in space but "there are definitely aspects of this that the training really, you know, can only do so much to prepare you for."

"The last bit of training is actually from Garrett himself, he's been showing me the ropes on board, showing me day-to-day life on station, how to actually get things done, where to find things," Chamitoff said. "He gave me his phone number. He's probably going to change his number after he gets down there! Anyway, it's been a really good time having him show me how to live up here."


7:40 AM, 6/10/08, Update: Shuttle crew enjoys final docked day; Reisman prepares for home

The Discovery astronauts are working through a final day of equipment transfers to and from the international space station before closing hatches late today and undocking early Wednesday. Outgoing flight engineer Garrett Reisman, returning to Earth after three months in space, planned to squeeze in a final few hours of handover time, briefing his replacement, Gregory Chamitoff, on the intricacies of life aboard the station.

"We schedule a minimum of 16 hours of handover between the two flight engineers when one is leaving and one's coming up," station Flight Director Emily Nelson said early today. "If you can imagine, you're going to leave your house and someone else is going to live in it for six months. You need to show them where everything is, you need to show them what you do on a regular basis to keep everything up and maintain it.

"A lot of what is in their handover package ... shows where we've thought out in advance, here are all the things that you need to show Greg, in this case, so that he knows immediately where everything is, he's had everything shown to him, everything from the basic housekeeping tasks of cleaning filters and changing out batteries and those kinds of things to how to operate the internet protocol phone, how to get logged into email on the machines that are up there, even how to use the cycle ergometer, the bikes they've got up there.

"So it's mostly just your kind of day to day, all the things that they're going to be doing in the background all day long," Nelson said. "A lot of payload details get passed from one to the other at that time, any lessons learned ... tips and tricks for how to get by up there."

Reisman was launched to the station last March. Assuming an on-time landing Saturday aboard Discovery, he will have logged 95 days in space. Early today, engineers in space station control centers in Houston, Cologne, Germany and Moscow congratulated Reisman on a productive station stay.

"Garrett, best wishes to you as you spend your last day of this mission on the space station," said Mark Vande Hei at the Johnson Space Center. "Thanks for all your hard work in space over the last several months. We all look forward to your return."

"Thanks, Mark, it's really nice for you to say that," Reisman replied. "I couldn't imagine what these past three months would have been like without all the great help you've given me. And that goes out to all the centers, I just want to say thank you to everybody. ... You guys have been just better than I ever expected."

"Yeah, we appreciate those words and those sentiments are definitely felt down here as well," Vande Hei said.

The Discovery astronauts plan to take a break this afternoon, enjoying a few hours of off-duty time before gathering in the Harmony module for a farewell ceremony with Chamitoff, station commander Sergei Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko. Hatch closure is expected around 4 p.m., setting the stage for the shuttle's undocking at 7:42 a.m. Wednesday.

"I think when they leave, it's going to be very sad for me to see them go," Chamitoff said Monday. "I think that one moment, when we close the hatch, that's going to be the hard moment. After that, I'm with really good friends that I've spent years training with and they've already been here for two months, so they know how to do it and they'll show me the ropes."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision M of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/10/08
04:32 AM...09...11...30...Crew wakeup
06:32 AM...09...13...30...ISS daily planning conference
07:32 AM...09...14...30...Middeck transfers
09:42 AM...09...16...40...Oxygen system teardown
10:42 AM...09...17...40...EVA gear stowed
12:12 PM...09...19...10...Crew meal
01:12 PM...09...20...10...Crew off duty period
02:10 PM...09...21...08...Media interviews
02:45 PM...09...21...43...Mission status briefing on NTV
03:57 PM...09...22...55...Farewell ceremony
04:07 PM...09...23...05...Hatches closed
04:32 PM...09...23...30...Rendezvous tools checkout
04:32 PM...09...23...30...Orbiter docking system leak checks
07:32 PM...10...02...30...ISS crew sleep begins
08:02 PM...10...03...00...STS crew sleep begins
09:00 PM...10...03...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV
For readers interested in a look ahead, here's an updated undocking timeline for Wednesday (in EDT and mission elapsed time):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/11/08
06:58 AM...10...13...56...Noon
07:26 AM...10...14...24...Sunset
07:42 AM...10...14...40...UNDOCKING
07:43 AM...10...14...41...ISS holds attitude
07:47 AM...10...14...45...Range: 50 feet; reselect -X jets
07:49 AM...10...14...47...Range 75 feet; low Z
08:02 AM...10...15...00...Sunrise
08:11 AM...10...15...09...Range: 400 feet; start fly around
08:20 AM...10...15...18...Range: 600 feet
08:22 AM...10...15...20...Shuttle directly above ISS
08:29 AM...10...15...27...Noon
08:34 AM...10...15...32...Shuttle directly behind ISS
08:45 AM...10...15...43...Shuttle directly below ISS
08:57 AM...10...15...55...Separation burn No. 1
08:57 AM...10...15...55...Sunset
09:25 AM...10...16...23...Separation burn No. 2


6:30 PM, 6/9/08, Update: Fossum says port SARJ looks good compared to damaged starboard rotary joint; cleaning feasible, but a 'big job'

The powder-like debris dusting the outer edge of the space station's left-side solar array rotary mechanism does not appear to represent a serious problem, spacewalker Mike Fossum said today. He said the grease and debris seen on the port solar alpha rotary joint does not look anything like the much more severe contamination that has hobbled the station's right-side SARJ.

"There's really no similarity because on the starboard side, the damage is extensive and apparent," Fossum said during a crew news conference aboard the station. "The bearing surface itself is severely eroded, maybe not very thick but there's definitely a lot of damage there. On the port side, you really didn't see that at all. You see a little bit of the grease that some expected, and some didn't. It's really unclear.

"The particles over there (on the port drive gear), it's just a few fine, almost powder-like particles. On the starboard side, it's metallic particles that are clinging to things, you can see magnetic pattern kind of features in there, the way they cling to corners and things like that. On the port side, there's nothing like that. It's more like just a little bit of dust, maybe kind of like the dust you have on your brakes."

The international space station is equipped with two motor-drive 10-foot-wide SARJ gears, one on either side of the lab's main power truss, that are designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to track the sun. The devices are crucial for maximizing the electricity the station's solar panels can generate.

Last summer, engineers began noticing higher-than-usual vibration levels in the right-side joint mechanism, along with electrical current spikes indicative of increased friction as the gear rolled through 12 trundle bearing assemblies. During a subsequent spacewalk inspection, astronauts discovered extensive metallic contamination covering the active drive gear and degradation, or erosion, of at least one of the gear's bearing surfaces.

Despite extensive troubleshooting, engineers still don't know what might be causing the damage. One possibility is a small crack or breakdown in the hardened bearing surface that produced debris that was then crushed as it passed through the trundle bearings, causing more damage and creating more debris. Whatever the cause, it is a serious problem and flight controllers no longer operate the right-side SARJ in "auto-track" mode.

The left-side SARJ is operating normally, but Fossum spotted buildups of grease during an inspection Thursday. Photographs also indicted small amounts of an unknown material dusting the outer edge of the drive gear.

Engineers believe the grease may be coming from one or more of the trundle bearings the gear rolls through and it may be beneficial in slowing or preventing the sort of surface breakdown that has damaged the right-side gear. In any case, the grease is not thought to be an issue. The source of the powder-like material is not yet known, but Fossum collected samples during a spacewalk Sunday.

Each SARJ is made up of two identical drive gears, only one of which is used at any given time. NASA managers are holding open the option of moving all 12 trundle bearings and two drive motors to the backup gear in the right-side SARJ, but they don't want to take that step without first knowing what happened to the current drive gear to make sure the problem doesn't crop up again.

In the near term, astronauts may attempt to clean up the contamination in the starboard SARJ using grease and cloth wipes to get as much mileage out of the damaged gear as possible before switching to the backup gear. Fossum tested cleaning procedures during a spacewalk last Tuesday and while they seemed to work, "that's going to be a big job."

"What you'd really like to do is go out there with a shop vac, but that's not going to work for obvious reasons," Fossum said today. "And they don't want to use a brush that would cause all those particles to end up just in other places or perhaps clinging to solar arrays and causing other problems.

"So the grease looks like it's a pretty good answer. It's going to be a lot of work, but you can lay down a bead of grease, kind of wipe it across the surface you're trying to clean, and then scrape that up to get most of (the debris) and then go over it with essentially a terry cloth wipe, It's kind of a mitt with terry cloth on one side to clean up most of the grease. Maybe we see from the port side that a little bit of grease isn't a bad thing."

Fossum and his crewmates - commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and returning space station flight engineer Garrett Reisman - spent the day replacing spacesuit battery chargers in the Quest airlock module, testing the Japanese Kibo module's robot arm and re-opening a storage module that was bolted to the top of Kibo on Friday.

Reisman's replacement - Gregory Chamitoff - will remain behind aboard the station with Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko when Discovery undocks Wednesday. Hatches between the two spacecraft will be closed Tuesday evening.

"This is so much fun," Chamitoff said today. "The station is huge and there's plenty or room here for 10 people to work hard and do what we've done. I think when they leave, it's going to be very sad for me to see them go. I think that one moment, when we close the hatch, that's going to be the hard moment. After that, I'm with really good friends that I've spent years training with and they've already been here for two months, so they know how to do it and they'll show me the ropes."

Reisman, launched to the station in March, said he's looking forward to getting back to Earth.

"As far as what I'm looking forward to the most, that's easy. I can answer that with two words and it's Simone Francis, who's my wife," he said, laughing. "No doubt about that. And our cat, Fuzzy. ... Let's see, as far as what I'll miss most, it's definitely just floating. We call it floating, but really it's more like flying because as soon as you push off, you're moving through the air like some kind of super hero and being able to do that every day as you're commuting to work, it's unreal. That's what I'll miss the most.

"As far as what I'm looking forward to eating the most, of course, I would love to have a good slice of pizza. We don't really have much bread on board," he said. "We eat mostly tortillas because bread makes too many crumbs. So a nice, big, fat hamburger bun or something like that would be great. And that's what I think about.

"But the truth is, adjusting back to gravity is not so easy. Just like adjusting to weightlessness takes some time, adjusting to gravity takes some time, too. So even though I have visions of stepping off the shuttle and chowing down on a giant T-bone steak or something, that's not going to happen. But eventually it will, and I'm looking forward to that day where I can enjoy my favorite foods and do some of the things I love to do that I haven't been able to do from up here."


6:38 AM, 6/9/08, Update: Astronauts plan robot arm tests; logistics module ingress

The Discovery astronauts plan to exercise the Japanese Kibo module's robot arm today and then stow it for the remainder of the shuttle crew's mission. The astronauts also plan to re-open the Japanese logistics module mounted atop Kibo Friday and replace two of four spacesuit battery chargers in the Quest airlock module.

The astronauts were awakened around 5 a.m. by a recording of the Texas A & M flight song beamed up from mission control for spacewalker Michael Fossum.

"Good morning, Discovery. And a special good morning to you this morning, Mike," astronaut Shannon Lucid called from Houston.

"That's the spirit of Aggie land!" Fossum replied. "Texas A & M University is indeed a very special place. Thanks to my Aggie wife this morning for that wakeup music, to all my Aggie friends and the hundreds of thousands of Aggies on campus and around the world. It's going to be a great day."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision K of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/09/08
Mon 05:02 AM...08...12...00...Crew wakeup
Mon 07:02 AM...08...14...00...ISS daily planning conference
Mon 08:02 AM...08...15...00...Spacesuit component swap
Mon 08:07 AM...08...15...05...Japanese robot arm (JRMS) final deploy
Mon 08:32 AM...08...15...30...EVA gear prepped for transfer to shuttle
Mon 08:42 AM...08...15...40...JRMS maneuver to stow position
Mon 09:27 AM...08...16...25...JRMS brake checkout
Mon 09:32 AM...08...16...30...EVA gear transferred to shuttle
Mon 09:52 AM...08...16...50...Middeck transfers
Mon 10:42 AM...08...17...40...JRMS hold-release mechanism hold
Mon 11:17 AM...08...18...15...Crew meals begin
Mon 12:17 PM...08...19...15...Quest battery charge module changeout
Mon 12:42 PM...08...19...40...Logistics module vestibule outfitting (part 2)
Mon 01:00 PM...08...19...58...GLAST pre-launch briefing on NTV
Mon 02:22 PM...08...21...20...Logistics module ingress
Mon 04:27 PM...08...23...25...Logistis module emergency power enable
Mon 05:02 PM...09...00...00...Joint crew news conference
Mon 05:42 PM...09...00...40...Joint crew photo
Mon 06:30 PM...09...01...28...Mission status briefing on NTV
Mon 08:02 PM...09...03...00...ISS crew sleep begins
Mon 08:32 PM...09...03...30...STS crew sleep begins
Mon 09:00 PM...09...03...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV


4:40 PM, 6/8/08, Update: Spacewalk No. 3 ends

Astronauts Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan returned to the space station's Quest airlock module and began repressurizing the cramped chamber at 4:28 p.m. to officially end a 6-hour 33-minute spacewalk, the third and final excursion planned for the Discovery astronauts.

"Well, fellas, you did an awful lot of good work today," commander Mark Kelly radioed from just outside the airlock. "You ought to be very proud of yourselves."

"The people who deserve the credit are the people who got us here," Fossum replied. "Our EVA team ... those guys have worked tirelessly for the last year and a half to pull this off. They put up with a lot of stuff, figured out a lot of things. We're just the lucky guys on the pointy end out here."

The spacewalkers accomplished all of their primary objectives, installing a fresh tank of high-pressure nitrogen to help pressurize the station's cooling system; re-installing a repaired television camera; completing work to rig the new Kibo lab module for normal operations; installing micrometeoroid shields; and collecting samples of debris on the drive gear of the station's left-side solar array rotary joint.

They also completed several low-priority "get-ahead" tasks.

This was the 112th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 13th so far this year and the third for Fossum and Garan. Total station spacewalk time now stands at 706 hours and 36 minutes, with Discovery's total at 20 hours and 32 minutes. Fossum now ranks 12th on the list of most experienced spacewalkers with a total of 42 hours and one minute in six spacewalks over two missions. Garan is making his first shuttle flight.

"It's dark and lonely out here in space," Garan joked at one point. "Everyone can hear you scream.'"

With just 10 shuttle missions left before the program ends in 2010, no astronaut can be assured of another flight and as one of the spacewalkers said today, "you never know when it's your last EVA." Both men marveled at the view from time to time, savoring the experience.

"Guys, we're coming over Houston right now," pilot Ken Ham radioed at one point.

"Oh my God."

"Goodness sakes," one of the spacewalkers exclaimed, looking down on Texas from 210 miles up.

"Wow."


12:50 PM, 6/8/08, Update: Nitrogen tanks swapped out; port SARJ debris collected

Perched on the end of the space station's fully extended robot arm, astronaut Ronald Garan manually carried a 528-pound nitrogen tank from one side of the lab's main power truss to the other today, enjoying a spectacular there-and-back windshield-wiper ride that carried him eight stories above the research station.

"Isn't that great view?" crewmate Michael Fossum asked.

"Unbelievable."

"And Ronny, you're coming up on the coast of Peru," astronaut Kenneth Ham radioed from inside the shuttle Discovery.

"All right. Beautiful!"

Working in orbital darkness 210 miles up, Garan first carried an empty nitrogen tank from its attachment slot on the right side of the space station's main power truss to a stowage platform on the left side of the station where Fossum was waiting. After mounting the empty tank on the stowage platform, Garan took the fully-charged replacement tank back to the right-side of the truss, enjoying a daylight ride over the Pacific Ocean and northern South America.

The spacewalkers were ahead of schedule at that point and Fossum was cleared to make his way to the nearby left-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, to collect samples of presumed debris he spotted on the mechanism's drive gear during a spacewalk Thursday.

After removing a thermal cover, Fossum used Kapton tape to capture samples of a powdery material on the 10-foot-wide drive gear. The joint had been repositioned since his last inspection, but Fossum reported seeing the same grease buildups on the gear that he noticed Thursday.

"The cover's removed and I see ... the same kind of streaking we had on the other side and one of the little, uh, grease balls," he reported, peering inside the joint. "I do see another feature on datum A (surface) that is gold in color. It's near a gear tooth, I definitely recommend getting a picture of that. It's hard to get an angle on it. It is a surface deposit also, I can see it sitting on the surface."

A few moments later, he collected debris samples from the outer canted surface of the drive gear.

"OK, Mike, next you're going to remove the tape and fold it in half, sticky side to sticky side, put it in your trash bag," Ham instructed.

"Roger that."

The station is equipped with two SARJ gears to rotate outboard solar arrays like paddle wheels to track the sun. The right-side SARJ has suffered a mysterious breakdown in one of its bearing surfaces, generating extensive metallic shavings and debris. During a spacewalk Tuesday, Fossum tested techniques for eventually removing the contamination to permit normal, or near normal, operation of the mechanism.

The left-side SARJ is working normally, but astronauts have been periodically inspecting it to make sure no problems are developing. Grease buildups, presumably from one or more of the 12 bearing assemblies the gear rolls through, were seen during an inspection last October and again when Fossum looked under thermal covers Thursday. But he also saw a powder-like debris on the outer edge of the drive gear and mission managers decided to add debris collection to the list of chores planned for today's spacewalk.

WIth the nitrogen tanks exchanged and the port SARJ inspection complete, Garan and Fossum will make their way to the Japanese Kibo module to remove window cover launch locks and thermal insulation on the lab's robot arm. They also plan to re-install a repaired television camera on the station's power truss.


9:55 AM, 6/8/08, Update: Spacewalk No. 3 begins

Running 37 minutes ahead of schedule, astronauts Ronald Garan and Michael Fossum, floating in the space station's Quest airlock module, switched their spacesuits to battery power at 9:55 a.m. to officially begin the Discovery crew's third and final planned spacewalk.

This is the 112th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998 and the 13th so far this year. Going into today's outing, total station assembly EVA time stood at 700 hours and three minutes while Fossum and Garan have logged 13 hours and 59 minutes outside during spacewalks Tuesday and Thursday.


7:45 AM, 6/8/08, Update: Astronauts prepare for final spacewalk

Astronauts Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan are preparing for a third and final spacewalk today, a six-and-a-half-hour excursion highlighted by a dramatic robot arm ride over the top of the international space station to replace a nitrogen tank. Dubbed the "windshield wiper maneuver," the ride from one side of the station to the other will put Garan "clearly on top of the world," said arm operator Karen Nyberg, as he carries the 550-pound tanks.

"If you think about it, I'm going to be on the end of the arm and as we're doing this windshield-wiper maneuver right here at the top, I'll be 80 feet above the station looking down at the station, looking down at the Earth," Garan said before launch. "It's going to be really exciting, it's going to be really challenging, but I'm really looking forward to it."

Fossum will stow the old tank and hand Garan the fully charged replacement. Fossum also plans to re-visit the left-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, remove a thermal cover and use Kapton tape to collect samples of dust-like debris he spotted on the joint's big drive gear during an inspection Thursday.

The space station is equipped with two SARJ gears, one on either side of the lab's main power truss, that are designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to track the sun. The right side SARJ has suffered considerable damage to the surfaces of the 10-foot-wide drive gear that are gripped by 12 three-roller trundle bearings.

The left-side SARJ is operating normally, but Fossum spotted buildups of grease during an inspection Thursday. Photographs also indicted small amounts of an unknown material dusting the outer edge of the 10-foot-wide drive gear.

Engineers believe the grease may be coming from one or more of the trundle bearings the gear rolls through and it may be beneficial in slowing or preventing the sort of surface breakdown that has damaged the right-side gear. In any case, the grease is not thought to be an issue.

The dust-like material was somewhat of a surprise, Fossum said, but it is nothing like the damage and debris seen in the right-side SARJ.

"I don't believe it looks at all like the starboard side," Fossum told a reporter Saturday. "The starboard side definitely has metal shavings that show up and you can see some damage to the metal surface. There's just some things look different on the side we looked at the other day, the port side. It really looks to me like a little bit of grease, which is not a terribly big surprise when you're dealing with a bearing surface.

"Through the photographs, there might be a little bit of dusting of some other deposits around there. We plan to go out with a little bit of special tape and collect some of that dust from around the edge of the bearing. But really, that bearing looks to be in pretty darn good shape."

