The seven crew members aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery spent their first full day in orbit today checking equipment in preparation for the major events to come: docking with the International Space Station on Friday and, in following days, attaching an exterior framework and additional Shuttle docking port to the orbiting outpost.
The crew found everything in good shape aboard the Shuttle, although a failure in one of Discovery's communications systems may prevent Mission Control from visually following many of the crew's activities through live television. At about 9 a.m. Central today, flight controllers noted a failure in Discovery's Ku-Band communications system, a system used for high-rate communications - including television -- that includes a dish-shaped antenna in the Shuttle's cargo bay. The failure, still being analyzed by engineers, prevents the system from transmitting or receiving any usable communications. The Ku-Band system initially worked well when activated yesterday, only a few hours after launch. The Shuttle has other communications systems that are operating well. The loss of the Ku-Band system will not impact the crew's ability to successfully complete all of the flight's objectives. However, the failure of the Ku-Band system may drastically reduce the potential for live television to be transmitted to the ground for the remainder of the mission.
Discovery is trailing the International Space Station by about 1,680 statute miles, continuing to close in on the orbiting complex at a rate of 201 statute miles with each orbit. Commander Brian Duffy and Pilot Pam Melroy fired the Shuttle's engines twice today to adjust the rate at which Discovery is closing on the station. The continuing series of rendezvous engine firings is planned to culminate in Duffy manually guiding Discovery to a docking with the outpost at 12:45 p.m. CDT Friday. The final phase of the rendezvous is planned to begin with a Terminal Intercept engine firing planned at 9:09 a.m. CDT Friday, when Discovery reaches a point about nine statute miles behind the station.
Also today, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata powered up Discovery's robotic arm, checking out its operation in a survey of the cargo bay and finding everything in order. While that activity was under way on the Shuttle's upper deck, astronauts Leroy Chiao, Jeff Wisoff and Mike Lopez-Alegria worked in the lower deck, or middeck, to check out the spacesuits that will be worn during four planned spacewalks. All of the suits and equipment are in excellent shape. Astronaut Bill McArthur will join Chiao, Wisoff and Lopez-Alegria in conducting those spacewalks, planned to begin on Sunday, that will complete connections of the new station components.
The crew will begin a sleep period at 9:17 p.m. CDT and awaken at 4:17 a.m. CDT Friday for day three of the mission. Discovery is in an orbit with a high point of 235 statute miles and a low point of 188 statute miles.
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