Thursday, July 30, 2009

Live in orbit: Shuttle crew's last full day in space

Seven Endeavour astronauts should get word by this afternoon about their spaceship's readiness for re-entry through Earth's atmosphere, following Wednesday's final heat shield inspections.

NASA officials said preliminary looks at Endeavour's wing edges, nose cap and other protective tiles raised no concerns, and that the forecast for a planned Friday morning landing was "promising."

"Finished one final inspection of orbiter today," mission commander Mark Polansky wrote in a message posted on Twitter. "Expecting all to be well."

During a final full day in space today, Endeavour's crew of seven astronauts plans to test flight control systems and jets in preparation for a 10:48 a.m. Friday landing.

That's the first of two Friday landing opportunities. The second would be at 12:23 p.m.

The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at Johnson Space Center on Wednesday forecasted a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms within 30 nautical miles of the shuttle's three-mile landing strip that could prevent a landing.

In addition to landing preparations today, Endeavour's crew will release two small experimental satellites from shuttle's payload bay.

The first, called DRAGONSat, will test automated rendezvous and docking capabilities using Global Positioning System data. The second, a Department of Defense payload dubbed ANDE-2, will measure atmospheric density and composition in low Earth orbit.

You can read more about the payloads in this STS-127 Press Kit (see page 85).

The crew will also continue to stow gear for landing. On Wednesday, they set up a special recumbent seat for mission specialist Koichi Wakata to help ease his transition back to Earth's gravity after a 133-day stay on the space station.

Here's a look at the day ahead in space:

++ 2:03 a.m.: Crew awakes.
++ 5:13 a.m.: Cabin stowage begins.
++ 5:28 a.m.: Flight Control System checkout.
++ 7:28 a.m.: Reaction Control System hot-fire test.
++ 8:33 a.m.: DRAGONSat deployment.
++ 10:18 a.m.: Media interviews.
++ 10:38 a.m.: Crew deorbit preparation briefing.
++ 1:22 p.m.: ANDE-2 deployment.
++ 1:53 p.m.: Recumbent seat set up for mission specialist Koichi Wakata.
++ 2:58 p.m.: Ku-band antenna stowed.
++ 6:03 p.m.: Crew sleeps.

For a third consecutive day, important NASA business is taking place at the same time as the mission.

You can continue to watch live coverage of Endeavour's mission by clicking here to open the live video feed of NASA TV's Public Channel.

For live coverage of today's Human Space Flight Plans committee meeting in Cocoa Beach, click here to open the live video feed of NASA TV's Media Channel.

IMAGE: Backdropped by a cloud-covered part of Earth, space shuttle Endeavour is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 20 crew member on the International Space Station soon after the shuttle and station began their post-undocking relative separation on July 28. Credit: NASA.

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