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Tue, Jun 03, 2008

Discovery Docks At International Space Station

First Spacewalk To Occur Tuesday Morning

Space Shuttle Discovery arrived at the International Space Station at 1403 EDT Monday, delivering the second component of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory and a new Expedition 17 crew member.

The STS-124 astronauts entered the station for the first time after the hatches between the two spacecraft opened at 1536, according to NASA.

Prior to docking at the station, Commander Mark Kelly guided the orbiter through the routine "backflip" maneuver, allowing ISS crewmembers to photograph Discovery's heat shield for signs of damage incurred during launch. As ANN reported, a chunk of foam was caught on video striking the orbiter's belly about three-and-a-half minutes in to the shuttle's Saturday launch.

Despite the seriousness of the task at hand, however, Expedition 17 crewmember Garrett Reisman -- who took many of the photographs -- injected some humor to the task, as well... noting the clarity of the photos allowed him to see inside Discovery's flight deck.

"Please tell Ken Ham he has some ketchup on his shirt," Reisman said, reports The New York Times. Ham is the shuttle's pilot; Reisman was replaced on Expedition 17 by Mission Specialist Greg Chamitof.

The crew members aboard the orbiting complex also prepared for the first of three STS-124 spacewalks, which Mission Specialists Mike Fossum and Ron Garan are scheduled to begin at 1132 Tuesday.

In something of a surprise to crews on the ground, shuttle mission management team lead LeRoy Cain said the launch pad sustained "some fairly significant damage" during Saturday's launch -- with a 75' x 20' section of the pad's "flame trench" destroyed during launch. Several concrete blocks leading to the pad were also torn away, and debris was catapulted through the perimeter fence surrounding the pad.

"For the shuttle program, I think it’s unprecedented in terms of the magnitude," he said. Cain added it's unlikely any of the debris could have bounced back up to strike Discovery, though he acknowledged that "is a scenario that we are concerned about."

As of yet, NASA officials have no idea what happened to cause so much damage to the pad -- whether something unusual happened during the launch, or a previously undiscovered flaw in the flame trench was revealed. "We need to go understand what that is," Cain said.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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