NASA: Shuttle docks with space station despite antenna failure

Hatch opens and seven-member Discovery crew joins six astronauts on space station

NASA's space shuttle Discovery successfully docked at the International Space Station early this morning as its seven-member crew joined forces with the six astronauts aboard the orbiting research facility.

The shuttle, which lifted off from Kennedy Space Center Monday morning, successfully docked with the station at 3:44 a.m. Eastern time today despite a malfunctioning Ku-Band antenna, a key communication tool aboard Discovery.

Without the Ku-Band antenna, Commander Alan Poindexter relied on an array of other navigation tools to approach and dock the shuttle at the station, which is orbiting some 225 miles above Earth.

NASA said this morning that before the docking, the shuttle crew tried one more time without success to fire up the broken antenna. The crew, NASA noted, is trained to dock with the space station without the aid of the Ku-Band radar device.

The Discovery crew also had to improvise yesterday, when it could not use the Ku-Band antenna to transmit data compiled during an inspection of the craft's heat shield. Generally, data from such inspections is transmitted in real time via the Ku-Band antenna to NASA's ground operations, where it is analyzed. The apparent malfunction has forced the crew to wait and transmit the data from the space station.

During Discovery's approach to the station today, the shuttle was put into a nose-over-tail 360-degree maneuver so the space station crew could document the shuttle's thermal protection system using digital cameras with high-powered lenses.

All of the images and data will be also be transmitted from the station to NASA Mission Control for analysis.

Discovery is on a mission to deliver about 17,000 pounds of supplies and equipment -- including science racks and new sleeping quarters for the crew -- to the International Space Station.

After this mission, NASA shuttles are scheduled to fly only three more times before the fleet is retired.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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