Shuttle Discovery flight hits halfway mark - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Shuttle Discovery flight hits halfway mark

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Posted: Saturday, June 7, 2008 8:01 am | Updated: 9:47 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - As their flight hit the halfway mark, shuttle Discovery's astronauts faced more work with the space station's new science lab on Saturday.

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - As their flight hit the halfway mark, shuttle Discovery's astronauts faced more work with the space station's new science lab on Saturday.

Watch related video

All 10 occupants of the linked shuttle and station chipped in Friday to get Japan's billion-dollar Kibo lab up and running, and to expand its size by attaching an attic to it.

On Saturday - one week into their mission - the astronauts planned to test drive the lab's 33-foot robot arm.

Kibo's attic - essentially a 14-foot shed, or closet, for spare tools and equipment - was popped atop the 37-foot lab by astronauts operating the international space station's robot arm. Even before Friday's addition, the billion-dollar, bus-size Kibo was the biggest room at the space station.

The attic had been in a temporary location at the space station since March. There wasn't enough room on a space shuttle to fit both the attic and lab, so NASA split them into two flights. The third and final Japanese section, a porch for outdoor experiments, will be launched next spring.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, shuttle Discovery's commander, Mark Kelly, said Kibo was so "incredibly big" that the astronauts had to take extra care inside of it.

"You can get out in the middle of it and you can't reach a handrail and you could possibly get stuck there for a little while," Kelly said.

Later in the day, Mission Control informed Kelly that Kibo was looking more like a lab. When the astronauts opened up Kibo on Wednesday, a day after installing it, the lab was empty and provided lots of room for weightless acrobatics. Racks for experiments quickly consumed some of the space.

"I guess there are no more dance parties," Mission Control joked.

Late Friday, Mission Control asked the astronauts to take some zoom-in digital photos of two thermal protective panels on Discovery's right wing. Mission Control said embedded sensors had picked up some slight pulses a few days earlier, indicating possible micrometeorite impacts, and while engineers did not think anything was amiss they wanted to make certain.

The astronauts beamed down more than 50 photos of the two wing panels.

The wing sensors are one of NASA's many safety measures put in place after Columbia was destroyed during re-entry in 2003 because of a gashed wing.

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On the Net:

NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov

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