When the space shuttle Discovery launches the STS-120 crew in October, the force will be with them. Stowed on-board the orbiter, in addition to a new module for the international space station, will be the original prop lightsaber used by actor Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in the 1977 film "Star Wars". The laser-like Jedi weapon is being flown to the orbiting outpost and back in honor of the 30th anniversary of director George Lucas' franchise. Before it can make its trip to orbit though, the lightsaber will first fly to Houston, Texas, home of NASA's Johnson Space Center, by way of Southwest Airlines and a Star Wars-studded send off from Oakland International Airport in California on Tuesday.
Williams, Mastracchio and station flight engineer Clayton Anderson, with the help of their crewmates, made four spacewalks to accomplish the construction tasks. The spacewalkers also completed work in preparation for upcoming assembly missions, such as relocating an equipment cart and installing support equipment and communication upgrades. During the mission, a new system that enables docked shuttles to draw electrical power from the station to extend visits to the outpost was activated successfully. Because the system worked, two additional days were added to Endeavour's mission.
Although managers addressed several issues with Endeavour's heat shield, including a small gouge in the protective tile on the orbiter's belly, inspections in orbit revealed no critical damage. Endeavour's thermal protection system was declared safe for re-entry on Monday. The orbiter will be processed immediately for its next flight, targeted for February 2008.
NASA: Space Shuttle News Site currently features high resolution images from STS-118 tile damage and landing