The crew was awakened at 5:32 a.m. by a recording of "The Mickey Mouse Club March" beamed up from mission control. The spacewalk, the 112th devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, was scheduled to begin at 10:32 a.m. (as of 7:30 a.m., the astronauts were running about a half-hour ahead of schedule).

Along with the nitrogen tank swap out and SARJ work, the spacewalkers also plan to re-install a repaired TV camera on the power truss and remove launch locks and insulation from the Japanese robot arm on the outboard end of the Kibo lab module.

But the major objective of today's work is to replace a nitrogen tank assembly, or NTA, used to pressurize the station's ammonia coolant loops. The depleted tank is located in the right side S1 segment of the station's power truss while the replacement, launched earlier, is mounted on an external stowage platform - ESP-3 - on the left side of the truss.

After exiting the Quest airlock module, Fossum will make his way to ESP-3 to prepare the new tank for handoff while Garan proceeds to the right side of the truss to pull out the depleted tank.

"This is going to be an absolutely spectacular EVA," Garan said in a NASA interview. "What's going to happen is I'm going up to the (right side of the) truss, to S1, where the old NTA is and I'll do the final preparations to pull it out of the truss. Meanwhile, Mike is going to translate all the way out to (the left side of the power truss) where the spare is and he's going to make the final preparations to receive the old NTA and to get the new NTA ready to move.

"So when everything is all set, I'm going to get onto the end of the space station's robotic arm and I'm going to pull the NTA out of the truss as the arm is backing away from the truss. And so when we get out a safe distance away from the truss, I'll have this 550-pound box in my hand and the space station's robotic arm is basically going to do what we call the ‘windshield wiper maneuver' and it's going to go over the top over to ESP-3. So this maneuver takes about 20 minutes and on the top here I'll be almost (six stories) above the station looking straight down on the aft side of the station and the Earth (210) miles below. So it'll be a pretty spectacular view and, and pretty spectacular ride over to ESP-3."

Nyberg, assisted by Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, will be operating the station arm.

"It's going to be a fun ride for him because the arm is going to go completely stretched out up in a big arc over to the other side of the truss and so he'll be clearly on top of the world at that point."

Once on Fossum's side of the power truss, "we will stow the old nitrogen tank assembly on ESP-3," Garan said. "I'll grab the new one and we'll just do the maneuver right back to the other side where I'll install it back on S1. Meanwhile, Mike's out and tying up ESP-3, making sure that that NTA is ready to come back to Earth when we're ready to do that on a later mission. So that's the big thing that we're going to do.

"After that, we've got a number of other tasks, a whole bunch of maintenance of tasks on the station. Mike's going to go back out to the Japanese laboratory and finish some of the work on the robotic arm that we couldn't do because on EVA-2 it was in the launch configuration and we couldn't get at some of the covers and some of the fasteners that we needed to undo."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision K of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/08/08
05:32 AM...07...12...30...Crew wakeup
06:02 AM...07...13...00...ISS daily planning conference
06:12 AM...07...13...10...EVA-3: 14.7 psi repress/hygiene break
06:57 AM...07...13...55...EVA-3: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
07:22 AM...07...14...20...EVA-3: Campout EVA preps
08:57 AM...07...15...55...EVA-3: Spacesuit purge
09:12 AM...07...16...10...EVA-3: Spacesuit prebreathe
10:02 AM...07...17...00...EVA-3: Crew lock depressurization
10:32 AM...07...17...30...EVA-3: Spacesuits to battery power
10:37 AM...07...17...35...EVA-3: Airlock egress
11:07 AM...07...18...05...EVA-3: Fossum: Retrieve ESP-3 NTA
11:07 AM...07...18...05...EVA-3: Garan: Remove S1 NTA
12:17 PM...07...19...15...EVA-3: Fossum: Stow S1 NTA on fram
12:27 PM...07...19...25...EVA-3: Garan: S1 NTA install
12:47 PM...07...19...45...EVA-3: Fossum: Cleanup ESP-3 worksite
01:22 PM...07...20...20...EVA-3: Garan: SSRMS cleanup
01:27 PM...07...20...25...EVA-3: Fossum: JRMS insulation and launch lock removal
02:07 PM...07...21...05...EVA-3: Garan: S1 NTA connections
02:42 PM...07...21...40...EVA-3: Fossum: Kibo launch locks
02:42 PM...07...21...40...EVA-3: Garan: TV camera installation
02:57 PM...07...21...55...EVA-3: Fossum: Deploy micrometeoroid shields
03:02 PM...07...22...00...Logistics module vestibule outfitting
04:27 PM...07...23...25...EVA-3: Cleanup and airlock ingress
04:52 PM...07...23...50...EVA-3: Airlock repressurization
05:02 PM...08...00...00...Spacesuit servicing
07:00 PM...08...01...58...Mission status briefing on NTV
08:32 PM...08...03...30...ISS crew sleep begins
09:02 PM...08...04...00...STS crew sleep begins
10:00 PM...08...04...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV; repeated hourly


8:44 AM, 6/7/08, Update: Japanese robot arm tests on tap (UPDATED at 3:30 PM with Fossum description of SARJ work; engineers want debris, not grease, samples)

The Discovery astronauts unlimbered the Kibo laboratory module's Japanese robot arm today and prepared spacesuits and equipment for a third and final spacewalk Sunday to collect samples of debris from a solar array rotary joint mechanism and install a tank of pressurized nitrogen for the space station's ammonia coolant loops.

"Preparations for the third walk are going great," said spacewalker Michael Fossum. "We've got the suits checked out and just about ready to go, all our tools packed up and after a few final procedures reviews, we'll be ready to go out the door tomorrow."

Mission managers early today approved a plan for Fossum collect samples of apparent debris he saw inside the station's left-side solar alpha rotary joint during the crew's second spacewalk Thursday.

The space station is equipped with two SARJ gears, one on either side of the lab's main power truss, that are designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to track the sun. The right side SARJ has suffered considerable damage to the surfaces of the 10-foot-wide drive gear that are gripped by 12 three-roller trundle bearings.

The left-side SARJ is operating normally, but Fossum spotted buildups of grease during an inspection Thursday. Photographs also indicted small amounts of an unknown material dusting the outer edge of the drive gear.

Engineers believe the grease may be coming from one or more of the trundle bearings the gear rolls through and it may be beneficial in slowing or preventing the sort of surface breakdown that has damaged the right-side gear. In any case, the grease is not thought to be an issue.

A senior space station manager said in an email grease had been seen during an earlier inspection during shuttle mission STS-120 in October 2007 as well as during ground testing.

"Pictures after the EVA during (assembly mission) 10A did show us a similar appearance," he said. "The pictures from this EVA are of higher resolution and allow us to more definitively conclude it to be grease from the rollers. This is not unexpected as it was seen during our ground life tests."

The dust-like material was somewhat of a surprise, Fossum said, but it is nothing like the damage and debris seen in the right-side SARJ.

"I don't believe it looks at all like the starboard side," Fossum told a reporter today. "The starboard side definitely has metal shavings that show up and you can see some damage to the metal surface. There's just some things look different on the side we looked at the other day, the port side. It really looks to me like a little bit of grease, which is not a terrible big surprise when you're dealing with a bearing surface.

"But it was not expected. Through the photographs, there might be a little bit of dusting of some other deposits around there so right now, and this plan is changing by the hour, tomorrow we plan to go out with a little bit of special tape and collect some of that dust from around the edge of the bearing. But really, that bearing looks to be in pretty darn good shape."

During today's work aboard the space station, the astronauts continued outfitting and activating the Japanese Kibo lab module and re-establishing connections between Kibo and a smaller logistics module that was mounted atop the new laboratory on Friday.

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide also moved Kibo's robot arm, which will be used in the future to manipulate externally mounted payloads and experiments, for the first time to give Fossum and Ronald Garan access to launch locks that will be removed during Sunday's spacewalk.

The arm "was too close in the launch configuration to the module itself so that Ron and Mike cannot access those launch locks," Hoshide said in a NASA interview. "So what we're trying to do is to deploy it just a little bit, and that's called the 'initial deploy,' so they can access. We'll have them take off the launch locks and then we'll do a final deploy so that's away from the module and then later in the mission we'll do a checkout of the arm, making sure that the brakes are working correctly and then move it into a storage configuration."

Hoshide and shuttle commander Mark Kelly will take a call from Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda at 7:02 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision J of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/07/08
06:02 AM...06...13...00...Crew wakeup
08:02 AM...06...15...00...ISS daily planning conference
08:52 AM...06...15...50...Shuttle robot arm maneuver
09:02 AM...06...16...00...Airlock preps for EVA-3
09:27 AM...06...16...25...Middeck transfers
09:47 AM...06...16...45...EVA-3: Tools configured
10:27 AM...06...17...25...Kibo robot (JRMS) arm setup
11:17 AM...06...18...15...JRMS hold/release mechanism test
12:17 PM...06...19...15...JRMS initial deploy
01:32 PM...06...20...30...ISS crew meal
02:02 PM...06...21...00...Crew media interviews
02:22 PM...06...21...20...Shuttle crew meal
03:22 PM...06...22...20...Logistics module vestibule outfitting
05:02 PM...07...00...00...Station robot arm maneuver
05:27 PM...07...00...25...EVA-3: Procedures review
07:02 PM...07...02...00...Japanese VIP event
07:30 PM...07...02...28...Mission status briefing on NTV
07:57 PM...07...02...55...EVA-3: Mask pre-breathe/tool config
08:30 PM...07...03...28...VIP event replay with English translation; on NTV
08:42 PM...07...03...40...EVA-3: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
09:02 PM...07...04...00...ISS crew sleep begins
09:32 PM...07...04...30...STS crew sleep begins
10:00 PM...07...04...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV


8:30 PM, 6/6/08, Update: Astronauts may collect grease sample from port SARJ; photos of wing panel requested

The Discovery astronauts may be asked to collect a sample of the presumed grease seen inside the space station's left-side solar alpha rotary joint. NASA managers have not made a final decision, but engineers would like to get a sample to pin down where the grease might be coming from and astronaut Michael Fossum will be in the area during a third and final spacewalk Sunday.

"There is some discussion about potentially going back and looking at the port SARJ on EVA-3," Flight Director Annette Hasbrook said late today. "Some folks are interested in getting a sample of the grease that was seen. That is still very preliminary and that request will be taken to mission managers tomorrow morning for discussion. We need to be prepared to give the crew a briefing message on that so we are preparing a package for the crew telling them what we'd have to do if that decision is made to go out and re-inspect the port SARJ."

The station has two SARJ mechanisms, one on each side of the main solar power truss, that are designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to track the sun. Each joint features a motor-driven 10-foot-wide gear that is gripped by 12 trundle bearing assemblies. The port SARJ is working normally, but the right-side SARJ has suffered major erosion of its bearing surface that has generated extensive metallic contamination.

During a spacewalk Tuesday, Fossum tested techniques for cleaning up the contamination and carried out a quick inspection of the left SARJ during a spacewalk Thursday. During a previous inspection of the port SARJ, grease was noted on the bearing surface. Engineers believe it may be coming from one or more trundle bearings and that it may be beneficial in slowing or preventing the sort of surface breakdown that has damaged the right-side gear.

In any case, engineers are not sure where the grease is coming from and a sample would help resolve the issue.

The astronauts were also asked to use a digital camera with a telephoto lens to take photographs of two of Discovery's wing leading edge panels. The shuttle's nose cap and wing leading edge panels endure the most extreme heating during re-entry and they are normally scrutinized with a laser scanner and high resolution cameras the day after launch.

But Discovery was launched without its heat shield inspection boom. The Kibo lab module it carried to the station was too big to include the boom and the crew of a shuttle mission in March left theirs behind for Discovery. It was retrieved during Tuesday's spacewalk and it will be used after undocking for a detailed inspection.

In the meantime, engineers are evaluating other photographs and data from sensors mounted behind the leading edge panels. Readings from one sensor showed a "spike" of 1.4 Gs during a flip maneuver during the shuttle's final approach to the space station. "There's been a request that you take some 800-millimeter photos of the starboard wing RCC panels 15 and 16," mission control radioed. "During your RPM (rendezvous pitch maneuver) on flight day three, we saw some pulses from the wing leading edge sensors, something on the order of about 1.4 Gs. Now that's normally in family, nothing that would cause any alarm all by itself, however we did not have all the wing leading edge sensors turned on. So 1.4 Gs, if that was the panel where the pulse originated, wouldn't be a big deal. But there's a chance that pulse originated from a panel that didn't have a wing leading edge sensor. Given the inverse square law and the damping, we don't have a whole lot of insight into how big that pulse would have been. That's why we want to take the pictures.

"There is not a high level of concern about this, but we do need to run this to ground and this data will help us close this out."


8:30 AM, 6/6/08, Update: Astronauts gear up for module move (UPDATED at 4:40 p.m. with module relocation)

The Discovery astronauts are working through a busy day inside the international space station, continuing the outfitting of the Japanese Kibo laboratory module and moving a smaller storage module to its permanent home on Kibo's upward-facing port.

At 8 a.m. today, video from cameras mounted on the shuttle's solid-fuel boosters was played on the NASA satellite television system, showing dramatic views of the orbiter as it climbed toward space last Saturday. The booster cam footage is part of NASA's post-Columbia focus on monitoring the health of the shuttle's heat shield from launch through end of mission.

The video released today was some of the best footage yet of a shuttle launch from the perspective of the boosters. While small bits of debris could be seen swirling between the shuttle and its external tank just before booster separation, nothing major could be seen and nothing of any significance hit the orbiter.

The major item on the agenda today for the Discovery astronauts was to move the Japanese pressurized logistics module, or JLP, from its temporary mounting point atop the Harmony module, where it was positioned after delivery in March, to its permanent location on the outboard upward facing port of the Kibo module.

Eight of Kibo's equipment and experiment racks were launched inside the logistics module and all eight had to be moved into the laboratory before the storage module could be moved today. In preparation for the move, the crew late Thursday locked one end of the station's robot arm to a grapple fixture on the front face of the station's main solar power truss. The other end of the arm was locked onto the logistics module.

After depressurizing the vestibule between the logistics module and Harmony, Karen Nyberg, space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide disconnected and carefully maneuvered the module about 30 feet or so to its final location. Motorized bolts were then driven home to firmly lock the two modules together and by 4:04 p.m., the relocation was complete.

Hoshide planned to test the video workstation in Kibo that will be used later to operate the module's robot arm. He also planned to disengage brakes on the arm's joints and then reapply them in a procedure designed to release any stresses that might have built up in the arm during launch.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision H of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/06/08
06:32 AM...05...13...30...Crew wakeup
08:00 AM...05...14...58...Solid rocket booster video replay on NTV
08:17 AM...05...15...15...ISS daily planning conference
09:42 AM...05...16...40...Logistics module (JLP) vestibule configure for demating
09:47 AM...05...16...45...Middeck transfers
12:12 PM...05...19...10...JLP vestibule depressurization
12:27 PM...05...19...25...Media interviews with shuttle, station commanders
01:02 PM...05...20...00...Crew meals begin
02:02 PM...05...21...00...JLP grappled
02:12 PM...05...21...10...Harmony/JLP demate
02:57 PM...05...21...55...JLP unberthed
03:07 PM...05...22...05...JLP moved to Kibo (JPM) outboard
03:37 PM...05...22...35...JLP install on JEM
03:57 PM...05...22...55...1st stage bolts
04:17 PM...05...23...15...2nd stage bolts
05:57 PM...06...00...55...JLP vestibule pressure check
06:57 PM...06...01...55...Japanese robot arm activation
07:27 PM...06...02...25...Japanese robot arm stress release
07:30 PM...05...02...28...Mission status briefing on NTV
09:32 PM...06...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
10:02 PM...06...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
11:00 PM...06...05...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV


6:25 PM, 6/5/08, Update: Spacewalk No. 2 ends

Ending a seven-hour 11-minute spacewalk, astronauts Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan, assisted by shuttle commander Mark Kelly, began repressurizing the space station's Quest airlock module at 6:15 p.m. to close out the second of three planned excursions.

Today's spacewalk, the 111th devoted to station assembly and maintenance, pushed total station EVA time to 700 hours and three minutes since construction began in 1998. Garan and Fossum now have 13 hours and 59 minutes of spacewalking time through two EVAs and Fossum moves up to 23rd on the list of most experienced spacewalkers, with 35 hours and 28 minutes through five EVAs during two flights.


5:50 PM, 6/5/08, Update: Fossum inspects port SARJ; observes apparent grease streaks; unclear if damage present (UPDATED at 8:45 p.m. with mission briefing; port SARJ thought to be in good shape)

Toward the end of today's Kibo outfitting spacewalk, astronaut Michael Fossum removed a thermal cover over a section of the space station's left side solar alpha rotary joint for a quick inspection of its drive gear and bearing surfaces. He reported what looked like streaks of built-up grease but no signs of the sort of metallic filings and surface damage that have forced NASA to stop normal use of the station's right-side SARJ.

The port SARJ has been operating normally and Flight Director Annette Hasbrook said engineers believe the drive gear is in good condition. The grease, she said, may have originated with one or more of the 12 trundle bearing assemblies that hold the gear and allow it to smoothly rotate. A similar grease build up was spotted the last time the joint was inspected last year.

"What they saw, the trundle bearing as it's riding may not ride completely flat, there may be a little bias so you could see some, it's not grooving, but in a sense streaking, or wearing of material. And then the rest of it, it looked like a grease that was potentially on the bearing surface.

"They're pretty sure these trundle bearings have leaked a little bit of grease and that could be one of the reasons that we're not seeing any of the wearing on this assembly. It could be a lubrication factor. It could be something that's helping the rolling mechanism so you don't get any friction build up and you're not seeing any degradation."

But all in all, she said, the port SARJ appears to be in good shape.

The two SARJ mechanisms are critical to space station operations. They feature 10-foot-wide motor-driven gears gripped by powerful roller bearings to turn outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to track the sun and maximize power generation.

Last summer, engineers noticed the right-side SARJ drive motor was working harder than expected. That, coupled with high vibration levels, led engineers to suspect some sort of interference or friction in the mechanism. An inspection during a subsequent spacewalk revealed extensive metallic shavings on the drive gear and bearing surface degradation.

Extensive troubleshooting has not yet been able to pin down what might be causing the damage. But engineers suspect a small crack or defect in one bearing surface might have resulted in cracks or debris that, as it ground through the bearings, caused further damage. Engineers want to make sure no similar process gets started on the left-side SARJ or the right-side SARJ's backup drive gear.

During a spacewalk Tuesday, Fossum experimented with scrapers, grease and towels to help engineers determine the best way for future crews to clean up the metal shavings and permit normal, or near-normal operation for as long as possible. Each SARJ is equipped with a backup drive gear and while many engineers think they will be forced to switch to the other, undamaged right-side gear sooner or later, they would like to get as much mileage as possible out of the damaged gear before taking any last-resort steps.

During today's spacewalk, Fossum was asked to take a quick look at the port SARJ gear just to make sure nothing unusual was going on there. His initial report caught everyone's attention but it later became apparent what he was seeing was similar to what was observed the last time the SARJ was inspected in 2007.

"OK. I'm looking at the outer ring, datum-A, and I see two features, which unfortunately look a whole lot like what we had on the other side," Fossum radioed, peering into the SARJ mechanism. "The overall condition, I do not see filings. There is one line in the datum A (bearing surface) that appears to be a drag line. It's about a quarter inch, three eighths of an inch in from the inside edge. There's a definite wear line at that location. It looks to me just like other damage I've seen to bearings the brakes and such. It's not totally uniform, there are some striations in it. There's some marks, and this around the, you can see the wear... can you see my WVS (helmet camera video) at all?"

"I can see something that looks like a groove," pilot Kenneth Ham replied from inside the shuttle Discovery.

"Yeah, there' a groove on the inside edge."

"Yes, on the inside edge, I can see that," Ham agreed.

"OK. There's also some features right under my finger," Fossum said. "Do you see my finger?"

"Yes sir."

"Right under that. And I can't tell if it's (raised) up or (depressed) down. It looks to me like it's a deposit. And as I get along the edge... yes, it's a deposit. It's not a divot. It's on the surface."

"OK, now is that in the path of where the bearing goes?" Ham asked. "Or is the bearing inside of that?"

"It's right on the edge," Fossum replied. "You can see the wear line where the bearing goes and it's right on the outside edge of that wear line."

"OK, so the bearing does not go over that."

