Discovery space shuttle en route to ISS

The space shuttle Discovery and its seven-strong crew have shot up into orbit. The shuttle is on its way to the International Space Station to complete a construction mission.

The shuttle will dock with the ISS on Wednesday, March 18 at 00:13 am Moscow time (21:13 pm GMT Tuesday), Russian news agency Ria Novosti reports.

The shuttle's mission will last 13 days and include three space walks: on March 19, 21 and 23.

Initially four spacewalks were planned but one was axed due to the launch being postponed as a result of problems with hydrogen valves.

The astronauts’ task will be to install the station’s last set of solar wings and replace a failed unit for the system that turns urine into drinking water.

Also, one of the Discovery’s crew, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, will replace the ISS American astronaut Sandra Magnus, thus becoming the first long-duration Japanese astronaut at the station.

He is expected to return back to Earth in June 2009.