Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Endeavour Cruises Toward Station Rendezvous

Endeavour's astronauts are closing in on the International Space Station and aim to dock at the outpost early Wednesday, winding up a two-day trip from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Launched in the predawn hours Monday, Endeavour and its six-member crew will begin the final phase of a ground-up rendezvous with an engine firing -- known as the Terminal Initiation, or TI, burn, at 9:29 p.m. tonight. The shuttle will be trailing the station by about nine statute miles at the time.

Mission commander George Zamka and pilot Terry Virts 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.

The Rotational Pitch Maneuver, or RPM, is scheduled to begin at 11:04 p.m. It has been a standard operating procedure since the shuttle returned to flight after the 2003 Columbia accident.

Docking with the station is scheduled for 12:09 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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