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Shuttle Launches To Continue Space Station Construction

23 October 2007

23rd U.S. flight to orbital outpost carries Star Wars film lightsaber

Washington – Space shuttle Discovery blasted into Florida’s morning sky October 23, beginning a 14-day STS-120 mission to continue construction of the International Space Station.

At the station, Discovery's crew will add the Node 2 module, called Harmony, to the expanding station to provide attachment points for the European Space Agency’s laboratory module Columbia in December, and the Kibo Japanese Experiment Logistics Module early in 2008.

“Three ... two ... one ... and liftoff of space shuttle Discovery,” Mission Control announced, “carrying the seven STS-120 astronauts! The shuttle has cleared the launch tower, beginning its mission to bring Harmony to the International Space Station.”

Harmony, built in Italy for the United States, is a 7.2- by 4.4-meter passageway with a pressurized volume of 75 cubic meters.

The Harmony node, which NASA calls an “international crossroads in space,” is “an important stepping stone, both for our agencies and our programs, and for our nations,” European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli said during a September interview.

Discovery also will carry into space, and then back to Earth, a fictional weapon from George Lucas’s epic Star Wars franchise, whose six films -- each opening with the introduction, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ....” -- have been seen by millions of fans around the world.

The weapon, a lightsaber that belonged to Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker in the first film, released in 1977 by 20th Century Fox, is being flown into space to honor the 30th anniversary of the franchise.

In another first, the STS-120 mission will mark the first time women have been in command of the space shuttle and the space station at the same time. Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Pam Melroy is commanding Discovery, and biochemistry researcher Peggy Whitson is commanding the space station as part of Expedition 16.


Accompanying Melroy on Discovery are pilot George Zamka and mission specialists Scott Parazynski, Stephanie Wilson, Doug Wheelock, ESA’s Nespoli and Daniel Tani.

Tani will stay aboard the station and return to Earth with the STS-122 crew, which is scheduled to launch aboard Atlantis December 6.

On October 21, Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov returned to Earth with their Malaysian guest Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, landing in Kazakhstan.

Flight engineer Clay Anderson stayed aboard the station to become part of Expedition 16, with Whitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko. Anderson, after nearly five months on the station, will return to Earth with Discovery, which is scheduled to return to the Kennedy Space Station in the early morning hours of November 6.

The final member of Expedition 16, Garrett Reisman, 39, is scheduled to launch on shuttle Endeavour February 14, 2008. Reisman will replace ESA astronaut Léopold Eyharts and stay aboard the station as part of the next crew, Expedition 17. He is scheduled to return to Earth on Atlantis (STS-119) in the summer of 2008.


At the orbital outpost, the Discovery crew will move a section of the station's backbone, or truss, and its solar arrays to a permanent position at the very end of the left side of the truss. The arrays have been attached to the middle of the truss for seven years, where they have acted as a temporary power system.

Five spacewalks are planned, most of them scheduled to be conducted while the shuttle is docked to the station. One spacewalk will be used to evaluate a repair technique for shuttle tiles.

With Discovery’s launch, 13 shuttle missions remain to complete the International Space Station before the shuttle is retired in 2010. The fifth and final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, an international cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency, is scheduled for September 10, 2008.

During that 11-day flight, Atlantis’ seven astronauts will repair and improve the observatory's capabilities through 2013. Mission planners have been working since the flight was announced in October 2006 to determine the best time in the shuttle manifest to repair Hubble while minimizing the impact to the space station.

Hubble was placed on orbit in April 1990; in June 1990 scientists discovered a problem with its primary mirror. Astronauts from space shuttle Endeavour fixed the problem in 1993 during a servicing mission. Servicing missions in 1997, 1999 and 2002 fixed other problems and performed maintenance.

In January 2004, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin canceled further on-orbit manned servicing because of potential risks to shuttle astronauts, but in 2006 approved a final mission to the telescope.

NASA will support a “launch on need” flight during the Hubble mission. If a rescue flight becomes necessary, shuttle Endeavour will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center.

Shuttle missions beyond the mission to service the Hubble, designated STS-125, are being assessed. Shuttle and station program officials will continue to consider options for the rest of the shuttle flights to complete construction of the space station by 2010, when the shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired.

More information about the Hubble Space Telescope,  the space shuttle program and the launch schedule is available at the NASA Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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