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STS-131: Fortifying the Space Station
Bathed in a blaze of xenon lights, space shuttle Discovery waited in the early morning darkness on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ready to liftoff on the STS-131 mission to the International Space Station.
Discovery's crew, under the command of Alan Poindexter, strode out of the Operations and Checkout Building, greeted with cheers and whistles from bystanders wishing them well on their journey.
Waving back, the astronauts climbed aboard NASA's Astrovan for the short ride to the pad.
At 6:21 a.m. Eastern on April 5, 2010, Discovery roared off the launch pad.
Mike Curie/STS-131 Launch Commentator:
And liftoff of Discovery, blazing a trail to scientific discoveries aboard space station.
Within minutes, the twin solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank fell away as the shuttle attained orbit.
Once there, the Ku-band antenna system, which sends high-rate data communications down to Earth, failed to work, requiring the astronauts and ground crews to do a little problem-solving by eventually using the space station's Ku system.
After a two-day chase and the space station in sight, Discovery went through its backflip maneuver, enabling the station crew to photograph the heat shield on the shuttle's underside.
Once Poindexter and Pilot Jim Dutton docked the shuttle to the station, the hatches between the two spacecraft were opened.
The arrival brought together a combined crew of 13 and a first for any mission as four women astronauts flew together in space. They were Mission Specialists Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, Naoko Yamazaki of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Expedition 23 Flight Engineer Tracy Caldwell Dyson.
Discovery's primary payload was a multi-purpose logistics module called Leonardo, filled with 17,000 pounds of scientific equipment and supplies.
Using the space station's robotic arm, operated by Wilson and Yamazaki, Leonardo was lifted out of the shuttle's cargo bay and connected to the Harmony node.
After staying in the Quest Airlock overnight, Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio and Clay Anderson moved a new 1,700-pound ammonia tank from Discovery's cargo bay to a temporary parking place on the station as part of their first spacewalking tasks.
A few technical issues, such as uncooperative bolts and a malfunctioning nitrogen tank assembly, kept the spacewalkers busy.
Meanwhile, inside the station, Yamazaki and Expedition 23 Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi began transferring cargo from Leonardo to their respective stowage areas, with slow and intricately choreographed movements.
Mastracchio and Anderson completed the third and last of the complex spacewalking assignments, in addition to some get-ahead tasks for space shuttle Atlantis' upcoming STS-132 mission.
Because of the Ku-band antenna issue, an extra day was added to the mission to allow crew members to perform a final check of Discovery's heat shield before they undocked from the station.
Morning fog and showers near Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility tacked on one more day to the mission.
Then on April 20, 2010, the weather cooperated and Discovery made a picture-perfect touchdown at 9:08 a.m. Eastern on Runway 33 after completing a 15-day, 6.2-million-mile mission.
Brandy Dean/STS-131 Landing Commentator:
Nose gear touchdown. That brings an end to the STS-131 mission, the 131st space shuttle flight and the 33rd to the International Space Station.
Alan Poindexter/STS-131 Commander:
It's great to be back at the Kennedy Space Center with Discovery. It was a beautiful entry this morning.
Clay Anderson/STS-131 Mission Specialist:
We had a lot of adversity, but we overcame it all with some great teamwork.
With a successful mission behind them, the Discovery crew returned to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston where they were honored at a homecoming ceremony at nearby Ellington Field.
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