Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Live In Orbit: Atlantis Closes In On Space Station

The Atlantis astronauts are closing in on the International Space Station after an engine firing that kicked off the final phase of a ground-up rendezvous that started with a precisely timed launch Monday from Kennedy Space Center.

With mission commander Charlie Hobaugh at the controls, the shuttle's left-hand orbital maneuvering system engine was fired for 12 seconds at 9:05 a.m., propelling the spaceship and its crew on the terminal phase of rendezvous. Atlantis and its astronauts were flying about 9.2 miles behind and below the station at the time.

The so-called Terminal Initiation burn and as many as four small midcourse correction burns will bring the shuttle and its crew to a point 600 feet from the station just before 11 a.m. At about 10:52 a.m., Hobaugh will start a computer-controlled, 360-degree backflip that will expose the shuttle's belly to camera-wielding astronauts on the outpost.

The station crewmates take high resolution photographs of the thermal tiles on the underside of the orbiter in an attempt to spot any damage that might endanger the astronauts upon atmospheric reentry. The safety measure was instituted after the 2003 Columbia accident.

You can watch the orbital ballet live here in The Flame Trench. Simply 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.

Docking is scheduled at 11:53 a.m.

Also coming up today:

1:53 p.m.: Hatch opening and welcome ceremony.

2:33: Shuttle robot arm lifts spare parts carrier.

3:13 p.m. Carrier handed off to station robot arm

4:23 p.m. Procedures review for spacewalk No. 1.

4:38 p.m.: Install carrier on station’s central truss.

6:53 p.m.: Spacewalkers Mike Foreman and Bobby Satcher camp out in station’s U.S. Quest airlock.

7:58 p.m.: Station crew sleep.

8:28 p.m.: Shuttle crew sleep.

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