Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Discovery set for back flip before station docking

Discovery has successfully completed a brief engine firing to line up its course to the International Space Station, which is now within sight as a large, bright dot in space.

The 10-second burn of the left Orbital Maneuvering System engine adjusted the orbiter's speed by 5.3 mph. Smaller correction burns will follow to fine tune the approach.

Docking more than 200 miles above Earth is planned at 3:44 a.m.

About an hour before then, when Discovery is within 1,000 feet of the outpost, commander Alan Poindexter and pilot Jim Dutton will guide the spaceship in a back flip, exposing its underside so station residents can take pictures of it.

In addition to the images taken during the Flight Day 2 inspection, some 300 pictures from the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, or RPM, will help analysts on the ground assess the health of Discovery's heat shield.

Discovery will then cruise a short distance in front of the station before backing in to the forward docking port on the U.S. Harmony module.

Hatches are due to open about two hours later, at 5:40 a.m., followed by a welcoming ceremony as the seven shuttle astronauts join the six-person crew on the station.

Flight controllers report they are getting good data from Discovery's two star tracking devices, which the crew is relying on more heavily to calculate its position relative to the station because a failed Ku-band radar is unable to provide radar capability.

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