Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Endeavour departs station, readies for flyaround

Blogger update, 2:16 p.m.: Almost halfway through a space station flyaround, as both vehicles crossed Texas, Endeavour commander Mark Polansky offered a "Tally ho!" to mission controllers in Houston. Shuttle video and still images are providing stunning pictures of the station from all sides against the blue Pacific Ocean below, at first, then agasint the blackness of space.

Blogger update: At 1:54 p.m., Endeavour began a 1.5-revolution flyaround of the station from a distance of 450 feet.

Hooks and latches have released shuttle Endeavour from its perch at the International Space Station and springs gently pushed the orbiter away on time today at 1:26 p.m. EDT.

"We have physical separation," Mark Polansky said, as the two vehicles flew 218 miles above the Indian Ocean.

Following tradition, station commander Gennady Padalka rang a bell on the outpost to signal the departure.

"Space shuttle Endeavour departing," he said.

After backing just a couple of feet from the station, which had been turned around for the undocking, pilot Doug Hurley turned Endeavour's steering jets back on.

From a distance of about 450 feet, he will manually guide Endeavour through a tight circle around the station for 1 1/2 revolutions.

The maneuver - scheduled to start at 1:55 p.m. EDT - allows shuttle crew members to photograph the station in its new configuration, including an exposed porch their mission installed on the Japanese Kibo science lab.

The images also help analysts on the ground spot any potential wear and tear that might need to be addressed on future missions.

Then, at 3:09 p.m., the shuttle will fire its jets to separate from the station and begin the journey home.

But Endeavour won't fly too far at first.

It will stay within about 50 miles of the station while crew members conduct a final inspection of heat shields on Wednesday.

That leaves the shuttle close enough to return to the station if the late inspection reveals serious damage from micrometeroids or space junk.

Endeavour's docked stay at the station lasted 10 days, 23 hours and 39 minutes.

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