Saturday, February 26, 2011

Discovery astronauts arrive at station

Discovery and six astronauts have safely reached their destination on the shuttle's final flight: the International Space Station.

Discovery commander Steve Lindsey and pilot Eric Boe slowly backed the shuttle into a Harmony node docking port at 2:14 p.m. EST, linking with the station for the 13th and final time.

"Station and Houston, Discovery has capture confirmed," Boe radioed.

The joined spacecraft were flying 220 miles above western Australia.

Mission controllers saw some vibration at the docking mechanism between the orbiter and the free-floating station, and said it would take about a half-hour to let the relative motion dampen out before forming a hard connection between the vehicles. [Update: a "hard mate" was confirmed around 3 p.m.]

Discovery was the first shuttle to dock to the space station on May 29, 1999. It also docked once at Russia's Mir station, about a year earlier.

This time -- the 35th by a shuttle -- Discovery joined Russian, Japanese and European spacecraft already docked at the outpost -- the first and only time all current visiting vehicles will be there at the same time.

Discovery's going-in plan was to depart the station next Saturday. But NASA and its partners are considering a Soyuz flyaround to photograph all the spacecraft there, which would extend the shuttle's stay a day.

The station's six residents plan to greet the six-person shuttle crew after a hatch opening planned around 4:15 p.m. EST, followed by a safety briefing.

Then the mission's work begins in earnest. Discovery crew members Boe, Mike Barratt, Alvin Drew and Nicole Stott will man both the shuttle's and station's robotic arms to remove a spare parts pallet from the shuttle's payload bay and install it on the right side of the station's central truss.

No comments: