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Shuttle Discovery docks with space station
Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston | December 12, 2006 09:27 IST
Space shuttle Discovery has docked with the International Space Station after two days of orbital pursuit.
Mission Specialist Sunita Williams, second Indian origin woman to touch the stars after astronaut Kalpana Chawla, will stay at the ISS for six months, along with six other crew members. The STS-116 crew entered the station at 5:54 pm CST (2103 hours IST) to mark the start of joint operations with the Expedition 14 crew.
Later in the day, Sunita will switch crews and replace Flight Engineer Thomas Reiter, who will return to Earth with STS-116. The crew transfer becomes official when Williams custom-made seatliner is installed into the Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station.
Sunita will stay back as she takes German astronaut Reiter's place as part of the three-person crew at the space lab.
"I have always wanted to fly a long-duration mission," Indian American Sunita said, adding: "A long-duration spaceflight will supply answers. To what happens to the human body, how materials work in space."
The arrival of Discovery sets the stage for the continuation of station construction. Inside Discovery's payload bay is the P5 integrated truss structure. The STS-116 crew will conduct three spacewalks to install the P5 structure and to reconfigure and redistribute power generated by the station.
Crew members also scanned the nose cap and wing leading edges for potential damages from the launch. The first spacewalk is scheduled to kick off on Tuesday. STS-116 also delivered supplies and equipment to the station. Most of the supplies are located in a small pressurised logistics module called SPACEHAB, which is located in the payload bay.
The Discovery is slated to stay at the station until December 18. STS-116 is the 20th shuttle mission to visit the station.
Indian American Sunita earned a bachelor's degree in physical science at the US Naval Academy and later got a master's in engineering management at the Florida Institute of Technology.
She became a diving officer after getting her commission as an ensign in the US Navy and later became a naval aviator. She received helicopter combat training, went to Naval Test Pilot School and then became an instructor at the school.
During a visit to the Johnson Space Center in Houston while in pilot school, a lecture by astronaut John Young piqued her interest in joining the astronaut corps. She was selected in 1998.Besides helping operate the space station's robotic arm, she will take the third spacewalk along with Curbeam to rewire the space lab.