"That's affirmative. That's affirmative," Fossum said. "And the other one is on the inside edge. They almost look alike, I mean it almost even looks like some grease where more of it got squished to the inside and just a few bits kind of gummed up and rolled out on the outside."

"OK, a little bit earlier you said it looked like a drag line," Ham said. "Now you're thinking it's possible it might be a, like grease piled up there?"

"There are features that run along the ring that you can see," Fossum said. "It's a dragging mechanism of some kind, it appears to me. You can see lines in it, it's not a uniform gray line."

A few minutes later, he reassured flight controllers, saying "again, I do not see any signs of metal shavings or any of the other kind of stuff that we had all over under the covers on the other side. This is a lot cleaner."

"It appears there's none of the kind of surface damage we had on the starboard SARJ?" Ham asked.

"No, there's not," Fossum replied. "There's not. There are a few lines that almost, again, almost look like grease or someting that's kind of squished out to the outside edge."

Hasbrook said engineers will study photographs of the area inspected by Fossum, but "it looked very similar to what was seen (last year)."


2:20 PM, 6/5/08, Update: Cameras installed; robot arm thermal shields removed; docking port prepped for logistics module

Astronauts Ronald Garan and Michael Fossum installed two television cameras on the Japanese Kibo module today, removed insulation from the joints of the lab's robot arm and prepared a docking port for the attachment Friday of a Japanese logistics module that was launched in March and temporarily mounted on the nearby Harmony module. The spacewalk is proceeding smoothly and the astronauts now are installing thermal covers over the fittings that helped secure Kibo in the shuttle Discovery's cargo bay for launch. There have been no problems of any significance and the spacewalkers are running a few minutes ahead of their timeline.


11:05 AM, 6/5/08, Update: Spacewalk No. 2 begins

Running a half hour ahead of schedule, astronauts Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan switched their spacesuits to battery power at 11:04 a.m. to officially begin a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk to rig the new Kibo lab module for normal operation.

This is the 111th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 12th so far this year and the second of three planned by Fossum and Garan. Total spacewalk construction time going into today's excursion was 692 hours and 52 minutes.

"Beautiful day on the Mediterranean coast," Fossum observed from the open airlock, looking down on Spain and southern France 210 miles below.

The first item on the agenda today is to install two television cameras on the Kibo lab module to help with future robot arm operations.


7:39 AM, 6/5/08, Update: Astronauts gear up for second spacewalk

Astronauts Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan are gearing up for a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk today to mount cameras on Japan's Kibo lab module, remove launch locks and prepare a docking port for the attachment Friday of a Japanese logistics module.

The spacewalk, the second of three planned for the shuttle Discovery's mission, is scheduled to begin at 11:32 a.m. when Fossum and Garan, floating in the station's Quest airlock module, switch their spacesuits to battery power.

The spacewalkers spent the night in the airlock at a reduced air pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams as part of a standard protocol intended to prevent the bends after working in NASA's 5-psi spacesuits.

The astronauts were awakened at 6:32 a.m. by a recording of "Fly Away" by Lenny Kravitz beamed up from mission control.

"Good morning, Discovery," astronaut Shannon Lucid called from Houston. "A special good morning to you today, Ron."

"Good morning, Shannon," Garan replied. "Just want to thank my beautiful wife, Carmel, for that song and say hi to her and to my boys, Ronny, Joseph and Jake. Mike and I are getting ready to go out the door for our second spacewalk today, It's going to be a wonderful day! And it's good to hear that song this morning."

"And I agree, it's a great day for an EVA," Lucid said.

Before the astronauts were awakened, space station Flight Director Emily Nelson provided an update on the station's Russian toilet, which flight engineer Oleg Kononenko repaired Wednesday by replacing a pump flown up aboard Discovery.

"Oleg replaced the water separator, it was functioning fully when the crew went to bed," Nelson said. "Obviously, if nobody's trying to use it we don't get a status on it. But the last water separator (pump) that failed failed after only a few hours. This one was running perfectly right up to and past crew sleep, many hours after the remove and replace had taken place. So all good signs so far. We fully expect it's now fixed and we don't have to worry about it any more."

Today's spacewalk is devoted to completing Kibo's external outfitting and preparing the new module for normal operation. Television cameras will be installed on the outboard bulkhead to provide visibility when operating the module's robot arm. Garan and Fossum will remove thermal covers from the arm's joints, along with no-longer-needed launch locks.

The spacewalkers also will prepare an upper docking port for attachment of the Japanese logistics module. That module, launched in March with eight Kibo equipment racks inside, was temporarily mounted on the upward-facing port of the Harmony module. Now that Kibo is attached to Harmony's left-side port, the logistics module will be moved Friday to its permanent location.

Along with prepping the docking port, Fossum and Garan also will fold back thermal blankets that engineers believe could interfere with the attachment mechanism.

"The major objective of EVA 2 is to get the external outfitting completed on the JPM (Japanese pressurized module, Kibo) or as much as we can on that day," Garan said in a NASA interview. "So Mike and I will be carrying very large cameras, video cameras, and large stanchions. We'll be carrying them out to the Japanese laboratory's new home there. We'll be on the end-cone, actually, and we'll install those two cameras. I'll install the one on the forward side. Michael will install the one on the aft side and then we will be removing launch locks.

"We'll remove covers from the joints of the Japanese robotic arm and then we will be on the zenith side of the JPM, of the Japanese laboratory, and we will remove covers from the common berthing mechanism. This is so the next day we can move the Japanese logistics module over to the top of the laboratory and we obviously need to take those covers off before we do that. So those are some of the outfitting tasks that we're going to be doing on EVA 2.

"In addition to that, we're going to get ready for EVA 3," Garan said. "We're going do some of the preparation tasks that we need to do for EVA 3 and we have an object called the nitrogen tank assembly. That's something that we're going to remove and replace with a new one and so we need to get that all ready. We need to break torques on some of the bolts, do some of the fluid line disconnects, some of the electrical disconnects and then head way out to what's called ESP-3, which is a platform where we have the spare NTA. We need to prep that spare NTA to be ready to be moved over to where its new home will be."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision G of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/05/08
06:32 AM...04...13...30...Crew wakeup
07:12 AM...04...14...10...EVA-2: 14.7 psi repress/hygiene break
07:57 AM...04...14...55...EVA-2: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
08:02 AM...04...15...00...ISS daily planning conference
08:22 AM...04...15...20...EVA-2: Campout EVA preps
08:37 AM...04...15...35...JPM RMS umbilical
08:47 AM...04...15...45...JPM outfitting
09:57 AM...04...16...55...EVA-2: Spacesuit purge
10:12 AM...04...17...10...EVA-2: Spacesuit prebreathe
11:02 AM...04...18...00...EVA-2: Crew lock depressurization
11:32 AM...04...18...30...EVA-2: Spacesuits to battery power
11:37 AM...04...18...35...EVA-2: Airlock egress/setup
12:07 PM...04...19...05...EVA-2: Install forward/aft JIVE
12:57 PM...04...19...55...JPM vestibule 3 outfitting
12:57 PM...04...19...55...EVA-2: Remove RMS cover and EE MLI
01:57 PM...04...20...55...EVA-2: Zenith ACBM preps
02:22 PM...04...21...20...EVA-2: Install TR and KL covers
03:02 PM...04...22...00...EVA-2: Prep ESP-3 nitrogen tank assembly
03:57 PM...04...22...55...JLP egress
04:32 PM...04...23...30...EVA-2: CP9 ETVCG retrieval
05:02 PM...05...00...00...JPM ungrapple
05:12 PM...05...00...10...Node 2 zenith CPA installation
05:32 PM...05...00...30...EVA-2: Cleanup and airlock ingress
05:42 PM...05...00...35...SSRMS grapples PDGF-3
06:02 PM...05...01...00...EVA-2: Airlock repressurization
06:07 PM...05...01...05...SSC setup
06:12 PM...05...01...10...Spacesuit servicing
08:00 PM...05...02...58...Mission status briefing on NTV
10:02 PM...05...05...00...ISS crew sleep begins
10:32 PM...05...05...30...STS crew sleep begins
11:00 PM...05...05...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV


5:45 PM, 6/4/08, Update: Astronauts enter roomy Kibo module

The 10 astronauts aboard the shuttle-space station complex opened up the newly installed Japanese Kibo module today at 5:05 p.m., floated inside and literally bounced off the walls, enjoying a chance for some impromptu zero gravity acrobatics in the roomy new addition.

Floating in the middle of the brightly lighted module, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide held up a sign written in Japanese that, roughly translated, said "aerospace experiments - astronauts wanted."

Measuring 37 feet long and 14 feet wide, Kibo - "Hope" in Japanese - is so large it had to be launched with only a handful of experiment and control system racks in place. As such, the module was virtually empty when the crew floated inside, giving the astronauts and cosmonauts more than enough room to bounce and tumble about.

"This is a great moment for the Japanese folks," Hoshide said before floating inside. "We have the JPM (Japanese pressurized module), the Kibo module, installed yesterday. And now we have the hatch to be opened. I just want to thank all of the Japanese folks that have been working very, very hard. I know it's been like 20-plus years to get this module up in space. It's a beautiful module. We have a new 'hope' on the space station.

"It looks pretty empty because we don't have a lot of racks inside (yet)," he added before opening the main hatch. "But one engineer said down on Earth 'it looks really empty, but it's full of dreams.' And I really think that's what it is."

After addressing flight controllers and engineers at the Tsukuba Space Center in Japanese, a flight director praised the astronauts for reaching "this historical moment. Welcome to JEM! Enjoy your new module!"

"Thank you very much, Tsukuba," Hoshide replied. "This is an international program and with the help of the ground and the crew members up here, we're all a team and we couldn't have done this without everyone's help. So thank you very much."

He then unfurled a large, dark blue banner with "Kibo" written across it in large white letters.

"The Kibo module is open!" Hoshide exclaimed.

Kibo can accommodate 23 experiment and equipment racks, but it was launched with just four in place to keep the weight down to 16 tons. Another eight racks were launched in a smaller Japanese logistics module that was temporarily mounted atop the station's Harmony module in March.

The logistics module will be removed from Harmony and bolted to Kibo Friday. Equipment transfers will begin right away.


12:05 PM, 6/4/08, Update: Russian toilet pump replaced

Cosmonaut-turned-plumber Oleg Kononenko replaced a pump in the space station's balky Russian toilet today and initial tests indicated the potty's urine collection system was working normally again. While engineers will monitor the toilet's operation to make sure the repair was, in fact, successful, they were hopeful a potentially difficult problem had been resolved.

"This is the end of our testing," a Russian flight controller radioed after the initial tests were complete. "We'll keep watching it. And you can start using (the toilet). ... Thank you, Oleg, thank you for your work."

Located in the Zvezda command module, the toilet began acting up about a week-and-a-half before Discovery's launch. The toilet uses a pump to pull in a mixture of air and urine, which is then diverted to holding tanks after separation. Troubleshooting indicated the problem involved the pump in that system, but two spares on the station failed to work longer than about a day. All three pumps came from the same manufacturing lot and the Russians rushed a new pump with a different pedigree to the Kennedy Space Center for launch aboard Discovery.

Kononenko, assisted by Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov, installed the new pump in about an hour today and then followed detailed instructions from specialists in Moscow for flushing the system and testing the new pump. Kononenko reported the pump sounded normal and appeared to be operating as expected. The pump that was replaced will be returned to Earth aboard Discovery for detailed troubleshooting.

If the repair had failed, or if any other problem shuts down the toilet, the station has enough urine collection bags on board to last the three-man crew until a Russian Progress supply ship arrives in September. The Russian toilet's solid waste collection system is working normally.

While Kononenko was working on the toilet, the Discovery astronauts were servicing a U.S. carbon dioxide removal system, preparing spacesuits and tools for a second spacewalk Thursday and outfitting the vestibule between the Harmony module and the newly installed Kibo laboratory.

Part of that pre-ingress outfitting calls for powering up one of Kibo's two electrical buses to provide electricity for temperature control and telemetry. If all goes well, the astronauts will open the hatch and enter the new module shortly before 5 p.m.


7:40 AM, 6/4/08, Update: Space station toilet repair on tap; Kibo ingress

The Discovery astronauts plan to enter and begin activating the Japanese Kibo laboratory module today after checking out sensors on their heat shield inspection boom and servicing the station's U.S. carbon dioxide removal system. Cosmonaut-turned-plumber Oleg Kononenko, meanwhile, plans to install a new pump in the space station's Russian toilet in a bid to repair the potty's urine collection system.

Located in the Zvezda command module, the toilet began acting up about a week-and-a-half before Discovery's launch. Troubleshooting indicated the problem involved a liquid-gas separation system pump, but two spares on the station failed to work longer than about a day. All three pumps came from the same manufacturing lot and the Russians rushed a new pump with a different pedigree to the Kennedy Space Center for launch aboard Discovery.

The shuttle docked with the space station Monday after a flawless rendezvous. Opening a final hatch between the shuttle and the lab complex, Discovery commander Mark Kelly called out, "Hey, are you looking for a plumber?"

Kononenko will install the new pump starting around 9:30 a.m. and flight controllers hope to know the results of the repair a few hours later.

"Oleg is going to do a remove and replace of the water separator unit that's been giving us trouble," station Flight Director Emily Nelson said early today. "He's got several hours set aside in the morning to take out the balky part, put in the new part and then we'll see in the afternoon if that does the trick or whether we need to figure out another solution."

The toilet can be used in its current condition, but it requires additional flushing every two or three uses, a procedure that takes two crew members about 10 minutes to complete. With three full-time crew members, that translates into a major inconvenience.

If the toilet cannot be repaired, the station is equipped with collection bags and containers that could be used until a Russian Progress supply ship arrives in September. Last week, there was some concern that a broken toilet ultimately could force the crew to leave the station and come home. But Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of the station program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said Tuesday the crew has enough supplies on board to make it to September in a worst-case scenario.

"If for some reason the ISS toilet becomes unusable, we actually do now, with some additional assets we put on (Discovery) at the last minute, have the capability to make it to the next Progress," he said. "So it's a combination of urine collection devices we actually have in the U.S. (section), we use these primarily for research purposes, that's their intended purpose, but we can use those for everyday use, if you will. The Russians also have something called a ring collector, which is again a backup method for collecting liquid wastes.

"And so with all the assets we have on board, we believe even if we're unsuccessful (with the pump replacement) we'll make it to the next Progress when additional spare parts for the toilet and/or additional consumables could be launched. So at this point in time, even in a worst-case scenario, we don't believe that the ISS would be forced into a de-crewing situation.

"By the way, right now we're not having issue with solid wastes, but we do have, we call them Apollo bags, backup methods for collecting of solid wastes," Shireman said. "Neither one of these are particularly pleasant, but certainly are tried and true devices for their intended purposes and can be used in this situation."

While Kononenko is working on the toilet, Karen Nyberg and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will be outfitting the vestibule between the Harmony module and the newly installed Kibo laboratory.

"That vestibule will have two power lines, four jumper cables for the thermal control system ... two data lines, two audio-video lines, one wireless audio line, one high-rate data line, one ethernet cable, two intra-modular valve jumpers, one nitrogen jumper and one water line for condensate water," said mission control commentator Rob Navias.

"THe first part of the vestibule outfitting ... will involve the removal of thermal covers and the installation of jumpers for the first of two power channel activation procedures, channel B as it is known, which governs the control of the moderate temperature loop. ... At the moment, (power and) heating is being provided to Kibo through the power and data grapple fixture, the station's robotic arm. Once the channel B activation is complete, Kibo will be on its own internal power and commanding of that new module will fall into the hands of the Japanese flight control team.

If all goes well, the astronauts will open the hatch into Kibo around 4:52 p.m. and begin its initial activation.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision E of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/04/08
06:32 AM...03...13...30...Crew wakeup
08:32 AM...03...15...30...ISS daily planning conference
09:07 AM...03...16...05...CO2 removal system maintenance
09:17 AM...03...16...15...Vestibule outfitting
09:32 AM...03...16...30...ISS toilet repair
09:37 AM...03...16...35...Equipment lock preps
09:47 AM...03...16...45...OBSS sensor checkout
10:22 AM...03...17...20...EVA tools prepped
11:17 AM...03...18...15...Airlock check valve installation
12:17 PM...03...19...15...Middeck transfers
12:32 PM...03...19...30...Node 2 aft IMV installation
12:32 PM...03...19...30...Jumper channel B initial activation
01:02 PM...03...20...00...Crew meals begin
02:00 PM...03...20...58...Mars Phoenix briefing on media channel
02:02 PM...03...21...00...Vestibule outfitting continues
02:47 PM...03...21...45...Middeck transfers resume
04:47 PM...03...23...45...JPM hatch opening
04:52 PM...03...23...50...JPM ingress
05:27 PM...04...00...25...JPM PCS installation
05:47 PM...04...00...45...FSE ACM removal
06:17 PM...04...01...15...JPM setup
06:27 PM...04...01...25...EVA-2: Procedures review
07:17 PM...04...02...15...JPM RMS rack transfer
07:30 PM...04...02...28...Mission status briefing on NTV
08:57 PM...04...03...55...EVA-2: Mask pre-breathe and tool config
09:42 PM...04...04...40...EVA-2: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
10:02 PM...04...05...00...ISS crew sleep begins
10:32 PM...04...05...30...STS crew sleep begins
11:00 PM...04...05...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV


07:15 PM, 6/3/08, Update: Spacewalk ends; Kibo attached to station (UPDATED at 10:07 p.m. with mission status briefing; no focused inspection for Discovery; SARJ divot assessed

The Discovery astronauts staged a successful spacewalk today, retrieving a shuttle heat shield inspection boom and testing techniques for cleaning metallic contamination from a critical solar array drive gear. They also prepared Japan's Kibo lab module for installation and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, operating the station's robot arm, pulled the 15-ton module from Discovery's cargo bay and attached it to the station. If all goes well, the astronauts will enter the new module Wednesday to begin activating its myriad systems.

"Today we were extremely happy to see the Kibo pressurized module attached at its permanent location," said Tetsuro Yokoyama, deputy manager of the Kibo project for the Japanese space agency.

Floating in the Quest airlock module, the astronauts began repressurizing at 7:10 p.m. to officially end the six-hour 48-minute spacewalk, the first of three planned for the shuttle Discovery's mission.

"You guys did an awful lot of great work today," spacewalk coordinator Kenneth Ham, Discovery's pilot, called from the shuttle. "And it looked like you were having a lot of fun on the way."

"Oh yeah," Garan agreed.

"Nice job, quarterback," Fossum said.

This was the 110th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 11th so far this year, pushing total EVA time to 692 hours and 52 minutes.

"Mike and Ron, it was a pleasure working with you today," astronaut Chris Ferguson radioed from mission control. "Today was the 43rd anniversary of the first U.S. EVA conducted by Ed White on Gemini 4. So I think it was appropriate we had two Air Force guys out the door today in honor of Ed White."

"Well, thank you very much," one spacewalker replied. "Thanks Chris, appreciate that," said the other.

As the spacewalk was winding down, Hoshide, assisted by Karen Nyberg and outgoing station flight engineer Garrett Reisman, were in the final stages of attaching the Kibo - "Hope" - laboratory module to Harmony's left-side port. The module was pulled out of DIscovery's cargo bay just before 5 p.m. It took about an hour-and-a-half for the astronauts, operating the station's robot arm, to move the laboratory into place for attachment.

"Congratulations, especially (Japan's) Tsukuba (Space Center)," Hoshide radioed after motor-driven bolts locked the two modules together. "We have a new 'hope' on the international space station."

"It was an amazing day for the international space station program, an amazing day for our partnership," said Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center. "We're very pleased to have Kibo, the pressurized module of Kibo, on board the international space station (at) it's final home. It's been an amazing journey for Kibo. It arrived in the United States in May 2003, was launched in May 2008 and now it's at its permanent. long-term home on the international space station."

LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, said analysis of launch and on-orbit imagery is ongoing and that a final verdict on the health of the shuttle's heat shield is not yet possible. But based on what engineers have seen to date, the MMT decided there was no need for a so-called "focused" inspection before Discovery undocks.

So far, Cain said, engineers have identified just four "areas of interest" on the shuttle's belly and all of them are small and no concern for re-entry.

"We're far enough along in our assessments ... to be able to say we don't have any requirement for a focused inspection," he said. "We do have a few areas on the tile we're looking at (but) we essentially cleared the vehicle for emergency deorbit purposes and within a day or two, we'll be able to go further than that. Overall, the performance has just been outstanding."

