Monday, May 30, 2011

Shuttle Endeavour departs space station for the final time

Endeavour makes her way around the space station today. (NASA)

(UPDATED: 2:40 a.m. EDT) -- Completing her final mission to the International Space Station, shuttle Endeavour departed her home for the last twelve days to test a new navigation system and prepare for her voyage home.

It was a busy mission filled with the delivery of an international experiment designed to study dark matter in the universe; delivery of spare parts and fresh supplies; and four spacewalks to extend the station's robotic arm and extend the cooling supply from two American modules over to a Russian module.

Bolts driven to latch Endeavour to the space station's docking port were released and the orbiter slowly backed away with her belly moving forward in the direction of travel of the space station.

Separation occurred on time at 11:55:28 p.m. EDT on Sunday, as the orbital complex flew 215 miles high above northern Chile. Endeavour had spent eleven days, hours and minutes docked to the orbiting complex.

"Houston and station, we have physical separation," Endeavour commander Mark Kelly radioed.

Minutes later as the orbiter was nearly twenty feet out, the traditional bell was rung aboard the space station's Harmony node.

"Endeavour departing. Fair winds and following seas. It was a pleasure sailing with you boys," Station astronaut Ron Garan radioed to the departing shuttle.

Endeavour flew out to a distance of 460 feet in front of the complex before pilot Greg Johnson began the traditional 360-degree fly around of the space station high over western Europe twenty-five minutes following undocking.

Station soars 650 feet from Endeavour today over China. (NASA)

It was the final lap around the orbiting laboratory for Endeavour as she sails into the final days of her final space flight.

Johnson piloted the orbiter from in front of the nearly 905,000 pound space station, up and over to an area 600 feet behind, and then down and under back to an area in front of the station.

The shuttle then fired her jets to begin separating away and move out to a distance of 22,400 feet above and behind the complex.

Once at this distance, Kelly then fired the shuttle's jets once again at 2:40 a.m. to move Endeavour out to a distance of 30,000 feet.

A half hour later, the crew performed a mid-course correction burn to began the re-rendezvous maneuver to test America's next generation of navigational aides in space.

Endeavour then crossed into the minus V(elocity) Bar as the craft slowed down, reaching a peak distance of 29,969 feet at 3:03 a.m. before beginning to re-rendezvous.

Known as STORRM (Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation), this new navigation is tested for use in the upcoming Orion-styled Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

The multi-equipment setup for STORRM navigation includes a laptop on the flight deck, a sensor on the shuttle's port payload bay wall and a high def camera.

It is this docking camera which the crew will be unable to use due to an overheat of an electronics board which operates the system.

The space laboratory -- 357 feet from end to end along the Truss structure -- will see the final space shuttle arrival about July 10.

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