AP
The Discovery is seen docked with the International Space Station with the ammonia tank assembly and the cargo carrier module stowed in it's payload bay.
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updated 4/16/2010 10:39:01 AM ET 2010-04-16T14:39:01

Discovery's astronauts tucked a cargo carrier back aboard the space shuttle Friday, then surveyed their ship to make sure it was safe for the ride home.

With their space station visit drawing to a close, the shuttle astronauts finally got the carrier — and its 2 1/2-ton load of trash and discarded equipment — into Discovery's payload bay. The job was supposed to be completed Thursday, but problems with the latching system for the carrier delayed its removal from the International Space Station.

The trouble dragged on so late Thursday that Mission Control let all 13 astronauts sleep in Friday morning.

Soon after they awoke, Stephanie Wilson and Japan's Naoko Yamazaki used the space station's hefty robot arm to transport the 21-foot carrier the final short distance. The arm and carrier had been parked near the payload bay overnight.

"Good job, ladies," astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger said once the carrier was securely in place.

Then Metcalf-Lindenburger and her colleagues powered up the shuttle robot arm to inspect Discovery's wings and nose. The four-hour procedure normally is conducted following undocking. But the failure of the shuttle's main antenna, way back on launch day April 5, prompted NASA to move up the operation so that all the mega files of images could be transmitted from the space station.

Slideshow: Month in Space: January 2014 NASA wants to be certain the shuttle's heat shield did not suffer any damage from space junk that could jeopardize its return to Earth. Discovery is due to leave the station Saturday and land Monday in Florida.

The astronauts had to watch out for all the space station pieces protruding every which way, as they used a 100-foot, laser-tipped boom to scrutinize the shuttle. NASA officials said the job was tricky because of the tight clearances — in some places just 1 1/2 feet. But there were lots of good views from inside to help the crew avoid hitting the station.

This procedure already was in development for one of the three remaining shuttle flights.

The astronauts skipped lunch to wrap up the survey early. They finished three hours ahead of schedule, in fact, and thanked flight controllers for their help with all the preparations. The images were being relayed to Mission Control as quickly as possible, so experts could analyze every single one.

With their main objectives accomplished, the astronauts got to take it easy for the rest of the day.

Currently making its next-to-last flight, Discovery will blast off on NASA's final shuttle mission in September and take back up the cargo carrier, filled with one last load of supplies and equipment. Then, the carrier will be left permanently attached to the space station, to serve as an extra closet.

The Italian-built chamber is named Leonardo, as in da Vinci.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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