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Discovery Blasts Off in Rare Night Launch.


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Space shuttle Discovery.
Space Shuttle Discovery. Image credit: NASA.

The Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off Saturday night, beginning a new mission to the International Space Station. The launch was initially scheduled for Thursday night, but low clouds forced managers to push it back. Over the next 12 days, Discovery will link up the station, and the astronauts will help install the new P5 truss. This structure will extend the station's backbone, and allow future solar panels to rotate. Discovery will reach the station on Monday.

The Space Shuttle Discovery and its seven-member crew lifted off Saturday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 8:47 p.m. EST on one of the most complex missions ever to the International Space Station.

Shortly before launch, Discovery's Commander Mark Polansky said he and his crew were excited to continue assembly of the station, “We look forward to lighting up the night sky and rewiring ISS.”

After hearing of the successful liftoff, Expedition 14 Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria told Mission Control in Houston “We'll leave the light on,” in anticipation of the Space Shuttle crew's arrival, now scheduled for Monday.

Low clouds delayed Discovery's launch on Thursday night. After standing down on Friday, weather was much better for Saturday's launch.

During the 12-day mission, designated STS-116, a new structural component will be added to the station. Shuttle and station crews will work with ground teams to install the P5 truss. This latest addition to the station's backbone weighs 4,000 pounds and will extend the left side of the truss to allow future solar panels to rotate.

The mission also includes extensive work to reconfigure the station's electrical and cooling systems from temporary to permanent mode. During the mission, ground control will shut down and reroute the station's power in stages so that the astronauts can reconfigure the power system and make the P4 solar arrays delivered during the last mission fully operational. This complex operation has never been done before. Part of an existing solar panel will be retracted to allow the P4 arrays to track the Sun for a full 360 degrees and provide power to the rest of the station.

As part of these operations, the station's temporary cooling system will be deactivated and a permanent system will become operational.

The station's newest resident will also be travelling aboard Discovery. Astronaut Sunita Williams joins the Expedition 14 crew. Thomas Reiter, a European Space Agency Astronaut who has been aboard the station since July, will return to Earth with the Discovery crew. Williams is scheduled to spend six months on the station.

Discovery's crew is Polansky, Pilot Bill Oefelein and mission specialists Bob Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick, Williams and Christer Fuglesang, a European Space Agency astronaut.

For the latest information about the STS-116 mission and its crew, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle

Original Source: NASA News Release




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