He said analysis of ascent imagery and close-up photographs taken by the station crew during Discovery's final approach before docking Monday showed that foam debris from the ship's external tank that was seen falling away during launch did not cause any damage to the shuttle's protective tiles."

One of the highlights of today's spacewalk was an inspection of the station's right-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, and an assessment of various techniques that may be used in the future to clean metallic contamination off the 10-foot-wide drive gear.

The motor-driven gear, which rotates outboard solar arrays to track the sun, is held in place by 12 trundle bearing assemblies that grip the ring on three faces. One of those surfaces has broken down, generating large amounts of metal shavings and debris.

During today's spacewalk, Fossum showed the debris can be cleaned up by applying a layer of grease to the contaminated surface and then using a scraper and wipes to remove it, along with trapped particles.

He also inspected a blemish on a different surface of the drive gear and discovered it is a depression, or pit, and not a buildup of debris as some engineers had hoped. A buildup could, in theory, be removed but a pit indicates a defect in the surface, possibly a starting point for the same type of degradation that generated the debris on the other face.

"We confirmed it was a divot," Shireman said. "Actually, most of us had been expecting that was really what it was because of the two options, that's the worst one. It says that surface has also sustained damage and it will most likely propagate as we continue to operate or rotate that SARJ. It doesn't go to the root cause, but it is another piece of data.

"So we'll factor that into our analysis. Certainly, the imagery we took today we'll use and we'll compare with the photos from (recent) EVAs and we'll determine if this spot is growing and what the rate of propagation is. We are continuing to minimize the amount of rotations on this ring, so we don't think it makes this situation any more grave than it was before. Just some additional data."

NASA managers hope to clean the contaminated drive gear enough to permit at least limited use before eventually switching to an undamaged backup gear. But they want to clean up the contamination before then to prevent any particles from migrating to the other wheel and causing additional damage.


6:17 PM, 6/3/08, Update: Fossum inspects SARJ; finds previously seen defect is a depression in surface; grease removal test inconclusive

Astronaut Michael Fossum closely inspected a previously seen defect in a bearing surface on the drive gear of a space station solar array rotary joint and confirmed it is a depression and not an area where debris had accumulated. That would seem to imply that it represents an area of the hardened surface material of the bearing race that has broken down somehow or otherwise been damaged as opposed to something that could be scraped away or smoothed out.

"This is not what they were hoping to hear," Fossum said after rubbing a scraper and a gap tool over the pit. "This is definitely a depression."

"OK, how are you determining that?" astronaut Kenneth Ham asked from inside the shuttle Discovery.

"It's very, very thin, it's almost imperceptible with the scraper tool," Fossum said. "Using the gap gauge, you can feel it drop in, there's no catch on the edge as if you were running up against a bump or something. I came at it from multiple directions and I don't feel it catch. If it was a bump or something, you would catch on the edge and it would hesitate a moment. This does not. You feel it drop in."

"OK. That description sounds like it is what it is, then."

"It also catches on the outside edge as you're leaving the marred area and going back onto the undisturbed surface," Fossum reported.

"OK, that sounds like two positive indications for a depression," Ham replied."

Engineers have been struggling to figure out what has caused the drive gear bearing surface to degrade, producing large amounts of metallic shavings. Engineers theorize the surface layer suffered a crack or some other defect that got worse as the drive gear rolled through 12 bearings that hold it in place.

The SARJ is used to rotate outboard solar arrays to track the sun. The port SARJ works normally, but the right-side SARJ has been used only sparingly since the contamination and bearing surface degradation were discovered last year.

Looking over Fossum's shoulder, so to speak, via helmet-mounted television cameras, Ham observed that "it looks like, shoot, maybe 80 to 90 percent of the surface has been disturbed and eroded."

"Affirm," Fossum said. "Yep, along the outmost edge, it looks like it's eroded all the way to the boundary here."

Fossum then carried out a series of tests to find out whether he could remove contamination from a small area of the bearing surface using Braycote grease to trap the particles. He applied the grease with a scraper tool and then used the scraper to scrape it back off. He also tried wiping the particle-holding grease off with a towel and simply applying it with a wipe.

"OK, I guess I've done what I can do with a wipe," he said at one point. "It's very clean now, as far as the grease goes. The area does not look that different, there is a reduction in the little accumulations on the surface that we affectionately call pancakes, but the other surface as far as the more rigid things, I think the peninsula-type areas have been undisturbed by this process of scraping and wiping."

While Fossum was testing the debris removal techniques, crewmate Ronald Garan re-installed a bearing on the drive gear, re-installed insulation and configured a series of launch locks as required.

"Ron, you're making me look like a slacker," Fossum joked. "I'm sitting here doing one thing."

"You're doing the important thing," Garan said.

Earlier in the spacewalk, Fossum and Garan removed protective covers from the Japanese Kibo lab module, unplugged it from shuttle power and loosened window launch locks. While the spacewalkers moved onto the SARJ work, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, assisted by Karen Nyberg, carefully pulled Kibo from its perch in the shuttle Discovery's cargo bay at 4:37 p.m. By 6:15 p.m., the huge module was positioned within inches of its docking port on the left side of the station's Harmony module.

Once the berthing mechanisms are flush together, motorized bolts will drive in to lock the laboratory to Harmony. The astronauts plan to enter the new module Wednesday.


4:00 PM, 6/3/08, Update: Kibo prepped for attachment to station

Spacewalkers Ronald Garan and Michael Fossum removed protective covers, released window cover launch locks and disconnected shuttle power to prepare Japan's 15-ton Kibo laboratory module for its move from Discovery to the international space station. The astronauts are running about an hour ahead of schedule, more than making up for a 50-minute late start due to problems with a headset cable.

Fossum and Garan have two more major tasks to complete, both involving the station's right-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ. The station is equipped with two motor-driven SARJ mechanisms, one on each side of the lab's main power truss, to turn outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to keep them face on to the sun.

The left-side SARJ works normally in "auto-track" mode, but the left-side gear has been used sparingly since last year when engineers discovered extensive metallic contamination on one of the drive gear's bearing surfaces. Engineers are not certain what's causing the problem, but they suspect it might be due to an initially small breakdown in the super-hard outer layer of the bearing surface that worsened as the gear rotated through the tight grip of 12 bearing assemblies.

During today's spacewalk, Garan will re-install trundle bearing No. 5, which was removed earlier as part of NASA's on-going troubleshooting. Fossum, meanwhile, will inspect the damaged bearing surface and attempt to clean a small section, spreading on Braycote grease to trap small shavings and other debris and then wiping it off. He plans to test several techniques and tools to see what works best.

If he is successful, future spacewalkers may attempt to clean the entire drive gear enough to permit at least partial use of the drive assembly. The SARJ is equipped with two drive gears, and the backup is pristine. But NASA does not want to change gears unless absolutely necessary because of the possibility of additional problems down the road.

"They'll start off by using the scraper," said David Beaver, lead spacewalk officer. "He'll first try just scraping the ring just with the scraper with no grease and see how much material does that remove. And then also try to characterize when the material comes off, is this going to cause a huge mess if we do this on the entire race ring? Or is this manageable?

"The next thing to try out is to use the Braycote grease along with the scraper and apply the grease and then try to remove it with the scraper and see does that pull up, attract more of the debris. The scraper is basically a putty knife, so you would use it to spread the grease out and then come back over it with the scraper and try to remove the grease and debris with it.

? "The final thing is to just take a wipe with grease and spread just grease with the wipe," he said. "The reason for that is, the crew reports (have indicated) there's some fine particulate on the ring as well as, obviously, there are some parts that are a little bit more substantial that are either pressed on debris or damage sites. So the question is, does going over it with the scraper remove any of this bigger stuff to help get this ring any smoother? Or does it do nothing more than what just a wipe with the grease does to remove this fine particulate?

"You don't want to waste time using a scraper if it doesn't do much for you. So really, this is just a test of several different techniques to try to narrow down which ones are most effective so we can better plan spacewalks on (future) missions."


2:02 PM, 6/3/08, Update: Heat shield inspection boom unlatched from station

Ronald Garan and Michael Fossum disconnected a 50-foot-long shuttle heat shield inspection boom from a temporary mounting point on the space station's solar power truss today so the station's robot arm, operated by Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide could hand it off to the shuttle Discovery's arm, operated by Karen Nyberg.

"OK, I'm coming over the top of the boom," Garan said as he wrapped up his part of the work at 1:37 p.m. "My legs never made contact, I don't think. My tether reel did make a little contact as I kind of pulled it around. I think it was incidental. And I am through with the OBSS."

"OK, next is for you guys to get in the proper position for Aki to get the arm moving out of there," spacewalk choreographer Ken Ham called. "And Mike, I guess that's for you. Let me know when you're in a good position."

"OK, I'm almost down and clear and in a place where I can watch," Fossum replied. "OK, I'm below the arm, good view from one end to the other."?

Hoshide then began pulling the orbiter boom sensor system - OBSS - heat shield inspection boom away from where it has been mounted on the station since late March.

"And I see we are clear so you are free to go," Hoshide radioed the spacewalkers. "Thanks for the help, Mike."

"You bet, Aki. Nice job."

"Enjoy the rest of the EVA," Hoshide replied.

About 20 minutes later, while Hoshide held the OBSS steady, Nyberg moved the shuttle's arm in and grappled the boom, providing power to laser scanners and cameras that will be used later to examine Discovery's nose cap and wing leading edge panels for any signs of small-scale damage.

Fossum and Garan, meanwhile, turned their attention to preparing the Japanese Kibo laboratory module for installation on the station. Eight contamination covers protecting the module's berthing mechanism had to be removed, along with one of two window covers.


12:32 PM, 6/3/08, Update: Spacewalk begins

Floating in the space station's Quest airlock module, astronauts Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan switched their spacesuits to battery power at 12:22 p.m. to officially kick off a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk. The spacewalk began 50 minutes behind schedule because of problems with a cable in Fossum's headset communications gear. After an equipment swap out, preparations continued normally.

"All right, boys, it's time to rock and roll," Discovery pilot Kenneth Ham radioed the spacewalkers as they began floating out of the airlock.

This is the 110th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 11th so far this year and the first of three planned by Fossum and Garan. Going into today's excursion, astronauts from the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Sweden had logged 686 hours and four minutes of station spacewalk time.

The first item on the agenda today is to retrieve a shuttle heat shield inspection boom left on the station in March. The astronauts also will prepare the Japanese Kibo lab module for unberthing and then focus on the station's right-side solar alpha rotary joint, used to keep outboard solar panels pointed at the sun. Garan plans to re-install a bearing assembly while Fossum attempts to clean metallic contamination from a 10-foot-wide drive gear that has forced flight controllers to limit the joint's use.


7:50 AM, 6/3/08, Update: Astronauts gear up for spacewalk

Astronauts Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan are gearing up for a six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk today to retrieve a shuttle heat shield inspection boom mounted on the international space station; prepare the huge Japanese Kibo lab module for installation; and attempt to clean contamination from a critical solar array rotary joint.

"Obviously, it's going to be a really big day for Japan," said space station Flight Director Emily Nelson. "They've been working very hard on this module and all of the systems in it. It's a big day for us as well, bringing the largest laboratory that we'll have on the space station on orbit and getting it up and running, getting our Japanese partner up and running in a full 24-hour capacity, actively running science out of their module."

Discovery docked with the space station Monday after a flawless rendezvous. Opening a final hatch between the shuttle and the lab complex, Discovery commander Mark Kelly called out, "Hey, are you looking for a plumber?" Work to repair the station's balky Russian toilet is planned for Wednesday.

The Discovery astronauts were awakened today at 6:32 a.m. by a recording of "Hold Me With The Robot Arm" beamed up from mission control for Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. The song was performed by high school friends of Hoshide's and it was an appropriate selection given today's agenda: if all goes well, Hoshide and Karen Nyberg, operating the station's robot arm, will pull 15-ton Kibo from the shuttle's cargo bay around 4:37 p.m. and attach it to the left-side port of the Harmony module.

"Good morning, Discovery. And good morning, Aki," astronaut Shannon Lucid called from Houston.

"Good morning, Shannon, and the team," Hoshide replied. "Thanks for a great song. That was a song from my high school friends. We're looking forward to a great day, an exciting day to install Japanese Kibo module and a great day of EVA and robotics. Looking forward to working with you guys."

Fossum and Garan spent the night in the station's Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams and prevent the bends after a day spent working in NASA's 5-psi spacesuits.

Today's spacewalk, the first of three planned for Discovery's mission, is scheduled to begin at 11:32 a.m. This will be the 110th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998. Total station spacewalk time going into today's excursion was 686 hours and four minutes.

For identification, Fossum, call sign EV-1, will be wearing a suit with red stripes around the legs. Garan, call sign EV-2, will be wearing an unmarked suit.

Discovery was launched without a heat shield inspection boom normally used on the second day of a shuttle flight to look for signs of impact debris damage. The Kibo module, designed and built before the 2003 Columbia disaster, virtually fills the shuttle's cargo bay and there was no room for the 50-foot-long orbiter boom sensor system, or OBSS, robot arm extension.

As a result, the crew of the most recent shuttle assembly mission left their boom behind on the station in March. During today's spacewalk, after the station arm locks onto the boom, Garan will disconnect it from support fittings and keep-alive power. Nyberg and Hoshide, operating the station arm, will pull the boom away and position it for handoff to the shuttle's arm, operated by Nyberg and pilot Kenneth Ham. The boom will be used later in the mission to carry out a detailed inspection of Discovery's nose cap and wing leading edge panels, which experience the most extreme heating during re-entry.

While Garan works to disconnect the OBSS, Fossum will be busy in DIscovery's cargo bay removing restraints that held a robot arm camera in place before moving up to assist Garan. Both astronauts then will prepare Kibo for unberthing and installation, removing eight contamination covers protecting the module's common berthing system components and one of two window covers. At that point, Kibo will be ready for unberthing and installation on Harmony.

Unberthing is targeted for 4:37 p.m. with installation on the forward Harmony connecting module beginning around 6:07 p.m. If all goes well, the astronauts will open hatches and enter the new module Wednesday afternoon.

Fossum and Garan, meanwhile, will make their way to the starboard solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, on the right side of the station's main power truss.

The space station is equipped with two massive rotary joints on each side of the power truss. Ten-foot-wide motor-driven gears turn outboard solar arrays like paddle wheels to track the sun as the station circles the Earth, maximizing power production.

The left-side SARJ works normally in so-called "auto-track" mode, but the right-side unit has been used only sparingly since last fall because of extensive metallic contamination discovered during a spacewalk after engineers noticed high vibration levels and power usage.

Engineers now believe the contamination may have been caused by the breakdown of a super-hard outer layer. If cracks developed in that layer, the pressure exerted by the bearings the drive gears rolls through could cause additional damage, resulting in additional breakdown.

Whatever the cause, NASA would like to clean up the metal shavings if possible to permit engineers to rotate the outboard solar arrays as required to maximize power production.

Fossum will try a decidedly low-tech solution - applying Braycote grease to a small section of the race ring and then simply wiping the grease and trapped contaminants away. If it works, future shuttle crews may be asked to clean the entire race ring, permitting resumption of at least partial operation.

But because of the damage already done and the higher-than-normal vibration it causes, NASA managers believe astronauts eventually will be forced to move the starboard SARJ's 12 bearing assemblies to a backup outboard drive gear. But that is something they do not want to do unless absolutely necessary to avoid losing redundancy.

"We just recently squeezed in the SARJ cleaning task," Fossum said before launch. "It's really a test objective, to see what it would take to clan some of the metal that appears to be on the ring. We don't have a lot of information about it. So we're literally going out there with the kinds of tools you have in your garage.

"The first thing we're going to do is take a scraper to it and see if we can scrape some of that stuff off to make that surface a little more smooth for the rollers. Next, we're going to put down, literally, a little grease, it's a special space grease and then scrape on that and try to pick up material with it and wipe it off.

"And the third way is just putting down a little bit of this same grease and then taking a wipe, very much like a terry cloth towel, just to see if we can clean it up with this, knowing there's a very large ring out there and what we're trying to find is a technique that could be used to clean it up just a bit. But that's going to be a lot of work to go tackle the whole thing."

While Fossum works to clean a section of the race ring, Garan will re-install a SARJ bearing assembly that was removed earlier as part of ongoing troubleshooting.

Getting the starboard SARJ back in auto-track mode is critical for the long-term health of the space station. Only by tracking the sun as the station swings around the planet can the arrays generate the electrical power needed to operate all of the station's life support systems and experiment facilities.

"Even if we're able to rotate and be comfortable that the drive system can drive through any high current events that might occur, we still have the vibration that takes life out of the structure," said station Program Manager Mike Suffredini. "And so, that's one of the things we'll meter, how much we can rotate after we clean it up.

"So we've got a lot of forward work there to do. We've got to figure out how to clean this up even if we go to outboard ops, which I'm assuming is where we'll eventually end up, we need to clean a lot of this contamination off just so it doesn't liberate and find its way over (to the other drive gear) in the future."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision D of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/03/08
06:32 AM...02...13...30...Crew wakeup
07:00 AM...02...13...58...Flight director update (replay)
07:12 AM...02...14...10...EVA-1: 14.7 psi repress/hygiene break
07:57 AM...02...14...55...EVA-1: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
08:02 AM...02...15...00...Station arm (SSRMS) maneuvers to OBSS grapple position
08:22 AM...02...15...20...EVA-1: Campout EVA preps
08:47 AM...02...15...45...ISS daily planning conference
09:57 AM...02...16...55...EVA-1: Spacesuit purge
10:12 AM...02...17...10...EVA-1: Spacesuit prebreathe
11:02 AM...02...18...00...EVA-1: Crew lock depressurization
11:32 AM...02...18...30...EVA-1: Spacesuits to battery power
11:37 AM...02...18...35...EVA-1: Airlock egress
12:07 PM...02...19...05...EVA-1 (Garan): OBSS boom transfer to shuttle
12:07 PM...02...19...05...EVA-1 (Fossum): Elbow camera release
12:27 PM...02...19...25...EVA-1 (Fossum): Open node 2 window covers
12:47 PM...02...19...45...EVA-1 (Fossum): MCAS
12:57 PM...02...19...55...EVA-1 (Fossum): OBSS boom transfer to shuttle
01:27 PM...02...20...25...EVA-1 (Fossum): JPM preps
01:42 PM...02...20...40...SRMS grapples OBSS boom
01:47 PM...02...20...45...SSRMS ungrapples OBSS boom
01:57 PM...02...20...55...EVA-1 (Garan): JPM preps
02:32 PM...02...21...30...SSRMS grapples Node 2
02:47 PM...02...21...45...SOKOL suit leak check
03:07 PM...02...22...05...SOKOL suit drying
03:17 PM...02...22...15...EVA-1 (Fossum): Release PM window launch locks
03:37 PM...02...22...35...EVA-1 (Fossum): S3/S4 SARJ datam A inspection
03:37 PM...02...22...35...EVA-1 (Garan): SARJ trundle bearing installation
04:17 PM...02...23...15...SSRMS grapples JPM
04:22 PM...02...23...20...EVA-1 (Fossum): SARJ cleaning test
04:37 PM...02...23...35...SSRMS unberths JPM
05:07 PM...03...00...05...EVA-1: Get aheads
05:32 PM...03...00...30...EVA-1: Cleanup and airlock ingress
06:02 PM...03...01...00...EVA-1: Airlock repressurization
06:07 PM...03...01...05...JPM installation
06:12 PM...03...01...10...Spacesuit servicing
06:27 PM...03...01...25...CBM first stage bolts
06:47 PM...03...01...45...CBM second stage bolts
07:22 PM...03...02...20...CBCS deactivation and removal
08:00 PM...03...02...58...Mission status briefing on NTV
08:17 PM...03...03...15...JPM vestibule pressure leak check
10:02 PM...03...05...00...ISS crew sleep begins
10:32 PM...03...05...30...STS crew sleep begins
11:00 PM...03...05...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV


7:05 PM, 6/2/08, Update: NASA managers pleased with shuttle-station docking; MMT assesses launch pad damage; Cain says no delay for Hubble mission

The shuttle Discovery's heat shield showed no obvious signs of damage during a slow back flip before docking today at the international space station. But it will take NASA managers several more days to complete their analysis and examination of high-resolution photos shot by the station crew.

