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4/8/2010
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Space Shuttle Completes 'U-Haul' Mission

Astronauts aboard Discovery ready to begin unpacking container that holds eight tons of cargo bound for International Space Station.

Astronauts aboard space shuttle Discovery successfully delivered a container holding eight tons of cargo to the International Space Station early Thursday.

Discovery mission specialists Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki used the ISS's robotic arm to attach the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module to the Earth-facing side of the station's Harmony node.

Crewmembers are now ready to start unpacking Leonardo. The module contains science racks for use in the various labs throughout the station, new sleeping quarters and other supplies. The reusable module will become a permanent part of the space station following the next shuttle mission.

Later Thursday, a pair of astronauts will begin acclimation procedures that will help them avoid decompression sickness during a spacewalk planned for Friday.

Discovery safely docked with the ISS early Wednesday, despite the loss of a radar system designed to assist with the maneuver.

The shuttle's Integrated Radar and Communications System, or "Ku band" radar, experienced what NASA officials called an "anomaly" shortly after the spacecraft's liftoff early Monday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The space agency, however, said shuttle crews are trained to dock with the ISS without the radar's help. The shuttle's seven-member crew will work jointly with the six astronauts aboard the ISS over the next week, conducting a series of experiments and maintenance operations.

The shuttle astronauts will also use the ISS's Ku band radar to transmit images of their mission to ground controllers on Earth, at least until the problem with their own system is fixed.

Discovery launched from Kennedy at 6:21 a.m. Monday. The 13-day mission, officially known as STS-131, will see the crew perform three spacewalks. The astronauts will also collect a Japanese science experiment and switch out a gyro assembly on part of the station's truss structure.

Discovery is commanded by U.S. Navy Captain Alan Poindexter, 48, of Rockville, MD. Three of the crewmembers—pilot Jim Dutton, mission specialist Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, and mission specialist Yamakazi of the Japanese Space Agency—are making their first flights into space.

Only three more shuttle flights remain before the vehicles are retired at the end of this year and flights to the space station are turned over to private launch contractors.

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