- Associated Press - Sunday, February 27, 2011

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - The astronauts aboard the orbiting shuttle-station complex said Sunday that gearing up for their first spacewalk and accomplishing other chores kept them too busy to pay attention to the Academy Awards back on Earth.

When asked by a TV interviewer, the International Space Station’s skipper said he wasn’t even aware of the celebrity event. More pressing news was delivered: Mission Control told the six shuttle fliers that Discovery made it through its final liftoff relatively unscathed, and that no further inspections would be needed before undocking next weekend.

NASA officials had said they did not suspect any damage from a section of insulating foam that broke off the fuel tank and struck Discovery’s belly. At least four pieces of debris came off the tank during Thursday’s launch, though none posed a safety concern.

More than 300 digital photographs snapped from the International Space Station during Discovery’s close approach Saturday confirmed the shuttle’s thermal armor is free of any serious deformities. The pictures still are being analyzed, but nothing worrisome has popped up, said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.

The 12 astronauts hustled Sunday to haul fresh supplies from Discovery into the space station, and get ready for Monday’s spacewalk, the first of two planned for this week.

They were so busy some of them, at least, did not realize the Academy Awards ceremony was Sunday night.

When asked if the two crews might tune in, station commander Scott Kelly said it would be possible for Mission Control to beam up portions of the awards broadcast _ “if we weren’t working.”

One of two astronauts stepping out Monday _ Stephen Bowen _ joined the crew last month, replacing lead spacewalker Timothy Kopra, who was hurt in a bicycle crash.

In a series of interviews Sunday, Bowen said Kopra helped get him up to speed. Bowen said there’s still a lot he doesn’t know about the 11-day mission, but his crewmates “have been able to pick up the slack that I kind of brought on board.”

Bowen is an experienced spacewalker with five to his credit.

Kopra _ still on crutches _ will help direct both spacewalks from Mission Control.

During Monday’s outing, Bowen and Alvin Drew will move a broken ammonia pump to a better storage area on the station’s exterior and install an extension power cable. The cable extension needs to be hooked up before a chamber full of supplies can be installed permanently on the orbiting lab; the Italian-built compartment was carried up aboard Discovery to serve as an extra closet.

The first humanoid robot in space _ Robonaut 2 or R2 for short _ will remain boxed up inside the compartment for another few months. Beginning in spring or early summer, it will be tested as an astronaut helper. R2 will remain indoors; future versions may venture out on spacewalks.

“Today my crew is going to be getting ready for the mission’s 1st spacewalk,” R2 said in a tweet, posted by a human colleague back on Earth. “Wish I could go with them! Maybe someday.”

This is the last flight for Discovery, after 39 missions spread over 26 years. The shuttle will be retired when it returns to Earth in just over a week and sent to the Smithsonian Institution.

Shuttle astronaut Michael Barratt said retirement suggests an old and dilapidated vehicle, “but Discovery’s at the top of her game.”

“We’re going to remember Discovery and all the shuttle fleet, I think, as the most capable vehicles that have ever flown in space,” he said.

Two shuttle launches remain _ by Endeavour in April and Atlantis at the end of June.

___

Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

Robonaut: http://robonaut.jsc.nasa.gov/default.asp

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