Discovery's astronauts closed the hatches leading into the International Space Station early this morning and boosted the station into a higher orbit to set the stage for a planned arrival of the Russian-built Zvezda Service Module later this year.
After moving the last items from Discovery into the station, the crew closed the final hatch on the orbiting outpost at 3:44 a.m. CDT. The astronauts spent a total of 79 hours, 30 minutes inside the station during this flight. Combined with the 28 hours, 30 minutes the STS-88 astronauts spent on board during the first ISS assembly flight last December, the total human occupation time for the new station stands at 108 hours.
During four days of transfer work, the astronauts moved more than 4,500 pounds of equipment, hardware and supplies intended for the station's first resident crew. Of that total weight, 3,567 pounds of material, including 686 pounds of water, were transferred from Discovery to the station; 18 items weighing 197 pounds were moved from the station to Discovery for a return to Earth; and 662 pounds of supplies were mounted to the station during a spacewalk by astronauts Tammy Jernigan and Dan Barry.
The crew began its carefully choreographed departure from the station, first closing Zarya's Instrumentation Cargo Compartment hatch at 1:40 a.m. Central time. The Pressurized Adapter Hatch was closed at 2:12 a.m., and the final hatch closure on Unity was complete at 3:44 a.m. Shortly after 4:30 this morning, Commander Kent Rominger and Pilot Rick Husband commanded a series of 17 pulses of Discovery's reaction control system jets to boost the station's orbit. When the reboost was complete about 37 minutes later, the station and shuttle were in an orbit of approximately 246 by 241 statute miles, within 57 feet of the original target. Flight controllers estimate the station will be at an altitude of 222 statute miles late this year when Zvezda is scheduled to be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Discovery is scheduled to undock from the station at 5:39 p.m. Central time today and will perform a 2 ½ lap flyaround of the station, before Husband fires Discovery's jets in a final burst to move Discovery away from the station, concluding six days of docked operations.
The astronauts begin an eight-hour sleep period at 7:50 a.m. today, and will awaken at 2:50 p.m.
The next STS-96 mission status report will be issued at about 7 p.m. Thursday or as developments warrant.
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