Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Docking Day: Shuttle Heads Toward Station Hook-Up

Shuttle Endeavour is speeding toward a high-flying hook-up with the International Space Station as the gap between the two spacecraft continues to narrow.

Mission Commander George Zamka and his crewmates are minutes away from picking up their rendezvous timeline, a five-and-a-half hour set of procedures that will bring Endeavour and the frontier outpost into a metallic embrace.

Zamka, pilot Terry Virts and four mission specialists -- Kay Hire, Steve Robinson, Bob Behnken and Nicholas Patrick were woken up around 5:14 p.m. with a rousing version of Katmandu by Bob Seger. The wake-up song was played for Zamka at the request of his wife, Elisa, and his two children.

"Good morning, Shannon," Zamka radioed to fellow astronaut Shannon Lucid in NASA's Mission Control Center. "It's a beautiful day up here on Endeavour. Thanks very much for that song, and thanks to my beautiful wife, Elisa, and Devon and Allen."

"And your very welcome," Lucid said. "We're all excited about rendezvous day."

The final phase of a ground-up rendezvous will begin with an engine firing -- known as the Terminal Initiation, or TI, burn -- at 9:28 p.m. The shuttle will be trailing the station by about nine miles at the time.

Zamka will be at the controls when the shuttle performs a nose-over-tail backflip -- an eight-minute maneuver that will give station astronauts an opportunity to photograph the tile-covered underside of the orbiter -- at 11:05 p.m. The Rotational Pitch Maneuver, or RPM, has been a standard operating procedure since the shuttle returned to flight after the 2003 Columbia accident.

Docking with the station is scheduled for 12:06 a.m. Wednesday. Hatches between the shuttle and station will swing open at 2:04 a.m. Wednesday and a welcome ceremony will follow.

You can watch the action unfold here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and round-the-clock coverage of the first of five final missions before shuttle fleet retirement. Be sure to refresh this page, too, for periodic updates.

The astronauts late Tuesday and early today performed an extensive survey of the shuttle's starboard and port wing panels as well as its composite carbon nose cap. Mission managers said no significant damage was apparent.

"We haven't noticed anything that pokes out at us as being a significant concern," said NASA Flight Director Kwatsi Alibaruho.

Endeavour's two spacewalkers -- Bob Behnken and Nicholas Patrick -- also checked out the spacesuits they will wear during three spacewalks largely aimed at installing the U.S. Tranquility module and the Italian-built Cupola on the American segment of the outpost. No major problems were reported.

Tranquility is the last major pressurized American module that will be hauled to the station.

The 130th shuttle mission, which is the 32nd to be conducted in the assembly of the station, is scheduled to last 12 days, 17 hours and 47 minutes. Landing now is scheduled for 10:01 p.m. Feb. 20, but NASA is considering adding a day to the shuttle's stay at the station. The extra day would enable the astronauts to move science racks and other equipment into the Tranquility module before their departure.

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