Two ESA astronauts meet in space

December 12, 2006

Last night Space Shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station and Christer Fuglesang was welcomed to the orbital facility by his fellow ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, who is completing his 5-month stay on board as ESA's first permanent ISS crew member.

Some 45 hours after launch into the Floridian night sky, NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery came into contact with the forward Pressurized Mating Adapter of the ISS at 23:12 CET (22:12 UT) on 11 December. Following leak checks, the hatches between the two spacecraft were opened nearly two hours later at 00:54 CET (11:54 UT, 11 December) and the ISS crew warmly welcomed their visitors.

Among Discovery's seven passengers is Christer Fuglesang, from Sweden, who will spend one week on the ISS under ESA's Celsius Mission, while among the three ISS hosts is Thomas Reiter, from Germany, who has been serving in orbit since his arrival last July, for ESA's Astrolab Mission.

One of the very first activities after docking was to remove Thomas Reiter's seat from the Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft and replace it with another, adapted to the morphology of NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.

This event marked the end of Reiter's assignment as ISS Flight Engineer as Sunita Williams takes over this role for the coming six months. Thomas Reiter became part of Discovery's 'descent crew', due to return to Earth on 21 December.

ISS assembly continues

The primary mission of Discovery's crew is to proceed with the assembly of the ISS. The first of three spacewalks, or extra-vehicular activities (EVAs), is scheduled to start at 21:42 CET (20:42 UT) on Tuesday evening. The main task during this spacewalk is the installation of the P5 integrated truss - a section of the Station's backbone.

In preparation for their EVA, astronauts Christer Fuglesang and Robert Curbeam will campout in the Quest airlock on Monday night.

In the Quest airlock Fuglesang and Curbeam will breathe pure oxygen to purge their blood from nitrogen before dressing in their spacesuits. This 'pre-breathe' period is required to avoid decompression sickness (commonly known as the 'bends') as they will breathe pure oxygen under a reduced 300-millibar pressure during their spacewalk.

This low pressure level prevents the spacesuit from inflating and rigidifying like a balloon in vacuum, which would make it difficult for the astronauts to conduct any task outside the Station.

European Space Agency

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