Space shuttle Discovery races to catch international space station

Saturday, March 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

New space station crew enters orbiting outpost for first time


Associated Press Writer

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ The international space station's replacement crew entered their new home for the first time Saturday morning after space shuttle Discovery docked with the orbiting outpost.

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev and American astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms will take over for a weary three-member crew that has been aboard Alpha for 4 months. They will move into Alpha over the next several days.

Usachev, who will become the station's new commander, was the first replacement crew member to enter the space station after hatches between the spacecraft were opened. He shook hands with current commander Bill Shepherd.

The crews hugged, shook hands and slapped each other on the back. Usachev did several flips in the station's roomy Destiny science lab that was delivered last month.

Shepherd, a Naval officer, welcomed his visitors by following the etiquette of the high seas and ringing a ship's bell.

``Welcome to Yuri, Susan and Jim in their new home,'' Mission Control said.

The new crew was joined aboard Discovery by four other astronauts and an Italian module filled with 5 tons of equipment and supplies.

``It was really great to see 10 astronauts and cosmonauts all gathered in the U.S. lab on the station and happily greeting each other. That was a lot of fun to watch,'' said lead flight director John Shannon.

The 235-mile-high docking above the South Pacific southeast of Australia was delayed about an hour because of a minor problem _ one of the station's two giant solar wings would not lock into place after being repositioned for the linkup.

A latch on the solar wing didn't deploy properly and another latch on the wing was used instead to secure it in place. A faulty latch motor might have caused the problem.

During the delay, Discovery remained at least 400 feet away from Alpha as the two spacecraft zoomed around Earth. The concern, at least initially, was that the shuttle thrusters might damage the fragile wings if they were loose. The electricity-producing solar wings, installed by shuttle astronauts in December, stretch 240 feet from tip to tip.

Another minor glitch cropped up shortly after docking. A communications problem on the ground at White Sands, N.M. prevented the shuttle flight control team from directly talking with Discovery. Direct communication was re-established a short time later.

After the two crews greeted each other, they transferred various supplies from the shuttle to the space station.

The mission's priority is replacing the space station's first crew, consisting of Shepherd and two Russian cosmonauts. Friday was their 129th day in space. By the time they return to Earth aboard Discovery on March 20, they will have spent 140 days aloft.

The hatches were closed again so the shuttle crew can prepare for the first of two planned spacewalks, a sojourn by Voss and Helms set to begin Saturday evening.

They will help move a station docking port to make room for Leonardo, the Italian-made module being ferried aboard Discovery.

Leonardo, an aluminum cylinder 21 feet long and l5 feet in diameter and worth $150 million, will be attached to Alpha late Sunday. Once its supplies and laboratory racks are unloaded, the module will be put back in Discovery for return to Earth and, eventually, more space station visits.