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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 11:08 GMT
Relief crew set for launch
Discovery crew
The six astronauts and one cosmonaut head for the launch pad
Six astronauts and one cosmonaut have boarded the space shuttle Discovery on a mission to replace the crew of the International Space Station (ISS).

The shuttle is due to take off shortly from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with good weather conditions predicted for launch.

Discovery will exchange crews on the ISS and deliver a new module to the evolving space platform.

Delays to earlier flights mean that the Russian commander and two US astronauts who will stay on the space platform for four and a half months will arrive a few weeks later than planned.

Discovery will bring home the first three-man crew of the ISS - Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev. The Expedition One team has been on board the ISS since the beginning of November.

Simulation of Discovery docking
How the shuttle docking will look
The replacement Expedition Two crew includes the first woman to inhabit the platform, American astronaut Susan Helms. She will share the station, dubbed Alpha by its current crew, with American colleague Jim Voss and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev.

They will be joined on the flight by Discovery commander James Wetherbee, pilot James Kelly and mission specialists Andrew Thomas and Paul Richards.

Susan Helms will become the second American woman, and only the sixth in the world, to live on a space station.

Space research

As well as delivering a replacement crew for the space station, Discovery will carry up an Italian-built module, Leonardo. The new component is loaded with experiments for the newly installed Destiny science lab.

"During this mission, the Expedition Two crew will conduct a number of experiments that will further our knowledge of the space environment and its impact on the human body," said Nasa official Mike Hawes in a press statement released on Tuesday.

"This would not have been possible without the hard work of the Expedition One crew and the shuttle assembly crews of the past few months, who have installed the US laboratory Destiny and ensured the station has ample power to operate."

The shuttle crew will install Leonardo on the ISS, unload its contents and then return it to Earth.

The shuttle astronauts are due to carry out two spacewalks during their 13-day mission.

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See also:

16 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Shuttle heads home
07 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Destiny lab lifts off
16 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Space station gets new segment
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