The shuttle's Integrated Radar and Communications System, or "Ku band" radar, experienced what NASA officials called an "anomaly" shortly after the spacecraft's liftoff early Monday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Astronauts use the radar to assist them in docking with the International Space Station, which Discovery is slated to rendezvous with Tuesday afternoon. NASA, however, said it's confident that the radar's malfunction isn't cause for concern.
"Pilot astronauts are trained to rendezvous without radar," NASA said in a statement.
But docking isn't the only area where the glitchy radar is causing problems. Astronauts aboard the shuttle typically use the system, developed by the former Hughes Aircraft Company (now part of Boeing), to transmit mission images to ground controllers on Earth.
The astronauts will now have to use the space station's Ku band system to send images, including those taken of the crew's critical heat-shield inspection.
Discovery and its seven-member crew launched from Kennedy at 6:21 a.m. Monday. The 13-day mission, officially known as STS-131, will see the crew perform three spacewalks. They'll also dock with the ISS to deliver the Leonardo multi-purpose logistics module containing science racks for use in the various labs throughout the station.
The module also contains new sleeping quarters and other supplies.
The astronauts will also collect a Japanese science experiment and switch out a gyro assembly on part of the station's truss structure.
Discovery is commanded by U.S. Navy Captain Alan Poindexter, 48, of Rockville, MD. Three of the crewmembers—pilot Jim Dutton, mission specialist Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, and mission specialist Naoko Yamakazi of the Japanese Space Agency—are making their first flights into space.
Only three more shuttle flights remain before the vehicles are retired at the end of this year. Under a plan put forth by the Obama Administration, NASA will effectively outsource transportation of crew and supplies to the ISS to private launch contractors.
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