CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Several days after space shuttle Discovery arrives at the international space station, some of the lights will go out. Some communications with Mission Control will stop. Backup power will be lost.
That might sound scary for the astronauts orbiting 220 miles above Earth, but they'll be ready for it. The space lab is only getting rewired.
Parts of the U.S. section of the station will be powered down during Discovery's visit this month as spacewalking astronauts reconnect the space lab's electrical system from a temporary to a permanent power source.
"It's kind of like leaving the power on in your house and rewiring the east wing without turning off the main breaker - and in the meantime, your family is running the computer," said Joy Bryant, the space station program manager for Boeing, the prime contractor.
Discovery is set for a nighttime launch Thursday, the start of 12 days in space. It will be the first night launch in four years.
This mission will have more rookie astronauts than any flight in years; five have never been to space before. The two veterans are Mark Polansky, the commander, and Robert Curbeam, who will spacewalk three times.
The others are pilot William Oefelein, and mission specialists Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick, Sunita Williams and the European Space Agency's Christer Fuglesang, who will become the first Swede in space.
Discovery will deliver an $11 million, 2-ton addition to the space lab using robotic arms and the guidance of two spacewalking astronauts, release three small satellites on the return trip and bring home one of the space station's three crew members, German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency. Ms. Williams will replace him, staying for six months.
If the launch doesn't get off Dec. 7, NASA can keep trying through Dec. 17. After that, the agency will likely call it quits until January. NASA wants Discovery back from its 12-day mission by New Year's Eve because shuttle computers aren't designed to make the change from the 365th day of the old year to the first day of the new year while in flight. NASA has figured out a solution for the New Year's Day problem, but managers are reluctant to try it.