Space Shuttle Discovery is full of stars. Going up in its payload bay: Stephen Colbert (not the comedian but the treadmill named after him). Coming back: Buzz Lightyear (or at least a figurine of the animated fictional character), returning to Earth after a year-long visit to the International Space Station.
Discovery docked safely with the space station Sunday night. It is delivering 10,000 pounds of cargo, stocking the station with as many supplies and as much spare equipment as possible, as a hedge against the time when the space shuttle fleet will be retired after the assembly of the station is complete in 2010 or 2011.
The seven-member crew on this mission includes four veterans and three first-time fliers. Cmdr. Rick Sturckow, the father of two young children, joked before the flight about sleep-shifting to get ready for the night launch. "Staying up late sometimes makes people cranky," he said. "Little people like my sons are more honest about how cranky they are feeling. But I think they are excited about the launch."
This is pilot Kevin Ford's first flight. He is a drummer for the astronaut band Max Q and comes armed with a Ph.D. in astronautical engineering.
Veteran Patrick Forrester is headed on his third flight: The rest of the crew jokes that he is the "go-to guy" if anyone doesn't know the answer to a question. He said before launch he was looking forward to seeing the space station, which has gotten larger since his last visit in 2007.
"This is an unbelievable engineering marvel that is up there," he said. "I can hardly wait to open the hatch between the space shuttle and the station and see six people smiling on the other side."
Astronaut Nicole Stott is going up to spend several months living on the space station. She has a 6-year-old son but, she said, she will still keep tabs on his homework and share her day with him by downloading video.
"I will show him this is how Mommy brushes her teeth or washes her hair, what I am looking out at through the window, those kind of things," she said. "And I think it will, actually, enhance it for me, because it will give me the opportunity to be doing it for myself but sharing it with someone else at the same time."
Spacewalker Danny Olivas has two spacewalks to his credit and will add three more on this mission. On his last mission, he repaired part of the space shuttle's heat shield, and says he can't help but wonder what surprises await him on this flight.
"I am always thinking, please don't let me mess up," he told ABC News. "I do believe the thing that makes any spaceflight challenging is the unknown, but it is also what makes it fun, what makes it challenging, it is why we do the job that we do. "
"I like to tell the story because I want to motivate the kids that are out there, all the Hispanic kids that are out there that think that ... they are in a financial situation where college is not in the works," he said. "That that is not true, where there is a will, there is a way and I will trade my story with theirs and hopefully they will say, 'Well, Jose did it, and I can do it.'"
Swedish Astronaut Christer Fuglesang is more famous for his Frisbee skills than as a particle physicist. He brought up a Frisbee on his last mission, but his time on this mission will be taken up with a spacewalk and transferring thousands of pounds of cargo from Discovery to the International Space Station.
For him, the orbiting outpost is more than a science mission. "It is a peace mission," he said. "Cultures and countries that do not get together are forced to work together. It has not always been easy but, in the end, we have found compromises and, in the end, it has actually helped us to work towards peace on the globe."
Discovery's mission is scheduled to last 13 days. The crew will do some basic maintenance on the space station, and the supplies they bring are needed if the station is to sustain a six-member crew.
They will also set up C.O.L.B.E.R.T. (Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill). NASA named the treadmill for Colbert as a sort of consolation prize when the space agency chose to name the next module going to the space station Tranquility instead of Colbert, despite the votes from his viewers.
After this mission, NASA has six more space shuttle flights scheduled to finish the space station before the shuttle fleet is scheduled for retirement next year.