Back at the Kennedy Space Center, meanwhile, an investigation has been launched to find out what caused extensive damage to launch pad 39A as it was pounded by Discovery's main engine and solid rocket booster exhaust plumes during liftoff Saturday.

LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, said heat-resistant fire bricks lining a 75- by 20-foot section of the "flame trench" that diverts the booster exhaust away from the pad was blown out like shrapnel as Discovery climbed skyward, littering the pad perimeter with concrete and mortar debris and seriously damaging a security fence some 1,500 feet away.

Built in the 1960s for the Apollo moon program, NASA's shuttle launch pads have been enduring the 5,000-degree booster exhaust and enormous pressures associate with shuttle launchings for decades, but Cain said this was the most severe post-launch damage ever seen.

"From the standpoint of the ongoing mission, it's not going to be a concern to us," he said. "The imagery and the analysis teams have pored over the liftoff imagery and all of the data that we have and they have assured us they have seen nothing in the way of any of this debris coming back at the vehicle, if you will. So we don't have ay concerns for the ongoing mission.

"However, as you can imagine we do have concerns because we're planning to go launch off this pad again, of course. So we have an investigation team that's already being assembled to go look at this damage ... to ascertain exactly what happened here. ... They'll put together some options and a forward plan of action to get the pad cleaned up and repaired so we can go launch of it again. Part of those discussions includes pad B and there are lots of options out there that need to be developed."

He said the flame trench and support structures at both of NASA's shuttle launch pads are routinely inspected and "obviously when you have an area (of damage) this large over the course of one event, something else is going on, or has gone on, to result in this kind of damage. We need to go understand what that is."

NASA plans to complete the space station and retire the shuttle fleet in 2010 to focus on developing a new spacecraft expected to debut around 2015. As part of the Constellation program, aimed at eventually building a base on the moon, NASA plans to launch the remaining shuttle flights from pad 39A while modifying pad 39B for use by the new Ares 1 rocket and its Orion crew capsule.

But pad 39B still has a role to play in the shuttle program. The shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for launch Oct. 8 on a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched into a different orbit, the Hubble repair crew cannot reach the space station for "safe haven" if any major problems develop. As a result, NASA plans to have the shuttle Endeavour ready for launch on a rescue flight if needed.

The current plan calls for readying Endeavour for flight on pad 39B while Atlantis is processed and launched from pad 39A. If a rescue flight is needed, Endeavour would be moved to pad 39A and launched from there. But that plan assumes pad 39A can be repaired in time.

Cain said it was too early to speculate about the eventual impact of the pad damage seen after Discovery's launch, but he said he had no concern "with having to delay the HST mission. We just have to figure out what's the course we want to go. We need both launch pads. ... That's not a negotiable term at this point."

NASA can process Endeavour on pad 39B, but the complex has not been maintained as required for an actual countdown and launch. Any major change to the current plan for the Hubble mission and its rescue flight likely would cause downstream delays for the first test flight of the Ares 1 rocket next year.

"Our plan for the Hubble mission, the next mission in October, is that we will roll that flight vehicle out to pad A and we will launch from pad A. At the time of launch, we will have the launch-on-need vehicle rolled out to and on pad B. ... There are some issues associated with payload and the payload changeout room and the capabilities we have at pad A as opposed to pad B. We've started to do some work at pad B as it relates to the Constellation program that's coming on and so we would have to change some of our planning ... as it relates to work going on on pad B. That's both from a modification standpoint, but also from a routine maintenance standpoint."

To use pad B for a launch, "there are some things we would want to go do," Cain said. "Do we have time to still change the path we're on and go do that? We'd have to study that. My answer today would be yeah, I believe we could figure out how to go do that. Will there be impacts to both the shuttle, potentially the station and no doubt the Constellation program? I'm quite certain there would be. All of those things will be in the trade space.

"It's early for me to be talking about it in terms of really knowing what we have here at pad A because I don't know what we have. And it may not be an option we would want to pursue at all. But could we? I believe the answer is yes. But there would be some aches and pains with that probably for all three programs from a schedule standpoint."

While Cain was discussing the launch pad with reporters at the Johnson Space Center, astronaut Gregory Chamitoff's Soyuz seat liner was being moved from Discovery to the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft docked to the station. The transfer was completed at 6:35 p.m. and Chamitoff officially became a member of the Expedition 17 crew, replacing Garrett Reisman, who will return to Earth aboard Discovery.

Astronauts Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan, meanwhile, are preparing to spend the night in the station's Quest airlock module at a reduced air pressure to purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams prior to a spacewalk Tuesday. The goals of the excursion are to prepare the Kibo laboratory module for attachment to the station and to retrieve a space shuttle heat shield inspection boom left on the lab complex last March.

See the 12 p.m. CBS News STS-124 status report for photographs of the pad damage.


02:30 PM, 6/2/08, Update: Shuttle Discovery docks with space station (UPDATED at 3:40 p.m. with hatch opening)

The shuttle Discovery glided to a gentle docking with the international space station today, wrapping up a two-day orbital rendezvous after pausing directly below the lab complex for a slow-motion back flip that gave the lab crew a chance to photograph the orbiter's heat shield.

Approaching from directly ahead at a sedate relative velocity of a tenth of a foot per second, Discovery's docking system engaged its counterpart on the front of the space station at 2:03 p.m. as the two spacecraft sailed out of Earth's shadow and into sunlight 209 miles above the South Pacific Ocean.

"Houston and station, capture confirmed," one of the shuttle astronauts radioed.

"Discovery, arriving," outgoing station flight engineer Garrett Reisman said, ringing the ship's bell in the Destiny lab module.

After leak checks to make sure the docking system was firmly engaged, the astronauts opened hatches between Discovery and pressurized mating adapter No. 2 on the front of the Harmony module and Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov, Oleg Kononenko and Reisman welcomed shuttle commander Mark Kelly and his crewmates aboard.

Along with delivering Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module and spare parts for the station's Russian toilet, Discovery also brought Reisman's replacement - astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who will remain behind aboard the lab complex with Volkov and Kononenko when the shuttle departs June 11.

Sharing hugs, handshakes and grins, Kelly, Chamitoff, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide floated into the Harmony module around 3:36 p.m.

One of the first items on the agenda today is to transfer a custom Soyuz seat liner from Discovery to the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft that serves as the station crew's lifeboat. Once the seat liner is in place, Chamitoff will officially join the Expedition 17 crew, replacing Reisman.

Today's rendezvous was carried out with deliberate precision and Kelly had no problems piloting Discovery through a 360-degree rotational pitch maneuver to expose the shuttle's belly to the station crew's cameras.

The station crew used 400- and 800-millimeter telephoto lenses, snapping dozens of digital photos of Discovery's heat shield tile in a now-standard post-Columbia inspection to looks for signs of launch damage from external tank foam insulation or other debris. Within minutes, the pictures were downlinked to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for a detailed analysis to help engineers determine the health of the shuttle's thermal protection system.

"Houston and Discovery on the big loop. We have some good RPM photos and they are being downlinked right now," Reisman radioed. "Please tell (shuttle pilot) Ken Ham he has some ketchup on his shirt."

While image analysts begin examining the RPM photos, the astronauts will be gearing up for a spacewalk Tuesday, the first of three planned for Discovery's mission. The primary goals of the first excursion are to retrieve a heat shield inspection boom left on the station in March and to prepare the Kibo module for attachment to Harmony's left-side port.

Spacewalkers Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan plan to spend the night in the station's Quest airlock module at a reduced air pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams. The campout procedure helps prevent the bends after working in NASA's 5-psi spacesuits.

Along with delivering Chamitoff, Kibo and other supplies and equipment, Discovery also brought a spare pump and other parts for the Russian toilet in the Zvezda command module. The urine collection system in the toilet malfunctioned recently and the station crew is hopeful the new pump will fix the problem. Kononenko plans to begin the repair work Wednesday.


11:20 AM, 6/2/08, Update: Shuttle begins terminal rendezvous sequence

Trailing the international space station by a bit more than nine statute miles, commander Mark Kelly and pilot Kenneth Ham fired the shuttle Discovery's right-side orbital maneuvering system rocket engine at 11:16 a.m. to begin the terminal phase of today's rendezvous with the international space station.

The rocket firing went smoothly and if all goes well, Discovery will reach a point directly below the station around 12:45 p.m. Kelly then plans to guide the shuttle through a slow back flip so the space station crew can photograph the ship's heat shield tiles as part of a now-standard post-Columbia inspection to look for any signs of damage.

Docking is expected around 1:54 p.m.


6:45 AM, 6/2/08, Update: Discovery closes in on space station

The shuttle Discovery, carrying Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module, closed in on the international space station today, on course for docking around 1:54 p.m.

Commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff were awakened at 6:32 a.m. to begin docking preparations.

Trailing the station by 9.2 miles, Kelly and Ham plan to fire Discovery's maneuvering jets at 11:16 a.m. to begin the terminal phase of the two-day rendezvous, following a carefully choreographed approach that will put the shuttle at a point 600 feet directly below the station around 12:46 p.m.

At that point, Kelly will guide the shuttle through a slow back flip, allowing the station crew to photograph the orbiter's heat shield tiles in a now-standard post-Columbia inspection. After the rotational pitch maneuver is complete, Kelly will guide Discovery to a position directly in front of the lab complex and then move in for a docking at pressurized mating adapter No. 2 on the front of node 2, or the Harmony module.

"It's a pretty standard profile," said lead Flight Director Matt Abbott. "We come up from behind and below. Once we get to what we call the r-bar, kind of an imaginary line from the station straight down to the center of the Earth, we'll stop there about 600 feet below and do the R-bar pitch maneuver, the RPM. That's so the station crew can photograph the thermal protection system on the orbiter and we'll downlink those pictures and use that as part of our analysis to clear the thermal protection system for entry as we always do.

"Then we'll transition up to what we call the v-bar, the velocity vector, which is out in front of the space station. And then Mark Kelly will manually fly the vehicle in to docking on node 2. One of the things you'll notice, it's getting pretty crowded there around node 2 with the (Japanese) logistics module, the (European) Columbus module. Of course, Kibo will go on the port side of node 2, so there's a lot of construction that's been going on lately. So Mark will guide it in and dock with the station."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes revision A of the NASA television schedule; NOTE: rev. B is the current version of the TV schedule, but it was not available in time for this posting):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/02/08

06:32 AM...01...13...30...STS/ISS crew wakeup
07:57 AM...01...14...55...Group B computer powerup
08:17 AM...01...15...15...Rendezvous timeline begins
08:32 AM...01...15...30...ISS daily planning conference
08:58 AM...01...15...56...NH rendezvous rocket firing
09:44 AM...01...16...42...NC-4 rendezvous rocket firing
10:32 AM...01...17...30...Spacesuits removed from airlock
10:34 AM...01...17...32...ISS in docking orientation
10:34 AM...01...17...32...ATV solar arrays feathered
11:16 AM...01...18...14...TI burn
11:40 AM...01...18...38...U.S. solar arrays feathered
11:41 AM...01...18...39...ISS in prox ops mode
11:42 AM...01...18...40...ISS crew meal
11:52 AM...01...18...50...Sunset
12:14 PM...01...19...12...Range: 10,000 feet
12:23 PM...01...19...21...Range: 5,000 feet
12:27 PM...01...19...25...Sunrise
12:29 PM...01...19...27...Range: 3,000 feet
12:33 PM...01...19...31...MC-4 rendezvous burn
12:37 PM...01...19...35...Range: 1,500 feet
12:39 PM...01...19...37...RPM start window open
12:42 PM...01...19...40...Range: 1,000 feet
12:45 PM...01...19...43...KU antenna to low power
12:46 PM...01...19...44...+R bar arrival directly below ISS
12:51 PM...01...19...49...Range: 600 feet
12:52 PM...01...19...50...RPM photography
12:53 PM...01...19...51...Start pitch maneuver
12:55 PM...01...19...53...Noon
01:01 PM...01...19...59...End pitch maneuver
01:03 PM...01...20...01...RPM full photo window close
01:04 PM...01...20...02...Initiate pitch up maneuver (575 ft)
01:11 PM...01...20...09...RPM start window close
01:15 PM...01...20...13...+V bar arrival; range: 310 feet
01:16 PM...01...20...14...Range: 300 feet
01:20 PM...01...20...18...Range: 250 feet
01:23 PM...01...20...21...Sunset
01:24 PM...01...20...22...Range: 200 feet
01:27 PM...01...20...25...Range: 170 feet
01:28 PM...01...20...26...Range: 150 feet
01:33 PM...01...20...31...Range: 100 feet
01:36 PM...01...20...34...Range: 75 feet
01:40 PM...01...20...38...Range: 50 feet
01:43 PM...01...20...41...Range: 30 feet; start stationkeeping
01:48 PM...01...20...46...End stationkeeping; push to dock
01:52 PM...01...20...50...Range: 10 feet

01:54 PM...01...20...52...DOCKING

01:58 PM...01...20...56...Sunrise
02:12 PM...01...21...10...Leak checks
02:37 PM...01...21...35...Group B computer powerdown
02:42 PM...01...21...40...Post docking laptop reconfig
02:47 PM...01...21...45...Orbiter docking system prepped for ingress
03:07 PM...01...22...05...Hatch open
03:52 PM...01...22...50...Welcome aboard!
04:02 PM...01...23...00...Safety briefing
04:27 PM...01...23...25...Post-docking EVA transfer
04:27 PM...01...23...25...Soyuz seatliner transfer to ISS
04:30 PM...01...23...28...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
05:02 PM...02...00...00...Soyuz seatliner installation
05:07 PM...02...00...05...REBA checkout
05:37 PM...02...00...35...Airlock preps
06:27 PM...02...01...25...EVA-1: Procedures review
08:57 PM...02...03...55...EVA-1: Mask pre-breathe
09:42 PM...02...04...40...EVA-1: Airlock 10.2 psi depress
10:02 PM...02...05...00...ISS crew sleep begins
10:32 PM...02...05...30...STS crew sleep begins
11:00 PM...02...05...58...Flight day highlights on NTV


11:30 PM, 6/1/08, Update: Shuttle launch pad damaged during liftoff (UPDATED at 12 p.m. 6/2 with additional pictures)

Launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center suffered extensive damage during the shuttle Discovery's blastoff Saturday, NASA officials say. Photographs by news media photographers and others provided by NASA sources show heat-resistant bricks lining large sections of the "flame trench" wall beneath the shuttle's mobile launch platform were blown out by Discovery's booster exhaust, littering the area behind the pad and damaging a perimeter fence.

A photograph of the side of the pad directly behind the pad shows debris splashing into water as Discovery climbed away. Pictures from NASA sources show buckled concrete and numerous concrete blocks or bricks littering a road behind the pad.

The Apollo-era launch complexes, modified for the space shuttle, must endure enormous pressures and extreme heating when shuttles take off but its not yet clear what caused the damage or whether the debris could have posed a risk for Discovery. Based on photos from cameras around the pad perimeter, the damage appeared to occur after Discovery was well off the pad.

The next launch from pad 39A is scheduled for Oct. 8. NASA sources say engineers believe the damage can be repaired by then with no impact on plans to launch Atlantis on a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

Photo 1: Debris splashing into water during launch (photo by Ben Cooper for Spaceflightnow.com): http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/124/pad/pad_damage.jpg

Photo 2: Damaged wall of the flame trench at pad 39A: http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/124/pad/trench1.JPG

Photo 3: Buckled concrete at pad 39A:
http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/124/concrete.jpg

Photo 4: Debris littering pad perimeter road:
http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/124/fence.jpg

Photo 5: View looking from the pad toward debris-littered field: http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/124/pad/field.jpg

Photo 6: View of the field behind pad 39A: http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/124/pad/field1.JPG

Photo 7: Debris littering perimeter road: http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/124/pad/fence.jpg

Photo 8: Damaged fence behind launch pad: http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/124/pad/fence2.JPG


6:00 PM, 6/1/08, Update: Initial pictures show no major foam loss from external tank

Close-up photos of the shuttle Discovery's external tank, shot by the astronauts as it drifted away from the orbiter Saturday, show a few relatively minor areas of foam loss but no major damage, NASA officials said today. Redesigned oxygen feedline brackets and new ice-frost ramps used to connect pressurization lines and a cable tray to the tank's skin - both post-Columbia safety upgrades - appeared to perform well. About five pieces of debris were seen falling away during launch from a camera mounted on the tank, but Mission Management Team Chairman LeRoy Cain said today it's not clear where the presumed foam might have originated.

"As you look at those pictures, I think some of us kind of expected to see some areas along the feedline, in the acreage maybe along the feedline, in the areas between the feedline itself and the ice-frost ramps, where we may have expected to see some foam loss there based on what we saw during ascent from the feedline camera," Cain said. "But in fact, as you can see in the picture I showed you, you don't see that.

"So those areas of foam that we saw coming off, those five or so pieces, at least some of them are coming from an area that we can't see yet or are not evidenced in the handheld or the umbilical well imagery that we've seen. So possibly from areas maybe underneath the feedline or areas that we're just not able to see because of the rotation of the tank and the lighting."

External tank No. 128 was the first built from the ground up with post-Columbia upgrades, including the new feedline brackets and ice-frost ramps, redesigns intended to further minimize foam shedding. Based on video and still images shot by the astronauts, Cain said all of the feedline brackets were still in place as were the new ice-frost ramps.

"We do have a couple of areas where we lost some foam ... but in a general sense, in a broader sense, the tank really performed in an absolutely magnificent fashion," he said. The photographs show a relatively small divot in the foam insulation just below the left bipod strut that helped hold the nose of the shuttle to the tank. A few other areas of foam loss also were noted, but Cain said engineers had not yet tried to synch up the damage sites visible in the still photos with the foam shedding incidents visible in the ascent video from the ET camera.

All five of the events seen during ascent happened after the shuttle was out of the dense lower atmosphere, which can quickly decelerate lightweight foam and cause impact damage if the accelerating space shuttle runs into the debris. At least one piece of presumed foam struck the orbiter's heat shield, but engineers do not believe it could have caused any damage.

Along with downlinking post-separation video and still images today, shuttle pilot Kenneth Ham and Karen Nyberg used Discovery's robot arm to carry out a cursory inspection of the shuttle's upper wing leading edge panels and no obvious damage sites could be seen. A small corner of an insulation blanket on an aft rocket pod appeared to have pulled up slightly, but it did not seem significant.

The astronauts were unable to carry out the usual flight day two inspection of the shuttle's nose cap and wing leading edge panels using a 50-foot-long boom equipped with laser scanners and high-resolution cameras. The shuttle's payload - the Japanese Kibo laboratory module - is so large the boom could not be mounted in the ship's cargo bay. The crew of the last station assembly crew left their boom on the station and Discovery's crew will retrieve it during a spacewalk Tuesday. The boom will be used later in the mission as usual.

Cain said ascent video, sensor data, ET separation pictures, video from cameras mounted in the shuttle's solid-fuel boosters and photographs shot by the station crew during Discovery's approach Monday will give engineers the data they need to assess the health of the orbiter's heat shield.

So far, despite the foam seen falling away during launch in the ET camera, NASA managers are pleased with the performance of the tank.

"The feedline camera's great because it gives us kind of an early indication of things," Cain said. "But we also temper it with the fact that you get that kind of fish-eye lens effect, things look dimensionally different than what they probably are in reality, size different as well. So it tends to give us a distorted view, albeit an important early indication maybe of places for us to look at.

"So I think in short, we have to be very careful in trying to determine too much from that. And that's why you see us being kind of careful in our initial briefings. It is some indicator that we have some foam loss, and that's about it. We kind of rely on the other imagery data we have. In short, we have to be careful with that feedline camera and be very mature about how we handle what we see going up hill from that camera lens."

Lead Flight Director Matt Abbott said Discovery is in good shape and ready for docking with the international space station on Monday. Because of an electrical problem with a backup steering system used by the left-side orbital maneuvering system rocket, the rendezvous will be completed using the right OMS engine and smaller maneuvering jets. The left-side engine is parked, but it will be used for re-entry at the end of the mission.

