Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Endeavour docks with the space station one last time

Endeavour nears the space station this morning. (NASA)

Shuttle Endeavour arrived at her port-of-call this morning to begin twelve days filled with spacewalks and the delivery of supplies including a particle physics detector which will study the dark matter in space.

Endeavour's commander Mark Kelly guided the orbiter to her final docking to the International Space Station today at 6:14 a.m. EDT, as the orbital pair flew 220 miles high over the southeastern Pacific Ocean during an orbital sunrise.

A golden bell was rung in the tradition of arriving naval vessels as space station crew member
Paolo Nespoli herald, "Endeavour arriving!".

Endeavour slowly closed in to a distance of 600 feet from the orbital outpost at 5:15 a.m. to begin an orbital ballet in space as the two spacecraft flew 240 miles high over southwestern Russia.

A minute later, Endeavour began a 360-degree back flip known as the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, so that the space station's crew members could photograph the underside of the shuttle to survey for any damage caused by Monday's launch.

Using a 800-mm and 400-mm cameras, station astronauts Cady Coleman and Nespoli took several hundred images of the orbiter's belly as the shuttle was held motionless for ten minutes.

As the shuttle neared the complex, ground controllers and Endeavour's Andrew Feustel monitored a special experiment which will yield new data in navigating in orbit called STORRM.

"The goal of STORRM is to validate a new relative navigation sensor based on advanced laser and detector technology that will make docking and undocking to the International Space Station and other spacecraft easier and safer," NASA's Johnson Space Center stated.

Using a sensor and high-def docking camera tied to a laptop computer on the shuttle's flight deck, commander Kelly piloted Endeavour's approach to the space station to test STORRM.

The crew also took dozens of detailed images with the STORRM and later downloaded them to the ground.

Meanwhile on the ground near Houston, Kelly's wife Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, prepared to undergo an operation today to replace a piece of her skull with a plastic implant.

Rep. Giffords traveled with her staff and family to the Kennedy Space Center to watch her husband's launch from the roof of the launch control center.

Following the on time docking, the two crews worked to normalize the air pressure between the three hatches located between station and shuttle.

The hatches were officially opened between shuttle's airlock and the vestibule module on the space station at 7:38 a.m., as the station flew over the southern Pacific Ocean.

The station's Expedition 27 crew's commander
Dmitry Kondratyev shook hands and gave a Russian greeting of welcome with arriving shuttle commander Kelly.

Twenty-five minutes after the hatches opened, the shuttle's crew of Kelly, pilot Greg Johnson and mission specialists
Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Feustel and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency, floated through the hatches and into the station's Harmony module.

"Hey, you guys wore coordinating shirts," Kelly exclaimed to the space station's crew of six as he floated aboard station at 8:11 a.m., followed by his crew.

"Its good to be back, it looks pretty much the same," Kelly added minutes later as the twelve huddled for the first time together.

Feeling rushed by the busy schedule ahead for the day, Kelly stepped up to ask for the traditional safety briefing for his crew by
Italian astronaut Nespoli who, with Kondratyev and Coleman, have lived aboard station for the past five months.

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