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Monday, 11 December 2006 14:09

Space Shuttle given all clear to rendezvous with International Space Station

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NASA has given the Space Shuttle Discovery a clean bill of health after Saturday's launch, clearing it to proceed to the International Space Station.

Discovery has risen to 216 miles above the Earth in preparation to rendezvous with the ISS at 5.05pm EST Monday (8.05am AEST Tuesday), delivering a new crew member and a 2-ton structural addition.

Crew members used the robotic arm's camera to inspect the heat shield and hull for damage after Saturday’s launch, giving it the all clear. NASA is also satisfied with observations of the shuttle's fuel tank taken during the first night time shuttle launch in four years. Foam breaking off the tank caused the damage that lead to the loss of Columbia and its seven astronauts during re-entry in 2003. 

As an extra precation, Discovery will also execute a 360-degree pirouette alongside the ISS before docking, allowing station crew to photograph the shuttle's belly.

The primary goal of the 12 day mission is to rewire the ISS's electrical and cooling systems. Three complicated space walks are required to install additional solar power arrays.

Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth on Thursday December 21, landing at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA engineers are keen to have the ship and crew safely on the ground before New Years Day, as the shuttle's navigation software is not designed to handle the new year roll over.


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