Sunday, March 06, 2011

Shuttle Discovery prepares for Monday's undocking

Crew's gather in the closing days of Discovery's flight to station. (NASA)

Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery are spending their final hours aboard the International Space Station today as they load final experiments prior to closing the hatches for Monday's undocking.

Today will see a farewell ceremony as the shuttle crew bids farewell to the space station following eight days docked to the orbiting outpost.

The two crews will begin a brief farewell ceremony at 3:33 p.m. EST, today followed by a final handshake between station commander Scott Kelly with shuttle commander Steve Lindsey.

The three hatches which connect Discovery with station will be closed and sealed as the crews prepare for tomorrow's departure at 7:00 a.m.

Discovery's crew of six have spent the weekend assisting the station's crew of six with the labor intensive chores of unpacking several tones of supplies and equipment which have arrived at the outpost over the past six weeks.

In fact, Discovery's crew were given two extra days in space just to help the station's crew get ahead of unstowing and then unboxing the science equipment, computers and fresh supplies carried up by Discovery in a bus sized module.

The module is known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a 21-foot long cylindrical segment which will be used for storage. It will begin to free up more space inside the station's working and living segments for the crew.

For NASA and the space community, Monday's undocking will conclude the final visit by Discovery to a space station as she sails into the twilight of her 27 year career.

Discovery first visited Russia's space station MIR in 1995 in an orbital fly around of the complex, and three years later made the only docking with MIR on STS-91.

That flight in 1998 also marked the final MIR docking by a space shuttle as NASA and Russia joined together to begin construction of the International Space Station. Discovery first visited the new station in May 1999 when it only consisted of two segments -- Russia's Zarya and America's Unity node.

As Discovery prepare to undock from her port-of-call, she completes her thirteenth and final docking to earth's outpost in space.

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