For readers interested in a look ahead, here is the rendezvous timeline for Discovery's docking with the space station Monday (in EDT and mission elapsed time):

DATE/EDT...DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/02/08
10:34 AM...01...17...32...ISS in docking orientation
10:34 AM...01...17...32...Automated transfer vehicle solar arrays feathered
11:16 AM...01...18...14...Terminal initiation rocket firing
11:40 AM...01...18...38...U.S. solar arrays feathered
11:41 AM...01...18...39...Station in proximity operations mode
11:52 AM...01...18...50...Sunset
12:14 PM...01...19...12...Range: 10,000 feet
12:23 PM...01...19...21...Range: 5,000 feet
12:27 PM...01...19...25...Sunrise
12:29 PM...01...19...27...Range: 3,000 feet
12:33 PM...01...19...31...MC-4 rendezvous rocket firing
12:37 PM...01...19...35...Range: 1,500 feet
12:39 PM...01...19...37...Rotational pitch maneuver start window open
12:42 PM...01...19...40...Range: 1,000 feet
12:45 PM...01...19...43...KU antenna to low power
12:46 PM...01...19...44...+R bar arrival directly below ISS
12:51 PM...01...19...49...Range: 600 feet
12:53 PM...01...19...51...Start pitch maneuver
12:55 PM...01...19...53...Noon
01:01 PM...01...19...59...End pitch maneuver
01:03 PM...01...20...01...RPM full photo window close
01:04 PM...01...20...02...Begin move from below to in front of station (575 ft)
01:11 PM...01...20...09...RPM start window close
01:15 PM...01...20...13...+V bar arrival; 310 feet directly ahead of station
01:16 PM...01...20...14...Range: 300 feet
01:20 PM...01...20...18...Range: 250 feet
01:23 PM...01...20...21...Sunset
01:24 PM...01...20...22...Range: 200 feet
01:27 PM...01...20...25...Range: 170 feet
01:28 PM...01...20...26...Range: 150 feet
01:33 PM...01...20...31...Range: 100 feet
01:36 PM...01...20...34...Range: 75 feet
01:40 PM...01...20...38...Range: 50 feet
01:43 PM...01...20...41...Range: 30 feet; start stationkeeping
01:48 PM...01...20...46...End stationkeeping; push to dock
01:52 PM...01...20...50...Range: 10 feet

01:54 PM...01...20...52...DOCKING

01:58 PM...01...20...56...Sunrise


09:00 AM, 6/1/08, Update: Astronauts awakened; heat shield inspections, spacesuit preps on tap

The Discovery astronauts were awakened for their first full day in space at 7:02 a.m. today by a recording of "Your Wildest Dreams" by the Moody Blues beamed up from mission control. The major items on today's agenda include spacesuit checkout for upcoming station assembly spacewalks by Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan; rendezvous and docking preparations; and an inspection of the shuttle's heat shield.

Several relatively large pieces of foam insulation from Discovery's external tank fell away during launch Saturday and while one or two may have struck the orbiter, the incidents occurred after the shuttle was out of the dense lower atmosphere when such impacts pose a threat to the heat shield. Even so, a thermal protection system inspection is standard procedure on flight day two.

But Discovery is not equipped with an orbiter boom sensor system (OBSS) heat shield inspection boom normally used to examine the ship's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels the day after launch. Discovery's payload - the Japanese Kibo lab module - is so big the boom could not be carried. Instead, the crew of the most recent station assembly mission left their boom behind on the lab complex and Discovery's crew will retrieve it during a spacewalk Tuesday, the day after docking.

The boom will be used later in the mission to carry out a normal post-undocking inspection and possibly a so-called focused inspection on June 6.

About two hours after crew wakeup today, the astronauts downlinked video shot by Karen Nyberg showing the external tank after separation from the shuttle Saturday. The tank was fairly far away and to the untrained eye, there were no obvious signs of damage or major foam loss, but the video and still photos shot by Fossum will be examined in detail by analysts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

For today's inspection, the astronauts will simply use a camera on the end of Discovery's robot arm to inspect the areas of the wings and nose cap that are accessible without the 50-foot-long OBSS extension. But without the boom's laser scanner and high-resolution camera system, the astronauts will not be able to detect the kind of small-scale damage the OBSS was designed to find.

Another complicating factor is the robot arm's elbow camera. Because of clearance issues, the elbow camera is locked in place and cannot be used until later in the mission.

"On flight day two ... we are limited to pretty much the upper surfaces of the leading edges of the wings," said lead Flight Director Matt Abbott. "And that's due partly because of the arm itself and partly because we don't have access with the elbow camera. That means we can't really reach underneath, look too much underneath the port wing, because it's hard to tell the clearances of the arm, the movements of the arm, and the payload bay door. And so that elbow camera does restrict us a little bit.

"But the robotics teams have worked with the imagery teams to use the camera on the end effector to get a really good handle on the status of the upper surface of both the starboard and port wings. It's really the underneath surfaces we're a little bit limited on on flight day two. We actually do get a little bit of the lower surface of the port wing. So clearly not anything close to the data we usually get with the orbiter boom sensor system."

But today's video, in combination with launch imagery, sensor data and photographs shot by the station crew during the shuttle's final approach to the lab complex, will allow engineers to assess the overall health of the heat shield until the OBSS can be used later for a small-scale inspection.

"Given all that, we feel pretty good about our capabilities to see any kind of significant damage during those scans," Abbott said. "Moving on to the middle of the mission, we do have an opportunity for a focused inspection if necessary, if there are any areas of interest that have been determined up to that point."

Shuttle pilot Ken Ham said he's confident engineers will have the data they need to clear the heat shield for entry at the end of the mission.

"After we undock, then we go back to doing what every other flight has done on flight day two, which is the real thorough inspection of the leading edges of the wings," Ham said. "And we are in a situation where we've preserved enough propellant that if we find something that we deem to be critical or jeopardize our success for entry, we can come back to station and dock. So it's a pretty well thought out plan."

OBSS inspections take quite a bit of time. Without the boom for today's inspection, the crew will enjoy a slightly more relaxed timeline and participate in media interviews starting around 3:47 p.m.

Here is a schedule of today's activities (in EDT and mission elapsed time; includes rev. A of the NASA television schedule):

DATE/EDT...DD...HH...MM...EVENT

06/01/08
07:02 AM...00...14...00...Crew wakeup
09:22 AM...00...16...20...Ergometer setup
09:52 AM...00...16...50...Spacesuit checkout preps
10:02 AM...00...17...00...Laptop computer setup (part 2)
10:21 AM...00...17...19...NC-2 rendezvous rocket firing
10:22 AM...00...17...20...Spacesuit checkout
11:07 AM...00...18...05...Shuttle robot arm (SRMS) powerup
11:22 AM...00...18...20...SRMS checkout
12:07 PM...00...19...05...SRMS end effector heat shield survey
02:17 PM...00...21...15...SRMS payload bay survey
02:47 PM...00...21...45...Crew meal
03:47 PM...00...22...45...Media interviews
04:07 PM...00...23...05...Spacewalk equipment prepped for transfer
04:07 PM...00...23...05...Centerline docking camera setup
04:30 PM...00...23...28...Mission status briefing on NTV
04:37 PM...00...23...35...Orbiter docking system ring extension
05:07 PM...01...00...05...Shuttle waste/water dump nozzle inspection
05:12 PM...01...00...10...OMS rocket pod survey
05:47 PM...01...00...45...Rendezvous tools checkout
06:32 PM...01...01...30...Video playback
07:22 PM...01...02...20...NC-3 rendezvous rocket firing
10:32 PM...01...05...30...Crew sleep begins
11:00 PM...02...05...58...Daily video highlights reel on NTV
Discovery's systems came through launch in good condition. The only technical problem of any significance was trouble with a backup actuator system used to move Discovery's left-side orbital maneuvering system rocket nozzle. The engine can be used without the backup steering system, but flight controllers have decided to simply park it and use the right-side engine alone for upcoming station rendezvous rocket firings. The left-side engine will be employed as usual for re-entry at the end of the mission.


06:00 PM, 5/31/08, Update: Shuttle Discovery rockets into orbit (UPDATED at 7:30 p.m. with post-launch briefing; NASA downplays foam loss)

Right on time, the shuttle Discovery blasted into orbit Saturday, kicking off a two-week, three-spacewalk mission to attach Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module to the international space station and deliver a fresh flight engineer - Gregory Chamitoff - to replace outgoing station astronaut Garrett Reisman.

Discovery was equipped with the first external tank be built from the ground up with post-Columbia safety upgrades and camera views from a camera on the huge tank during the climb to space showed what appeared to be several relatively large but thin pieces of debris falling away after booster separation.

The first piece of debris appeared to separate from a point near a redesigned support fitting called an ice-frost ramp 18 seconds after booster separation. Another piece could be seen falling away around 34 seconds after jettison and a second, larger piece from the same area as the first fell away about three minutes and 30 seconds after liftoff.

By that point, Discovery was out of the dense lower atmosphere, which can slow debris quickly enough to pose a collision threat with the accelerating orbiter. But the debris seen today seemed more pronounced than what engineers have noted in recent launchings and it will take them several days to evaluate the performance of the tank and what, if any, damage it might have caused.

"We took a quick look at the ascent video and we saw maybe five pieces of foam come off the external tank," said Bill Gerstenmaier, chief of space flight for NASA. "We don't consider those a big deal to us. Again, this was kind of a learning experience for us in the foam world, they were all late, they were after the aerodynamically sensitive time. They looked thin, therefore they were lightweight, and they don't appear to be any impact to us at all. We'll review all the video and all the films later and see what happens."

That evaluation will be somewhat more difficult in Discovery's case because the shuttle is not equipped with a heat shield inspection boom. The Kibo module is so large, the orbiter boom sensor system the astronauts normally use to inspect the ship's thermal insulation for small-scale damage would not fit. So the crew of the last shuttle mission to visit the station in March left their boom behind for Discovery's crew.

But commander Mark Kelly and his crewmates will have to wait until after docking to retrieve the boom for any subsequent inspections. In the meantime, the astronauts already planned to use the shuttle's robot arm on its own to carry out a general inspection Sunday. That data will be combined with ascent video and camera views of the tank after separation in orbit, along with telephoto views of the shuttle's belly shot by the station crew during final approach Monday, to help determine the performance of the tank's insulation.

"We'll get some pictures of the tank, we'll see where (the debris) came from, we'll try to understand what this means to us," Gerstenmaier said. "Ultimately, we'd like to reduce the amount of foam that comes off the tank, I don't think we'll ever get it to zero but if we can get it so it occurs late just like we've seen on this tank, we're in a good configuration. We made some changes to this tank and we'll see what ultimately drove it. ... But right now, there's no concern at all and it's not an issue at all for this flight."

At least some of the debris appeared to originate at or near a redesigned fitting, called an ice-frost ramp, one of several used to hold pressurization lines and a cable tray to the tank's skin. The redesign uses less foam and is designed to improve the foam's ability to stay in place. The design performed well during an earlier test flight.

"We need to understand why it came off in these regions," Gerstenmaier said today. "We flew the basic design before, on STS-120, so we've seen this specific design, the way we lay the foam in, the underlying structure, we've seen it fly and it performed extremely well. So we're going to be curious as to why it performed slightly different on this flight. ... Again, the key thing is it was all late, which says it's consistent with what we've seen before, there's nothing new from a physics phenomenon standpoint that causes us any concern."

Liftoff occurred on time at 5:02:12 p.m. after a virtually problem-free countdown. Joining Kelly and Chamitoff aboard the orbiter were pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

The installation of Kibo "is a big milestone for the Japanese community," Hoshide said before launch. "The Japanese pressurized module will be the U.S. lab-equivalent for Japan. A lot of people worked on this for 20-plus years. So this is really a mission to make the dream come true. ... After this, we will have experiments on board and operations and a lot of things going on. So this will definitely open up opportunities and possibilities."

Along with installing Kibo and replacing Reisman with Chamitoff, the Discovery astronauts also plan to deliver a tank of nitrogen to help pressurize the station's ammonia cooling loops, attempt to clean contamination off part of a solar array drive gear and deliver spare parts for the station's Russian toilet.

Located in the Russian Zvezda command module, the toilet's liquid waste system malfunctioned a week before launch, forcing the station crew to use the cramped toilet in the Soyuz re-entry vehicle while they attempted repairs. Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko replaced a suspect pump, but both on-board spares failed to work properly. While the station toilet toilet operated intermittently in a manual mode, the crew was forced to flush extra water through the system every three or four uses.

Engineers believe a common fault may be to blame and a new pump from a different manufacturing lot was rushed to the Kennedy Space Center from Moscow. An operational station toilet is not a constraint to launching the shuttle, but station managers, not to mention the crew, want to get it fixed as soon as possible to avoid downstream problem.

"We think the new pump will fix the problem," NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told CBS News earlier today. "If it doesn't, we're going to have to come up with something else."

Asked what might happen if the pump replacement doesn't solve the problem and whether the toilet could develop into an issue that might force the crew to return to Earth, Griffin said "we certainly hope not. We're many steps before we get to that place."

"But you're right, it is a big deal," he said. "We know it's a big deal. We are not minimizing it, we haven't minimized it, we know that hygiene is important. It's important on any closed, isolated vehicle. Ships and submarines have this problem, airplanes have this problem ... Any time you're in a closed environment like this, it's crucially important to maintain hygiene. And that's what we're going to figure out a way to do."

The new pump will be installed two days after Discovery docks with the station. After the shuttle departs, Volkov, Kononenko and Chamitoff will be on their own until an unmanned Progress supply ship arrives in september, followed by a Soyuz spacecraft carrying Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke and flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov in October. The next shuttle assembly mission is scheduled for launch Nov. 10, after an October flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

The health of the Russian toilet, while potentially significant, is a relatively minor issue compared to the health of the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft currently docked to the station. The three-seat Soyuz serves as the station's lifeboat in the event of an emergency that might force Volkov, Kononenko and Chamitoff to abandon ship.

During the most recent Soyuz landing April 19, a malfunction prevented the spacecraft's propulsion module from cleanly separating from the crew module just before atmospheric entry. As a result, Soyuz commander Yuri Malenchenko, outgoing station commander Peggy Whitson and South Korean space tourist So-Yeon Yi were subjected to violent buffeting and higher deceleration than usual as the spacecraft followed a steep ballistic trajectory to an off-course landing in Kazakhstan.

It is not yet clear what might have gone wrong or whether the same problem might be lurking with the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft currently docked to the space station. Senior NASA managers, however, decided to go ahead with the Reisman/Chamitoff crew rotation, based on Russian assurances that the Soyuz has enough redundancy to be counted on in an emergency.

"If something comes out of the (Russian) investigation that says the Soyuz is not acceptable as a return vehicle, then we would go take some appropriate action," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief of spaceflight operations. "But we haven't seen anything along those lines. For emergency return, Soyuz is OK.

"The Russians are working through it methodically, trying to identify if there's anything that would invalidate its use as an emergency return vehicle. As long as that doesn't occur, then we proceed with our normal plans. And I don't see anything between now and the 31st that's going to change any of that thinking."

The astronaut office at the Johnson Space Center, including Whitson and Chamitoff, supported the decision to proceed with Discovery 's launching. So did Griffin.

"They (the Russians) don't think, and we don't think, it could be a fundamental design error, it's been operating for 40 years and operating well," Griffin said today. "So manufacturing, assembly, integration, yeah, that's where folks are looking. But we think if we had to get in it and come to the ground, the guys would make it. And that's the important thing."

Discovery's liftoff was timed for roughly the moment when Earth's rotation carried launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center into the plane of the space station's orbit. With an on-time launching, Kelly plans to guide the orbiter to a docking with pressurized mating adapter No. 2 on the front end of the Harmony module around 1:52 p.m. on Monday.

"We've got an exciting mission ahead of us," Kelly said during training. "I think we're pretty fortunate - well, just fortunate, period, to be part of the space shuttle program - but to carry one of the major elements to the space station, install it and check it out is really a great privilege for all of us. We've got a complicated, busy mission ahead of us."

Three spacewalks are planned by Fossum and Garan, on the fourth, sixth and ninth day of the mission. Reisman will join Discovery's crew for the trip home, undocking on flight day 12 - June 11 - and landing back at the Kennedy Space Center around 11:14 a.m. on Saturday, June 14.

The 15.9-ton Kibo lab, equipped with its own robot arm and an airlock to expose experiments and materials to the vacuum of space, is the largest pressurized module built for the international space station, measuring 36.7 feet long and 14.4 feet wide. The size of a large tour bus, Kibo is 9 feet longer than Destiny and 14 feet longer than the European Space Agency's Columbus module.

A smaller Japanese storage module, launched in March and temporarily mounted on Harmony's upward-facing port, is loaded with eight equipment and experiment racks that will be moved into Kibo during and after Discovery's mission. The logistics module itself will be unbolted from Harmony and attached to Kibo after the lab module is bolted to Harmony's left-side port on the fourth day of Discovery's mission.

"The Japanese lab is ... actually the biggest module on space station," Kelly said in a NASA interview. "It's pretty heavy, 32,000 pounds, longer than the U.S. lab, more system racks, more experiment racks. It's its own little spacecraft in the sense that it has an environmental system, electrical system, its own computer system, its own robotic arm. It's going to be used for fundamental chemistry, fluid physics, regular physics and biology experiments. Some of those will come up later. But it's going to be a world-class laboratory."

With Kibo's installation, the space station will be 71 percent complete by mass with 612,000 pounds of hardware in orbit.

Designed and built before the 2003 Columbia disaster, Kibo virtually fills the shuttle's cargo bay, leaving no room for the 50-foot-long heat-shield inspection boom normally used on the second day of a shuttle flight to look for signs of impact debris damage.

As a result, the crew of the most recent shuttle assembly mission left their boom behind on the station in March. The Discovery astronauts will retrieve the boom during their first spacewalk and use it later to carry out a detailed inspection of the shuttle's nose cap and wing leading edge panels.

Before docking, they'll have to settle for a more cursory inspection, using a camera mounted on the end of Discovery's robot arm that is not capable of reaching all critical areas or providing the sort of detail the boom's instruments can detect. Even so, mission managers say now-standard ascent photography, radar observations, data from sensors in Discovery's wings and close-up photos shot during the shuttle's final approach to the station will give engineers more than enough data to assess the shuttle's health.

"Given all that, we feel pretty good about our capabilities to see any kind of significant damage during those scans," said lead Flight Director Matt Abbott. "Moving on to the middle of the mission, we do have an opportunity for a focused inspection if necessary (with the recovered boom), if there are any areas of interest that have been determined up to that point.

Along with attaching the Kibo module, retrieving the orbiter boom sensor system and installing a new cooling system nitrogen tank, the astronauts also plan to find out whether they can successfully clean a contaminated solar array rotary joint.

The space station is equipped with two massive solar alpha rotary joints, or SARJs, on each side of the lab's main power truss. Ten-foot-wide motor-driven gears turn outboard solar arrays like paddle wheels to track the sun as the station circles the Earth, maximizing power production.

The left-side SARJ works normally in so-called "auto-track" mode, but the right-side unit has been used only sparingly since last fall because of extensive metallic contamination discovered during a spacewalk after engineers noticed high vibration levels and power usage.

Engineers now believe the contamination may have been caused by the breakdown of a super-hard "nitrited" outer layer. If cracks developed in that layer, the pressure exerted by the bearings the drive gears rolls through could cause additional damage, resulting in additional breakdown.

Whatever the cause, NASA would like to clean up the metal shavings if possible to permit engineers to rotate the outboard solar arrays as required to maximize power production.

During Discovery's flight, spacewalker Mike Fossum will try a decidedly low-tech solution - applying Braycote grease to a small section of the race ring and then simply wiping the grease and trapped contaminants away. If it works, future shuttle crews may be asked to clean the entire race ring, permitting resumption of at least partial operation.

But because of the damage already done and the higher-than-normal vibration it causes, NASA managers believe astronauts eventually will be forced to move the starboard SARJ's 12 bearing assemblies to a backup outboard drive gear. But that is something they do not want to do unless absolutely necessary to avoid losing redundancy.

"We just recently squeezed in the SARJ cleaning task," Fossum said. "It's really a test objective, to see what it would take to clan some of the metal that appears to be on the ring. We don't have a lot of information about it. So we're literally going out there with the kinds of tools you have in your garage.

"The first thing we're going to do is take a scraper to it and see if we can scrape some of that stuff off to make that surface a little more smooth for the rollers. Next, we're going to put down, literally, a little grease, it's a special space grease and then scrape on that and try to pick up material with it and wipe it off.

