Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Live in orbit: shuttle inspections, Progress docking

Space shuttle Endeavour may have left the International Space Station on Tuesday, but crews on both spacecraft will be very busy today.

The shuttle crew awoke early, around 3 a.m. EDT, and quickly began preparing for a "late" inspection of Endeavour's heat shields to make sure they are ready for Friday morning's planned re-entry through Earth's atmosphere.

The inspection will repeat the work done on Flight Day 2 following the shuttle's July 15 launch, this time making sure no micrometeoroids or orbital debris have caused serious damage since the previous inspection.

The launch saw some unusual foam shedding from the external fuel tank that prompted extensive tests on the tank shuttle Discovery is expected to use next month, but NASA determined that resulting tile damage was minor.

Once again, the crew will attach a 50-foot boom extension equipped with cameras and lasers to the shuttle's 5o-foot robotic arm to scan the reinforced carbon-carbon panels lining the wing leading edges and nose cap.

"We have not tracked anything unusual that has occurred during the joint mission, so we expect to see a clean vehicle when we inspect it (Wednesday)," said Annette Hasbrook, deputy chief flight director and missions operation manager.

While that work began, the station crew was readying for the arrival of an unmanned Russian cargo freighter carrying 2.5 tons of supplies including food and fuel.

The Progress 34 is scheduled to dock at 7:16 a.m. EDT.

You may recall that the Progress flight plan added pressure to Endeavour's launch earlier this month. If weather had caused a sixth launch scrub, an Endeavour launch on July 16 would have cut the mission short by a day to make sure it was out of the way before the Progress showed up.

Station commander Gennady Padalka will be prepared to take manual control of the Progress if there is any problem with the automated docking system.

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

++ 3:03 a.m.: Crew awakes.
++ 5:18 a.m.: Shuttle's robotic arm grapples boom extension.
++ 6:33 a.m.: Late inspection of heat shields begins.
++ 7:16 a.m.: Unmanned Progress 34 resupply ship docks at International Space Station.
++ 11:48 a.m.: Robotic arm boom extension stowed in payload bay.
++ 12:30 p.m.: Mission status briefing from Johnson Space Center in Houston.
++ 6:03 p.m.: Crew sleeps.

Editor's Note: For the second consecutive day, two major NASA news events are happening at once and you can watch both live here in The Flame Trench.

For live coverage of the Human Space Flight Plans committee starting at 9 a.m. Eastern, you can click here to open the live video feed of NASA TV's Media Channel.

For live coverage of the ongoing space shuttle mission and undocking, you can click here to open the live video feed of NASA TV's Public Channel.

Here's the mission's most recent NASA TV schedule for a look at upcoming mission milestones before a planned 10:48 a.m. Friday landing at Kennedy Space Center.

IMAGE NOTE: This view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour was provided by an Expedition 20 crewmember during a survey of the approaching vehicle prior to docking with the International Space Station on July 17. As part of the survey and part of every mission's activities, the STS-127 Endeavour crew performed a back-flip for the rendezvous pitch maneuver (RPM). You can see the robotic arm and boom extension that Endeavour astronauts will use for today's heat shield inspection.

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