Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Engine-Firing Propels Shuttle Toward Station

Six U.S. astronauts are zooming toward a docking at the International Space Station after an engine-firing that put Endeavour on course for the final phase of a ground-up rendezvous that started with the 34th and final night launch of the shuttle program.

Trailing the station by about 9.5 miles, Endeavour commander George Zamka fired the spaceship's left orbital maneuvering engine for nine seconds at 9:28 p.m., a move that propelled the shuttle toward a docking just after midnight. The shuttle is due at the station at 12:06 a.m. Wednesday.

Endeavour and its crew will lap the planet one more time before coming to a point about 600 feet below the station. Zamka will be at the controls when the shuttle performs a nose-over-tail backflip starting around 11:06 p.m. -- a move that will enable camera-wielding station crewmates to image the underside of the orbiter.

The eight-minute maneuver is a standard post-Columbia safety operation. Images taken by the station crewmates with 400 mm and 800 mm lenses will be downlinked so engineers can determine whether fragile heat-shield tiles on the belly of the spaceship sustained damage during launch early Monday from Kennedy Space Center.

You can watch the rendezvous, the backflip and the docking 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 Endeavour mission to the station. Be sure to refresh this page, too, for periodic updates.

Endeavour and its crew are hauling up the U.S. Tranquility module, the last large American segment for the station, as well as an Italian-built observation deck with seven windows. The Cupola will allow a 360-degree view around the station and hemispheric view of the planet Earth.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the Associated Press/NASA image of the Tranquility module in the cargo bay of shuttle Endeavour. You can also see the shuttle's vertical stabilizer, orbital maneuvering system pods and docking mechanism backdropped by mountainous terrain, in this image photographed by an STS-130 crew member from an aft flight deck window after launch on Monday. Photo Credit: AP Photo/NASA.

No comments: