WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US space shuttle Discovery was approaching the International Space Station on Saturday as part of its final mission, carrying a new module and a robot to the orbiting research lab.
The shuttle, which blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, is set to dock with the ISS at 2:15 pm (1915 GMT). Discovery’s 11-day tour of duty in low Earth orbit is to include two spacewalks.
Late Friday, NASA said the astronauts had inspected the orbiter’s thermal protection system and had checked out spacesuits and rendezvous tools in preparation for Saturday’s docking.
The Discovery crew plans to deliver the Permanent Multipurpose Module, with extra storage space and an area for experiments, as well as some spare parts and the Express Logistic Carrier, an external platform for large equipment.
The shuttle will also bring the first humanoid robot to the ISS. The Robonaut 2, or R2, is a joint project of General Motors and NASA and will stay behind as a permanent resident of the space station when the shuttle leaves.
When Discovery wraps up this tour, the oldest surviving shuttle will have flown more missions than any of its cohorts and toted 180 people into space, including the first female shuttle commander and the first African-American spacewalker.
The other two shuttles are scheduled for their final flights later this year: Endeavour
on April 19 and Atlantis on June 28.
Since Discovery first launched in 1984, it has transported the Hubble Space telescope, was the first to rendezvous with the Russian Mir Space Station, and delivered part of the Japanese Kibo lab to the ISS.
Discovery has circled the globe more than 5,600 times and logged 142 million miles (230 million kilometers) over its 352 days in space.