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Space Shuttle Prepares for International Space Station Docking


Preparations are underway on the Space Shuttle Discovery for Thursday's planned docking with the International Space Station. Discovery's crew spent much of the day performing a thorough examination of the orbiter's exterior, one day after a successful launch from Cape Canaveral.

NASA officials say Discovery is on schedule for Thursday's rendezvous with the International Space Station.

"The vehicle is in great shape," said Shuttle Flight Director Rick LeBrode. "The crew is in great shape, and we are ready for 'dock ops' [docking operations.]"

Prior to docking, crewmembers will prepare space suits to be used for at least two space walks, once Discovery arrives at the International Space Station.

Earlier, the crew deployed an array of cameras attached to a boom operated by the shuttle's 15-meter robotic arm. During a seven-hour period, the cameras took extensive images of the shuttle's wings and nose cap.

The rigorous inspection is a safety measure implemented in the aftermath of the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Columbia broke up upon re-entry to Earth's atmosphere. A section of foam that peeled away during lift-off was believed to have damaged shielding on the orbiter's wing, leading to the deadly mishap.

Hoping to avoid a possible recurrence with Discovery, NASA will closely examine the images, which are capable of revealing a crack or other damage as small as three millimeters.

Nothing of major concern has been discovered. Speaking with reporters, Flight Director Tony Ceccacci said the images do show a white splotchy area on Discovery's right wing. But Ceccacci noted that he and other inspectors spotted the discoloration nearly three weeks earlier - and concluded it was most likely the result of bird droppings.

Ceccacci was asked if such a substance could affect the shuttle.

"No, it will burn off during [re]entry," he said.

Discovery will deliver several tons of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station, as well as a crewmember. Mission Specialist Thomas Reiter of Germany will remain on the space station for six-months.

This is just the second space shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster. The shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired in 2010.

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