Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shuttle Discovery closes in on space station

Station astronauts prepare today for Discovery's arrival. (NASA)

Shuttle Discovery's astronauts are fine tuning their orbit in preparation for today's docking to the International Space Station and one week of supply transfers, two spacewalks and the delivery of a new pressurized module.

Discovery's all veteran crew includes commander Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Steve Bowen, Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott. Barratt and Stott spent nearly six months aboard the station nearly two years ago.

Two trim burns by Discovery will increase and correct the shuttle's orbit followed by a critical burn at 11:33 a.m. by astronauts Lindsey and Boe. A fourth planned burn at 12:50 p.m. known as the NC-4 burn will place Discovery at the space station.

The post-Columbia standard space shuttle pitch maneuver is planned to begin at 1:16 p.m.

As Discovery's nose is pitched up and around 360-degrees, station crew members Cady Coleman and Paolo Angelo Nespoli will use 400 and 800-mm cameras to photograph the belly of Discovery as they look for any tile damage following Thursday's dramatic ride to orbit. Station commander Scott Kelly will be nearby to time the pitch maneuver.
Discovery's crew will only have fifteen minutes in which to perform the maneuver as the sun begins to set behind the earth.

At about forty-five minutes prior to docking, Discovery will transition to the front of station will flying in an orbital ballet with the outpost nearly 600-feet away.

Discovery is due to dock to earth's orbiting outpost in space at 2:16 p.m. EST, as the two crafts soar into an orbital sunrise.

Two hours later, the station's crew of six will greet the shuttle's six astronauts as they begin nearly eight days of docked operations.

Discovery's crew of six were awoken at 6:54 a.m. today, to the music from Disney's Toy Story, "Woody's Roundup", for mission specialist Alvin Drew, as the shuttle flew high over the southern Atlantic Ocean.

At the same time, Discovery was some 2,300 miles behind the space station, and closing at a rate of 500 miles per each 90 minute orbit of the earth.

Discovery will remove from it's payload bay the final American segment known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a bus sized cylindrical segment which will be used for storage. It will begin to free up more space inside the station's working and living segments.

Formally known as the Leonardo logistics module, the PMM has actually flown to the space station several times most recently two flights ago.

Inside the PMM will be 6500 pounds of cargo, spare parts, R2 - a robo-naut which will be used outside the outpost; and personal crew supplies to help resupply earth's orbiting outpost in space. Discovery's middeck will carry another 1500 pounds of supplies, too.

Robonaut 2 will remain in the PMM through Discovery's flight, and weeks later will later be moved so that it's two halves can be mated together and placed outside the station.

Bowen and Drew will perform two spacewalks during this 35th shuttle flight to earth's outpost in space, during flight days 5 and 7, Monday and Wednesday respectively.

The duo will install a alternative power cable between the Tranquility and Unity modules on the first spacewalk; relocate a failed ammonia pump module to another part of the station; and perform work on a camera and the railway system on the truss segment.

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