Sunday, August 30, 2009

Live In Orbit: Discovery Moored At Space Station

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WATCH IT LIVE: The seven shuttle astronauts and the six station staffers will join together just before 11 p.m. for a hatch-opening and welcome ceremony. Watch live by clicking the NASA TV box and launching our NASA TV viewer.

Discovery's astronauts pulled off an unprecedented docking at the International Space Station Sunday after a jet failure took out all six of the shuttle's small nose-and-tail steering thrusters.

For the first time ever, a shuttle skipper relied solely on larger, more powerful primary jets that boomed like howitzers and flashed like bomb bursts as Discovery moored to a U.S. station port.

Credit Rick "C.J." Sturckow with the precision piloting.

"On the silver anniversary of its maiden launch, Discovery has pulled into port at the International Space Station," NASA flight commentator Rob Navias said as the spacecraft linked 225 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

"A textbook approach and docking by Commander Rick Sturckow," he added. "The entire rendezvous and docking was smooth as silk."

Discovery launch late Friday from Kennedy Space Center and then within five hours, a leak was detected in one of two small jets on the nose of the shuttle.

Shuttles are equipped with 44 nose-and-tail steering thrusters: 38 primary jets that each produce 870 pounds of thrust and six smaller thrusters that each produce 24 pounds of thrust.

The failure of the single forward jet prompted NASA to shut down both small forward jets as well as the four small thrusters in the tail of the orbiter.

The concern was that toxic rocket propellant might spew on the station's solar wings, degrading their ability to produce electrical power. So propellant flow to the jets was shut down.

Shuttle skippers typically make extensive use of the smaller thrusters for the precision piloting and fine trajectory tweaks required to guide a winged orbiter to a safe docking.

Leroy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, said flying the shuttle solely with primary jets was "slightly more challenging."

Sturckow initiated a Rotational Pitch Maneuver just after 8 p.m. as the shuttle closed within 600 feet of the outpost. The eight-minute maneuver -- essentially a nose-over-tail backflip -- presented the underside of the orbiter to the station.

Station flight engineer Michael Barratt and outpost commander Gennady Padalka took high-resolution images of the heat shield tiles in an effort to detect an damage that might endanger the shuttle crew during atmospheric reentry.

The seven shuttle astronauts will join the six people aboard the station during a hatch-opening and welcome ceremony that is scheduled to take place just before 11 p.m. tonight.

You can watch the action live here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage. Be sure to refresh this page, too, for periodic updates.

Sturckow's shuttle crew includes pilot Kevin Ford and mission specialists Patrick Forrester, Nicole Stott, Danny Olivas, Christer Fuglesang and Jose Hernandez.

Also aboard the station: Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, European spaceman Frank De Winne, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and U.S. astronaut Tim Kopra.

Kopra flew up on Endeavour in July and replaced Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. Stott will replace Kopra, who will fly back to Earth aboard Discovery after a 57-day round trip to the outpost.

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