"And the third way is just putting down a little bit of this same grease and then taking a wipe, very much like a terry cloth towel, just to see if we can clean it up with this, knowing there's a very large ring out there and what we're trying to find is a technique that could be used to clean it up just a bit. But that's going to be a lot of work to go tackle the whole thing."

Getting the starboard SARJ back in auto-track mode is critical for the long-term health of the space station. Only by tracking the sun as the station swings around the planet can the arrays generate the electrical power needed to operate all of the station's life support systems and experiment facilities.

"Even if we're able to rotate and be comfortable that the drive system can drive through any high current events that might occur, we still have the vibration that takes life out of the structure," Suffredini said. "And so, that's one of the things we'll meter, how much we can rotate after we clean it up.

"So we've got a lot of forward work there to do. We've got to figure out how to clean this up even if we go to outboard ops, which I'm assuming is where we'll eventually end up, we need to clean a lot of this contamination off just so it doesn't liberate and find its way over (to the other drive gear) in the future."


1:47 PM, 5/31/08, Update: Astronauts board space shuttle

The Discovery astronauts began strapping in for launch today on a long-awaited space station assembly mission. Forecasters say the Florida weather appears to be cooperating and one of NASA's three emergency landing sites in Europe - Moron, Spain - is currently acceptable for use. There are no technical problems of any significance with Discovery or its launch support systems.

Commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff were driven to launch complex 39A around 1:30 p.m. to begin the boarding procedure.


01:40 PM, 5/31/08, Update: Griffin optimistic about toilet fix, eventual Soyuz resolution

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said today he's confident Russian space engineers will resolve technical problems with the Soyuz spacecraft that ferry Russian crews to and from the international space station. Griffin also said he was hopeful spare parts being launched to the station aboard the shuttle Discovery will help the crew repair the Russian toilet before it becomes a real problem.

CBS News Space Analyst William Harwood interviewed Griffin at the Kennedy Space Center where the shuttle Discovery's countdown was entering its final hours. Here is a transcript of the conversation:

CBS News: Mike, getting the Kibo laboratory module up to the station is a big deal for the Japanese and it's a big deal for NASA. What does this moment mean to you?

Griffin: This is almost the last of our laboratory modules going up because there is the Japanese Exposed Facility, which goes up next year, the third part of their overall Japanese laboratory. You said the Japanese have waited a long time. Well, we've waited a long time, I've waited a long time. I was a team lead during the space station redesign that produced the version of the space station we have today. And even then, the Japanese module was a big deal and it was just in the planning stages. So we've all waited a long time. I made some remarks the other night at the Japanese reception where I pointed out, you know, we're not flying the space station in order to fly a million pounds of engineering hardware. That's just the stuff necessary to support the laboratories. So we have a Russian lab, a U.S. lab, a European lab and a Japanese lab now coming up. That's the purpose of the space station. So now we have almost all of the engineering infrastructure in place to support it and now we're coming to the moment of truth, we're putting up the last of the laboratories to do what the station was designed to do. That's a big deal.

CBS News: How about the long-term outlook? You've had some setbacks recently from a scheduling standpoint. There are 11 shuttle missions left before the fleet is retired in 2010. Are you still confident about finishing the station before that deadline?

Griffin: I think so. ... Our historical average has been four-and-a-half flights a year. When I say our historical average, that's over a 27-year span and that includes two accidents when we were down for nearly three years each time and it includes the period when we were down for about a year over wiring concerns. So even with those downtimes, our historical average has been four-and-a-half flights a year. The shuttle program's up and running well, I think we can do flve flights a year.

CBS News: Discovery is equipped with the first in-line tank, built from the ground up with all the post Columbia upgrades. It's remarkable how long it's taken to get to this point.

Griffin: I'm really just an engineer who got a great promotion. I'm in the fortunate position of having been able to sit through, I think, darn near every one of the significant engineering top-level reviews we had over that tank. I remember now a few years ago when I was a fresh, new administrator, we were still uncertain as to what the damage mechanisms were. We were still cataloguing debris shedding off the tank in response to various kind of impacts. We didn't know exactly why foam was popping off the tank. It took a long while to understand things that certainly you could argue should have been understood back in 1981. But the fact is, they weren't. So after the Columbia accident, people had to do a research project to gain the knowledge necessary to redesign the tank. I've been lucky enough to follow that all the way through and it doesn't happen over night. it's tough. And the guys have, I think, got a solid new design for the external tank, this is the first time we've flown it ... and I think it's going to perform well. I can't wait to see it.

CBS News: The space station toilet has raised a bit of concern in the space station project. I know Discovery is taking up a replacement pump that the Russians believe will fix the problem. But what if it doesn't? The next Progress supply ship doesn't launch until September, the next Soyuz is not until October and the next shuttle visit is in November. If the pump doesn't fix the toilet, this is potentially a very big deal, isn't it?

Griffin: Well, we'll be thinking about that. I don't want to speculate.

CBS News: What prompts the question, anytime someone says the solution is a part from a different lot number, that just tells me they don't know what's wrong with the one that's up there.

Griffin: That could well be true, that we don't know. Usually when something's been working well for quite a number of years and then suddenly doesn't work well, you don't look at the basic design, you do look at manufacturing issues, which get down to lot numbers. But it's true, if it fails, we're not 100 percent sure why it fails until we can fix the problem. We think the new pump will fix the problem. If it doesn't, we're going to have to come up with something else. I mean, there are various approaches to dry chemical toiletry and we'll have to do something like that because it's obviously a health hazard not to have a hygienic way to deal with human excrement. We've got to find a way to do that.

CBS News: Is there any scenario with this toilet that could force you guys to de-man the station?

Griffin: We certainly hope not. We're many steps before we get to that place. But you're right, it is a big deal. We know it's a big deal. We are not minimizing it, we haven't minimized it, we know that hygiene is important. It's important on any closed, isolated vehicle. Ships and submarines have this problem, airplanes have this problem ... Any time you're in a closed environment like this, it's crucially important to maintain hygiene. And that's what we're going to figure out a way to do.

CBS News: Let me ask you about a longer-term problem, the starboard-side solar alpha rotary joint on the space station. We were told this week engineers believe the most likely source of metallic contamination on the main bearing race ring is a breakdown of the hardened, 'nitrited' surface layer of that ring. Do you buy that?

Griffin: I have to be careful. I get those engineering updates along with everybody else because I ask them to send them to me and I read 'em. So yeah, that's the latest theory, that's the most credible theory we have at this point. But whether I want to say people think that's the final story, I don't want to go that far.

CBS News: But they're talking about the breakdown of that nitrited layer.

Griffin: Yes. A piece of nitride layer coming off. THe nitride layer, of course, is very hard and very smooth, it's polished, it's designed to do exactly what it apparently didn't do, which is to provide a hard coating as a roller bearing surface. If it breaks down, it's capable of  chewing itself up and that may be what happened here. As you say, that's the leading theory right now. Whether it's the final one, who knows?

CBS News: Does anybody have any concerns that the same thing could happen to the drive gear on the port side?

Griffin: Well, sure, except the other side has been operating just fine and we haven't seen an issue. We hope the coatings people will eventually say well this is a one of a kind thing. We have a way to replace it, but obviously we don't want to start down a new path with a new bearing if it's going to do the same thing.

CBS News: The station guys seem to think that eventually you're going ot have to go to outboard ops, switch to the redundant race ring, no matter what. Do you agree? Or do you think there's any chance the astronauts can clean the ring enough to permit normal, or near-normal, operations?

Griffin: I don't know. I would defer to them. My own view is, right from the first, that we were probably going to have to go to outboard ops. But that's a view not conditioned by enough facts yet. So I guess my bias would be, we're probably going to have to go to the outboard ops but who knows?

CBS News: Let me turn to Soyuz briefly. Are you confident the Soyuz TMA-12 vehicle that's docked to station now is a reliable vehicle if the crew needs it in an emergency?

Griffin: The decision to continue to fly crew, both international partner crew and our own crew, is conditioned on the belief that as a rescue vehicle, it's fine. Everybody, the Russians, ourselves, everyone is concerned that we've had two seemingly identical anomalies in a row. And I won't call them failures because, of course, the primary purpose of the vehicle is to allow the crew to reach the ground and they reached the ground both times, no problem. The vehicle in that sense worked, despite having an anomaly. Now, we don't want to continue having that and the Russians really don't, they're digging into it, they're being completely open with us about it, we have an observer on the board. They are perplexed, they are saying they are perplexed. They don't think, and we don't think, it could be a fundamental design error, it's been operating for 40 years and operating well. So, manufacturing, assembly, integration, yeah, and that's where folks are looking. But we think if we had to get in it and come to the ground, the guys would make it. And that's the important thing.

CBS News: The problems with the toilet and the Soyuz highlight how critical Russian hardware is now and how important it will be in the future when the station crew expands to six and shuttles stop flying in 2010. How confident are you about the reliability of Russian hardware and procedures?

Griffin: Well, I'm confident because I think we're going to solve the problems. But it is a partnership and the Russians are supplying, as are the other partners, things that are critically needed on board the space station to have it work.  I do see a distinction between fundamental access capability and, you know, the toilet. We have to keep the crew clean and healthy and we can find ways to do that, but before we worry about that, we have to get them there and back.

CBS News: I shouldn't have put it that way. I meant it in the sense that all of these issues make it very clear to even a casual observer that the Russians are really going to play a more critical role than they ever have before going into the gap between the end of shuttle operations and the debut of the shuttle's replacement in 2015.

Griffin: They are. And I find it, as I've said on a number of occasions, I find it very disturbing that we're dependent on any other nation for a strategic capability.

CBS News: But that's where we are.

Griffin: That's where we are.

CBS News: Is NASA looking at any way to expand station resupply to help avoid getting into time-critical situations down the road?

Griffin: We are. We have almost completed an orbital base in space. It's a place where people can learn how to live and work in space and crucial to that is an understanding that the logistics train has to be maintained or it won't function. We have, as you mentioned, ATV, we have HTV coming along on line on the Japanese side, we do have the Russian Soyuz and Progress. On the U.S. side, we have a commercial procurement out on the street now for, on a purely commercial basis, for cargo resupply to the station. I have no doubt that will be successful, but we are down to one string for crew. We are down to the Soyuz for crew and the sooner we can get a new American capability for crew transport, the happier I will be.

CBS News: Looking a bit farther afield, here's an easy question. Phoenix is doing remarkably well on the surface of Mars. That must have been a special moment for you as administrator.

Griffin: It is an easy question, but it's one I'm pleased to answer. I used up my Memorial Day weekend to do nothing but go out and be an observer on the flight control loops at JPL because I am fantastically interested in what the team is doing there. The first rocket powered soft landing on Mars in 32 years, the first landing ever in a polar region, they've already shown the rocket engine descent blast scrubbed away enough of the soil that they've been able to see the ice sheet that they hoped for right underneath the lander.

CBS News: Have they confirmed that?

Griffin: I wouldn't say scientifically confirmed, but the pictures are pretty compelling. So the scientific team is excited and when they're excited, I'm excited. And this, by the way, a Discovery class mission, not what we call a flagship. This is a mission done for in the hundreds of million dollars range, not several billion the way that Viking was the first time.


7:45 AM, 5/31/08, Update: Shuttle fueling begins

Engineers began fueling the shuttle Discovery early today, setting the stage for launch on a space station assembly mission at 5:02:12 p.m. The three-hour fueling procedure began at 7:38 a.m. when supercold liquid oxygen and hyrdrogen propellants began flowing through transfer lines to launch pad 39A.

Commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff plan to begin donning their bright orange pressure suits around 12:45 p.m. If all goes well, the astronauts will depart their quarters at the Operations and Checkout Building at 1:12 p.m. and begin strapping in aboard Discovery around 1:42 p.m.

There are no technical problems of any significance at pad 39A and forecasters continue to predict good weather for this afternoon's launch attempt.

Here are highlights from the remainder of today's countdown and flight plan:

EDT...........EVENT

07:47 AM......Main propulsion system chill down
07:47 AM......LH2 slow fill
08:17 AM......LO2 slow fill
08:22 AM......Hydrogen ECO sensors go wet
08:27 AM......LO2 fast fill
08:37 AM......LH2 fast fill
10:32 AM......LH2 topping
10:37 AM......LH2 replenish
10:37 AM......LO2 replenish

10:37 AM......Begin 2-hour 30-minute built-in hold (T-minus 3 hours)
10:37 AM......Closeout crew to white room
10:37 AM......External tank in stable replenish mode
10:52 AM......Astronaut support personnel comm checks
11:22 AM......Pre-ingress switch reconfig
11:40 AM......Crew breakfast/photo op (recorded)
12:00 PM......NASA television launch coverage begins
12:32 PM......Final crew weather briefing
12:42 PM......Crew suit up begins
01:07 PM......Resume countdown (T-minus 3 hours)

01:12 PM......Crew departs O&C building
01:42 PM......Crew ingress
02:32 PM......Astronaut comm checks
02:47 PM......Hatch closure
03:27 PM......White room closeout

03:47 PM......Begin 10-minute built-in hold (T-minus 20m)
03:57 PM......NASA test director countdown briefing
03:57 PM......Resume countdown (T-minus 20m)

03:58 PM......Backup flight computer to OPS 1
04:02 PM......KSC area clear to launch

04:08 PM......Begin final built-in hold (T-minus 9m)
04:38 PM......NTD launch status verification
04:53:12 PM...Resume countdown (T-minus 9m)

04:54:42 PM...Orbiter access arm retraction
04:57:12 PM...Launch window opens
04:57:12 PM...Hydraulic power system (APU) start
04:57:17 PM...Terminate LO2 replenish
04:58:12 PM...Purge sequence 4 hydraulic test
04:58:12 PM...Iinertial measurement units to inertial
04:58:17 PM...Aerosurface profile
04:58:42 PM...Main engine steering test
04:59:17 PM...LO2 tank pressurization
04:59:37 PM...Fuel cells to internal reactants
04:59:42 PM...Clear caution-and-warning memory
05:00:12 PM...Crew closes visors
05:00:15 PM...LH2 tank pressurization
05:01:22 PM...Booster joint heater deactivation
05:01:41 PM...Shuttle computers take control of countdown
05:01:51 PM...Booster steering test
05:02:05 PM...Main engine start (T-6.6 seconds)
05:02:12 PM...Booster ignition and LAUNCH!

EDT...........EVENT.................................................FPS.....MPH

05:02:12 PM...T+00:00...Launch
05:03:11 PM...T+00:59...Maximum aerodynamic pressure (722 psf).....2,350...1,602
05:04:16 PM...T+02:04...Booster separation..........................5,340...3,641
05:04:54 PM...T+02:42...2 engine TAL Moron (104.5%, 2s).............6,000...4,091
05:06:00 PM...T+03:48...Negative return (KSC) (104.5%, 3s)..........8,000...5,455
05:07:31 PM...T+05:19...Press to ATO (104.5%, 2s, 160 u/s).........11,600...7,910
05:08:29 PM...T+06:17...Press to MECO..............................14,900...10,160
05:09:13 PM...T+07:01...Single engine press-to-MECO................18,100...12,342
05:10:36 PM...T+08:24...Main engine shutdown.......................25,800...17,592

05:15 PM......Launch replays on NTV
05:47 PM......Additional launch replays from KSC
06:00 PM......Post-launch news conference
06:27 PM......Payload bay door opening
09:00 PM......Ascent flight control team video replay
09:42 PM......External tank handheld video downlink
10:31 PM......Launch engineering replays from ksc
11:02 PM......Discovery crew sleep begins
12:00 AM......Flight day 1 highlights on NTV


3:15 PM, 5/30/08, Update: Shuttle countdown on track

The shuttle Discovery's countdown today ticked smoothly toward launch Saturday on a space station assembly mission. There are no technical problems of any significance and forecasters are continuing to predict an 80 percent chance of good weather.

Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, meanwhile, have made a slight adjustment to the shuttle's launch window. For the desired flight day three rendezvous with the space station, the window will open at 5:01:15 p.m. Saturday for an "in-plane" launch 57 seconds later at 5:02:12 p.m. The flight day three window will close at 5:07:12 p.m., but a flight day four window is available, permitting a launch as late as 5:10:23 p.m., if the weather or some other problem prevents launch during the desired flight day 3 window.

DATE.......WINDOW OPEN...LAUNCH........WINDOW CLOSE..RENDEZVOUS

05/31/08...05:01:15 PM...05:02:12 PM...05:07:12 PM...Flight Day 3
.......................................05:10:23 PM...FD-4

06/01/08...04:34:40 PM...04:39:40 PM...04:44:41 PM...FD-3
For readers familiar with shuttle ascent events, here is an updated ascent abort boundaries timeline listing when various abort modes become possible (in EDT; inertial velocity in feet per second and miles per hour):

EDT..........T+........EVENT..........................................FPS.....MPH

RETURN TO LAUNCH SITE ABORT OPTION AVAILABLE FOR LOSS OF 1 ENGINE

5:02:12 PM...T+00:00...Launch
5:02:22 PM...T+00:10...Start Roll Maneuver..........................1,350.....921
5:02:30 PM...T+00:18...End Roll Maneuver............................1,490...1,016
5:02:48 PM...T+00:36...Start Throttle Down (72%)....................1,850...1,261
5:03:00 PM...T+00:48...Start Throttle Up (104.5%)...................2,100...1,432
5:03:11 PM...T+00:59...Maximum Aerodynamic Pressure (722 PSF).......2,350...1,602
5:04:16 PM...T+02:04...SRB Staging..................................5,340...3,641
5:04:26 PM...T+02:14...Start OMS Assist (2:15 Duration).............5,510...3,757

TRANS-ATLANTIC LANDING ABORT OPTION AVAILABLE

5:04:54 PM...T+02:42...2 Engine TAL Moron (104.5%, 2s)..............6,000...4,091
5:04:59 PM...T+02:47...2 Engine TAL Zaragoza (104.5%, 2s)...........6,200...4,228
5:05:10 PM...T+02:58...2 Engine TAL Istres (104.5%, 2s).............6,400...4,364
5:06:00 PM...T+03:48...Negative Return (KSC) (104.5%, 3s)...........8,000...5,455

ABORT TO ORBIT OPTION AVAIlABLE

5:07:31 PM...T+05:19...Press To ATO (104.5%, 2s, 160 U/S)..........11,600...7,910
5:07:35 PM...T+05:23...Droop Zaragoza (109%,0s)....................12,000...8,183
5:07:37 PM...T+05:25...Single Engine Ops-3 Zaragoza (109%,0s,2eo)..12,100...8,251
5:07:59 PM...T+05:47...Roll To Headsup.............................13,200...9,001
5:08:16 PM...T+06:04...Single Engine TAL Zaragoza (104.5%,2s,2eo...14,300...9,751

5:08:29 PM...T+06:17...Press To MECO (104.5%, 2s, 160 U/S).........14,900...10,160
5:08:29 PM...T+06:17...Single Engine TAL Moron (109%,0s,2eo Seq....16,400...11,183
5:08:29 PM...T+06:17...Single Engine TAL Istres (109%,0s,2eo Seq)..16,900...11,524
5:09:13 PM...T+07:01...Single Engine Press-To-MECO (104.5%)........18,100...12,342
5:09:31 PM...T+07:19...Negative Moron (2@67%)......................19,900...13,569
5:09:33 PM...T+07:21...3G Limiting.................................20,000...13,638
5:09:53 PM...T+07:41...Last 2 Eng Pre-MECO TAL Zaragoza (67%)......21,800...14,865
5:09:53 PM...T+07:41...Negative Istres (2@67%).....................21,800...14,865
5:10:00 PM...T+07:48...Last Single Eng Pre-Meco TAL Zaragoza.......22,500...15,342
5:10:06 PM...T+07:54...23,000 feet per seonc.......................23,000...15,683
5:10:06 PM...T+07:54...Last 3 Eng Pre-Meco TAL Zaragoza (67%)......23,000...15,683
5:10:30 PM...T+08:18...Last TAL Diego Garcia.......................25,300...17,252
5:10:36 PM...T+08:24...MECO Commanded..............................25,800...17,592
5:10:42 PM...T+08:30...Zero Thrust.................................25,819...17,605


01:18 PM, 5/29/08, Update: Russian toilet parts delivered; weather still 80 percent 'go' for Saturday launch

A replacement pump and other equipment needed to repair the Russian toilet aboard the international space station was installed in the shuttle Discovery early today as engineers readied the ship for blastoff Saturday on a long-awaited flight to deliver Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module to the orbiting outpost.

