Discovery's international crew spent a busy day in orbit preparing for the major events ahead, a first time docking with the International Space Station late tonight and a spacewalk late Saturday night.
With the Shuttle trailing the station by less than 500 nautical miles and moving closer every orbit, Commander Kent Rominger twice fired Discovery's steering jets to fine tune the Shuttle's approach to the new station. The engine firings were the first in a series that will culminate in a docking with the station planned for 11:24 p.m. Central time today. Down on Discovery's middeck, Flight Engineer Ellen Ochoa and Canadian astronaut Julie Payette opened the tunnel and hatches leading to the Spacehab module in the payload bay. Spacehab is loaded with equipment, clothes and food to be stored aboard the new orbital outpost. Later, Payette and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev temporarily stowed some equipment in the module to free up room in Discovery's cabin.
In preparation for Saturday's spacewalk, astronauts Tammy Jernigan and Dan Barry, assisted by Payette and Pilot Rick Husband, successfully tested three spacesuits aboard Discovery. All of the equipment was found to be in excellent condition and ready for the spacewalk, during which Jernigan and Barry will install both U.S. and Russian-built cranes to the station for use by future astronaut construction crews.
Ochoa and Payette also tested the Shuttle's 50-foot robot arm and used it to conduct a television survey of Discovery's payload bay. Jernigan and Ochoa extended the outer ring of Discovery's Orbiter Docking System in a successful test of the mechanism which will make the first contact with and capture a similar mechanism in the Pressurized Mating Adapter affixed to the ISS's Unity.
Before beginning their presleep period, the astronauts lowered Discovery's cabin pressure as a precursor to Jernigan and Barry breathing pure oxygen tomorrow night in advance of their spacewalk. This protocol helps to purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams, preventing any adverse effects from the vacuum of space during their excursion into Discovery's payload bay.
The crew will begin an abbreviated 7 ½ hour sleep period at 8:50 a.m. Central time today and will be awakened at 4:20 p.m. to begin preparations for rendezvous and docking.
Discovery is orbiting at an altitude of 230 statute miles, with all of its systems operating normally.
The next STS-96 mission status report is scheduled to be issued at 6 p.m. Central time, or as events warrant.