Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Endeavour Arrives at the Space Station

(Updated at 2:20 am) -- Speeding around the earth at Mach 25, the space shuttle Endeavour met up with the International Space Station tonight to begin eight days of expanding the living quarters and resupplying earth's orbital outpost.

NASA's 130th space shuttle flight brings with it a new module which will expand the living quarters and an observation dome with an out of this world 360-degree view.

Endeavour's drive and approach to the space station was beautiful and on time. However, minutes prior to docking shuttle astronaut Steven Robinson noted that the ship's on board trajectory control sensor which feds the crew closing information began to deliver bad data. Robinson then grabbed the hand held laser to help check the ship's closing rate and range to the station.

Minutes later, Mission Control was noticeably missing the TCS as it asked the crew to cycle it, but the crew found comfort in the hand held laser and did not try to restart the TCS.

Endeavour followed a slow line of approach to it's docking port and contact to the space station occurred at 12:06 am EST this morning as the orbital duo flew 217 miles above the northeastern Atlantic Ocean off the Portugal coast.

However, the docking ring of Endeavour met with the station's docking ring misaligned on contact. When the two rings met, motion vibrations forced the rings to slide slightly and misalign. It took Mission Control nearly 50 minutes to get the two crafts docking rings aligned to begin the hard mate between the two crafts.

An hour prior to docking, Endeavour approached the space station in beautiful fashion.

A post-Columbia predocking maneuver began a few minutes early at 11:00 pm EST, as the orbital duo flew 220 miles east of the Philippines. Beautiful video was down linked from the station as shuttle skipper Zamka pitched Endeavour's nose up 180-degrees and held it with the belly facing station's cameras (below).

Then station commander Jeffery Williams and flight engineer Oleg Kotov used 800-mm and 400-mm digital cameras to take several hundred images from inside the Russian Zvezda module of the orbiter's underside. The images where then downlinked to Mission Control and the Johnson Space Center near Houston for analysis for any damage from it's Monday launch.

Endeavour's crew of six -- Zamka, pilot Terry Virts, and mission specialists Nicholas Patrick, Robert Behnken, Stephen Robinson and Kathryn Hire -- later joined the five member crew of earth's orbital outpost in space as the hatches opened at 2:16 am.

The two crews will work together during eight days of docked operations.

Also, with the addition of Endeavour, the space station now weighs 1,011,500 pounds -- passing the 1 million pound mark for the first time. Once Tranquility and cupola are attached later this week, the station will be 97% complete.

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