NASA's Mission Management Team met today to review launch processing and cleared the shuttle for launch on the year's third shuttle mission.

"We had just a very few minor items that were open from the time we did our flight readiness review," said MMT Chairman LeRoy Cain. "And all that work is complete, we're not carrying any constraints from here to launch on Saturday."

Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said she still expects an 80 percent chance of good weather Saturday, decreasing to 70 percent "go" Sunday and 60 percent on Monday.

"The vehicle and the crew and the weather and the team are all ready to go so, we're really looking very good," Cain said. "We have a very important module for the space station program, the Japanese pressurized experiment module. ... We're extremely excited about it, in particular for our space station program and Japanese friends. The whole team is ready to go and we're excited to be here on Saturday."

If all goes well, commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff will begin strapping in for launch at pad 39A around 1:40 p.m. Saturday.

Along with installing the bus-size Kibo module, the astronauts also plan to retrieve a shuttle heat shield inspection boom; install a replacement nitrogen tank to help pressurize the station's ammonia coolant loops; and attempt to clean contamination from a critical solar array drive gear. Chamitoff will remain behind aboard the station when Discovery departs and outgoing flight engineer Garrett Reisman will return to Earth in his place.

Reisman's crewmates - Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko - have been struggling in recent days to repair the station's lone toilet, a Russian system located in the Zvezda command module. The toilet's solid waste collection system is working normally, but trouble with a pump has caused problems for the urine collection system.

The problem appears to involve a pump in the system that pulls liquids through the toilet. Two spares already were on board, but both failed to work properly. Russian engineers believe the pumps might share a common fault and a new pump from a different manufacturing lot number was rushed to Florida for launch aboard Discovery.

"The crew's been working tirelessly here these last few days to repair it," said Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "But in order to make it fully functional, we needed to ship some additional parts, some spare parts from Russia. Those parts arrived in the United States last night and actually the person who hand carried it over got off the airplane in Orlando and drove right over here."

As it now stands, the toilet is fully functional in that it can process both solid and liquid wastes. But because of the pump issue, the cosmonauts must carry out a procedure to cycle additional water through the system every three flushes or so.

"Today, the toilet is functioning," Shireman said. "It works for solid waste collection and it is working in a limited capacity for liquid waste collection. Right now, every three or four flushes it requires a manual procedure to go in and actually flush some additional water. It takes about 10 minutes and it takes two crew members. So it's quite inconvenient as you might imagine."

With three crew members aboard the station, that works out to "four to five times you'd have to go perform this manual procedure a day," he said. "It takes about 10 minutes and two crew members to perform. Insert that into your daily life and you can see that would be quite inconvenient. (But) you'd do it if that was your only option."

The cosmonauts will install the new pump within a few days of Discovery's arrival and Russian engineers are hopeful the problem will be resolved. But even if it's not, Shireman said the station crew can continue indefinitely with the toilet in its current configuration.


01:155 PM, 5/28/08, Update: Shuttle crew flies to space center for start of countdown (UPDATING at 4 p.m. with start of countdown)

The shuttle Discovery's international crew flew to the Kennedy Space Center today for the afternoon start of their countdown to blastoff Saturday on a mission to attach Japan's huge Kibo lab module to the international space station.

Commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, Karen Nyberg, spacewalkers Ronald Garan and Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff arrived at the shuttle runway after a flight from Houston shortly after noon.

"As you can tell, we're all very happy to be here," said Chamitoff, who will replace astronaut Garrett Reisman aboard the station. "I feel very lucky to be part of this crew and part of this mission. The attachment of the Japanese experiment module to the space station is going to be a real historical turning point for Japan. The Japanese people will, after that point, have a continuous presence to do research and operations off planet. So it's a real exciting time for Japan."

Discovery's countdown began at 3 p.m. today, setting the stage for launch from pad 39A at 5:02 p.m. Saturday. Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said good weather is expected, with an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions Saturday and Sunday.

The goals of the two-week, three-spacewalk mission are to deliver and install the bus-size Kibo module; to install a replacement nitrogen tank to help pressurize the station's cooling system; to inspect and attempt to clean contamination from a solar array drive gear; to retrieve a shuttle heat shield inspection boom; and to rotate Chamitoff and Reisman.

"During this mission, Ronny Garan and I are going to be stepping out three times for the spacewalks, or EVAs, and that spacewalk team has had a lot of work getting us ready," Fossum said at the shuttle runway. "We've been in the (training pool) about 30 times, it's been a long year and I think everything is finally in place. Discovery's perched on the pad, Kibo is ready to go, the weather looks good and we're about as ready as we could possibly be. I think it's time to go fly!"

There are no technical problems of any significance at the launch pad, but problems with the Russian toilet aboard the space station have forced NASA to offload about 35 pounds of low-priority equipment to make room for spare parts being rushed to Florida in a diplomatic pouch.

"We have on the way to us right now on an aircraft coming from Russia, there is a gas-liquid separator pump and some ancillary hardware, weighs around 35 pounds," said shuttle payloads manager Scott Higginbotham. "It's scheduled to arrive tonight around 10 p.m. We have a crew that'll be on standby to get it received, inspected, packed and delivered to the pad for stowage in the middeck of Discovery early tomorrow morning.

"We are deleting a few items from our up manifest to make room for this higher priority Russian hardware. The items that are being deleted ... will be launched on a subsequent mission, they're not as critical for the on orbit activities. That includes an anti-microbial applicator for the thermal control loop in Columbus, there's a spare part for the oxygen generation system that removes hydrogen and we don't need that for another six months or so, and we also have some torque wrenches that we'll be leaving on the ground to make room for this Russian hardware."

The station's lone toilet is located in the Russian Zvezda command module. The part of the system that handles solid waste is working normally, but the urine processing equipment broke down late last week. Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko attempted a variety of fixes, but the potty is only partially operational.

Station flight director Annette Hasbrook told CBS Radio today the astronauts are using the potty in "manual" mode. Instead of using suction to draw liquids into the system, "they're sort of doing a flushing technique with some extra flush water just to keep the fluids moving down through the system and into the receptacle."

Higginbotham said the decision on what equipment to bump from Discovery's manifest to make room for the Russian hardware "was based on priorities. We tried to look for the things we didn't have to have on orbit right away."

"Clearly, having a working toilet is a priority for us," he said. "So some of these things we didn't need for the next six months or so could wait until the next shuttle mission or the next resupply flight on a Progress."

In a worst-case scenario, the station astronauts can use so-called "Apollo bags" for waste disposal, but that it not a long-term solution because of stowage issues.

"As soon as we get a couple more spare parts that I'm sure some of you guys have heard about that are going to come into Orlando airport tonight, we're going to be all ready to go," Kelly told reporters at the shuttle runway. "My crew's ready. We've been training for a year, we're really looking forward to our launch on Saturday."

An updated countdown timeline, flight plan, television schedule, launch windows and other useful information can be found on the CBS News STS-124 Quick-Look page: http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/currentglance.html


6:30 PM, 5/19/08, Update: Shuttle cleared for 5/31 launch; Soyuz believed safe for use in emergency

NASA managers today cleared the shuttle Discovery for launch May 31, at 5:02:09 p.m., on a long-awaited three-spacewalk mission to deliver and attach Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module to the international space station. The decision to proceed came after a lengthy discussion on the health of the station's Soyuz lifeboat after back-to-back re-entry problems that led to rough, off-course landings.

Russian engineers are still assessing what went wrong during the descent of the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft April 19 when two of the three modules making up the vehicle failed to separate properly before atmospheric entry. The propulsion module ultimately broke free of the crew section allowing Yuri Malenchenko, outgoing station commander Peggy Whitson and a South Korean space tourist to complete a steep but otherwise safe landing in Kazakhstan.

It was the second such entry mishap in a row and Russian engineers have launched a major investigation to determine what went wrong and whether the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft currently docked to the station is healthy. It is a critical issue because the three-seat Soyuz is the station crew's only way home in the absence of a space shuttle in the event of an emergency that might force an evacuation.

It is a critical issue for NASA as well because the agency plans to rotate U.S. crew members during Discovery's flight, ferrying Gregory Chamitoff to the station to join Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko and bringing Garrett Reisman back to Earth. Another shuttle is not scheduled to visit the space station until November. The Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft will serve as the station's lifeboat until October when a fresh crew is launched aboard a fresh Soyuz. Current plans call for Volkov, Kononenko and U.S. space tourist Richard Garriott, who will ride the new Soyuz to orbit, to return to Earth aboard the TMA-12 spacecraft Oct. 23.

Going into today's executive-level flight readiness review to set a launch date for Discovery, NASA managers discussed a variety of options, including whether to delay the shuttle flight until Russian engineers get a better idea about the status of the Soyuz currently in orbit.

But the Russian investigation into what went wrong during the Soyuz TMA-11 descent is not expected to be complete until the end of June or later and a one week to two week delay for Discovery would not improve the station crew's safety margin.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief of space operations, said the odds of a station failure that would force a Soyuz evacuation are low - on the order of 1-in-124 over six months - and that a safe landing would be likely even if similar entry problems occurred.

"If something comes out of the investigation that says the Soyuz is not acceptable as a return vehicle, then we would go take some appropriate action," Gerstenmaier said. "But we haven't seen anything along those lines. For emergency return, Soyuz is OK. ... But the Russians are working through it methodically, trying to identify if there's anything that would invalidate its use as an emergency return vehicle. As long as that doesn't occur, then we proceed with our normal plans. And I don't see anything between now and the 31st that's going to change any of that thinking."

Sources familiar with recent NASA discussions on the Soyuz issue said an assessment of the relative risks of various options played a key role. While the odds of a station problem that would force evacuation are thought to be around 1-in-124 over six months, the overall risk of a catastrophic shuttle failure over the course of Discovery's mission - including all phases of launch, orbital operations and re-entry - is on the order of 1-in-78, according to NASA's latest assessment. Given those relative odds, and the belief that the station is five times more likely to suffer a non-recoverable failure in the absence of a crew to repair it, NASA managers opted to press ahead with an on-schedule launch for Discovery.

"It's a fairly low probability that we'd need to use (the Soyuz) in an emergency case," Gerstenmaier said. "In fact, we analyzed that, we did a probabilistic risk assessment of what the chances were of having to use the Soyuz as a rescue vehicle. It's a low probability we're going to have to use it. But if we use it, we think there's a good probability it'll return the crew and do what it needs to do. So as a parachute or a backup system, it has the reliability that we think we need for a backup system. We have yet to prove it has the reliability that we would use for a nominal return situation."

Discovery is in good shape and on schedule for launch May 31. The only technical problem of any real concern since the shuttle was moved to pad 39A was the failure of a multiplexer-demultiplexer computer system that required a changeout. When the MDM, known as FA2, failed, it caused two of the shuttle's four flight computers to lose synchronization. In flight, that could force a crew to switch to a backup flight system computer, limiting their ability to cope with additional failures. But the MDM was successfully replaced and tested and no concerns about it were raised during today's flight readiness review.

"It's an extremely complicated mission," Gerstenmaier said. "Adding the Kibo module is a big deal for the Japanese. This really brings them up to speed. And adding the Kibo module is not easy. ... We need to be careful we don't assume success and take our eye off of what we're doing. We've got to stay focused. The Soyuz is fine, it will take care of itself, we've got time to work that. That needs to get resolved by the fall. The issue right now in front of is us we need to be 100 percent ready to go fly this flight, we've got to be 100 percent ready to get the Kibo attached. ... We need to work all that activity during the flight and that needs to be our focus."

Commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and Chamitoff plan to fly to the Kennedy Space Center on May 28 for the 3 p.m. start of their countdown to launch. An updated flight plan, countdown timeline and other useful mission data are available on the CBS News STS-124 Quick-Look page.


3:50 PM, 5/9/08, Update: Astronauts strap in for practice countdown; mission extended one day

The crew of the shuttle Discovery strapped in today for a dress-rehearsal countdown that sets the stage for launch May 31 on a long-awaited flight to deliver Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module to the international space station.

Commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff began boarding the shuttle at pad 39A shortly after 8:15 a.m. The practice countdown ended at 11 a.m. with the simulated ignition and shutdown of the ship's main engines.

Shuttle crew visits Kennedy for practice countdown. Left to right: Garan, Nyberg, Hoshide, Fossum, Kelly, Ham, Chamitoff

Shuttle program managers plan to hold a two-day flight readiness review May 13 and 14, followed by an executive-level review May 19. If all goes well, Kelly and company will fly back to the Kennedy Space Center on May 28 for the 7 p.m. start of their countdown to launch.

Liftoff currently is targeted for 5:02:09 p.m. on May 31, but that date depends in part on the delivery of replacement equipment needed by a NASA-supplied carbon dioxide removal system on the station. NASA wants to replace one of two CO2-scrubbing "beds" in the device that has been experiencing slightly higher pressures than usual.

The new component must be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center by May 28 to permit an on-time launch.

"We recently made a decision that we were going to go ahead and manifest another of the carbon dioxide removal assembly beds," space station Program Manager Mike Suffredini said last week. "We've changed out the two beds on what we refer to as the CDRA, we did that because of a design flaw that allowed some of the zeolites to leak around the screen on the bed and it was contaminating some of the valves.

"It turns out one of the beds we installed, the pressure has been rising on it over the last few months and it's not a condition that we expected to see. These are the beds, the same design beds, that are going to be in the second CDRA that we intend to fly to support a six-person crew, and so we need to understand the cause of this anomaly. While the CDRA actually does work, we're going to go ahead and R-and-R this bed and bring the old bed home so we can understand the root cause of this failure and if any other design mods are necessary."

On Thursday, NASA managers agreed to extend shuttle mission STS-124 by one day to give the crew time to replace spacesuit battery chargers in the station's Quest airlock module that are nearing the end of their operational lifetimes. The work will be done after Fossum and Garan complete three planned spacewalks.

Flight planners initially planned to insert the extra day as a new flight day 11, but they later decided to move the battery charger work up one day to flight day 10. Assuming an on-time launch on May 31, Discovery will return to Earth on June 14.

An updated flight plan reflecting the one-day mission extension will be posted on the CBS News STS-124 Quick-Look page as soon as it becomes available.


09:00 AM, 5/3/08, Update: Shuttle Discovery hauled to launch pad

The space shuttle Discovery was moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building to launch pad 39A early today for work to ready the ship for liftoff May 31 on a flight to deliver Japan's huge Kibo laboratory module to the international space station.

Mounted atop a powerful crawler-transporter, Discovery left the VAB at 11:47 p.m. Friday and was "hard down" on the launch pad by 6:06 a.m. today.

The shuttle's crew - commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff - plans to fly to the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday to review emergency procedures and to participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown Friday.

Shuttle program managers plan to hold a two-day flight readiness review May 13 and 14, followed by an executive-level review May 19. If all goes well, the astronauts will return to the Florida spaceport May 28 for the 7 p.m. start of their countdown to blastoff. Launch is targeted for 5:02:05 p.m. on May 31.

A detailed flight plan, the countdown timeline, launch windows, personnel assignments and other useful information are posted on the CBS News STS-124 Quick-Look page.


8:02 PM, 5/1/08, Update: Shuttle Discovery on track for May 31 launch; four- to five-week slip expected for downstream flights

The shuttle Discovery is on track for launch May 31 on a high-priority flight to deliver Japan's huge Kibo lab module to the international space station. But subsequent flights are slipping four to five weeks each because of external tank production issues, and a flight that had been targeted for December will slip into early 2009, a senior NASA manager said today.

Firm launch dates are not yet available, but the long-awaited Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, STS-125, is expected to slip to around Oct. 8 or a bit later. A space station logistics delivery mission, STS-126, is expected to slip from mid October to around Nov. 15 and the flight after that, STS-119, likely will be delayed from December to early February 2009. Similar delays are expected for subsequent flights.

It has been clear for several weeks that tank delivery issues would affect the manifest, but shuttle Program Manager John Shannon's comments today during a pre-flight briefing for Discovery's upcoming mission were the first official word that one of six flights originally planned for 2008 will slip into 2009. Even so, Shannon said NASA still has margin built into the schedule to complete the space station and retire the shuttle fleet by the end of fiscal 2010 as planned.

"I would stress that the manifest we had laid out for the remaining 11 flights had us ending in about May of 2010," Shannon said. "I don't see (additional tank issues) beyond this one-time delay that we're going to have for the new processing. So I would say we're still on track to complete the program in the June or summer time frame of 2010, with some margin."

The tank that will be used by Discovery for its launching May 31 is the first to be built from scratch with post-Columbia safety upgrades and it has taken engineers at Lockheed Martin's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans additional time to perfect and implement required manufacturing techniques.

The Hubble mission remains officially targeted for launch on Aug. 28, but "we really cannot make that date with the external tank processing schedule," Shannon said. "And this all kind of falls from the processing changes that were made to assemble the tanks with the post-Columbia mods in line. This was the first time through, we learned a little bit this time. I was just out at the Michoud Assembly Facility. I saw the Hubble tank, it looks good, I saw the rescue flight tank, it looks really good as well."

Shuttle crews bound for the space station have the option of "safe haven" aboard the lab complex if any Columbia-class problems occur that might make a safe re-entry problematic. That is not possible for the Hubble repair crew because the telescope is in a different orbit and the shuttle cannot reach the station from there.

As a result, NASA plans to have a second shuttle ready for launch on short notice in case of any major problems and that, in turn, means two tanks will be needed.

"The changes that we made, it's added about four to five weeks of processing time on those two tanks," Shannon said. "So what we're looking at is a four- to five-week slip in the Hubble date. So sometime late September, early October, we're working through that. The tank team has done a really nice job of taking the lessons learned processing the tank that's about to fly, and the Hubble tank. So I don't expect that to (expand the time needed) on each of the downstream tanks. They have a mitigation plan in place so that the 2009 tanks come in more on a normal template. So we're going to take a one-time hit of this four to five weeks, it will move pretty much all of the tanks in series, the next 10 tanks that will come out, about that four to five weeks."

NASA originally hoped to launch six missions in 2008, but Shannon said the external tank production issues, along with unavoidable temperature constraints based on the station's orbit, will force the agency to move the STS-119 flight into 2009.

"The problem I have is that this year, from an orbital mechanics standpoint, is only 11 months long," Shannon said. "There's what's called a beta constraint, where the sun angle with respect to the orbital plane is such that I can't fly from Nov. 29 through the middle of December. So really, I can only fly up to Nov. 29. And what that means, with a four- to five-week slip, is that we would fly Hubble this year, we would fly ULF-2 (STS-126) this year and then we would move the STS-119 flight over to the early part of 2009."

Shannon said the launch delays are "a small price to pay ... for all the improvements we're getting on this tank."

"Really, everything immediately post Columbia that we thought of that would be a good modification has been implemented on the tank," he said. "It's a much, much better tank than we were flying pre Columbia, but it's a more laborious process. Now that the team has that figured out, we're going to get back on our normal production schedule. It just took a little extra time."

In the near term, NASA's sights are set on launching shuttle Discovery at 5:02 p.m. on May 31. On board will be commander Mark Kelly, pilot Kenneth Ham, flight engineer Ronald Garan, Karen Nyberg, Michael Fossum, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and Gregory Chamitoff, who will remain behind aboard the space station to replace flight engineer Garrett Reisman. Reisman, launched to the station in March, will return to Earth aboard Discovery.

"We've got an exciting mission ahead of us," Kelly told reporters today. "I think we're pretty fortunate, well just fortunate, period, to be part of the space shuttle program, but to carry one of the major elements to the space station, install it and check it out is really a great privilege for all of us. We've got a complicated, busy mission ahead of us."

Discovery is scheduled to be hauled to launch pad 39A Saturday. The astronauts will fly to the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday to review emergency procedures and participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown Friday. Shuttle program managers will hold a two-day flight readiness review May 13 and 14, followed by an executive-level review May 19. If all goes well, the countdown will begin May 28, setting up a launch attempt at 5:02:05 p.m. on May 31.

The flight plan calls for Kelly to guide Discovery to a docking with the space station around 1:51 p.m. on June 2. The next day, Fossum and Garan will stage the first of three spacewalks and the Kibo lab module will be attached to the left-side of the Harmony connecting module. Undocking is scheduled for June 10, with landing expected around 12:08 p.m. on June 13.