Saturday, February 26, 2011

Discovery performs final orbital backflip

Discovery, the first orbiter to perform a backflip hundreds of feet beneath the International Space Station, performed the maneuver for what is expected to be the last time this afternoon.

Less than an hour before a planned 2:16 p.m. EST docking at the outpost and just 600 feet below it, Discovery commander Steve Lindsey and pilot Eric Boe steered the ship through an eight-minute, nose-over-tail flip.
Discovery pioneered the move in 2005 during the shuttle's return to flight after the Columbia disaster.

The Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver exposed Discovery's underside and thousands of heat-shielding tiles to the space station, where astronauts Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli, perched inside the Zvezda module, shot hundreds of pictures with 400 mm and 800 mm cameras.

The shuttle and the station above it were flying over South America on a northeasterly course over the Atlantic Ocean.

Discovery and its crew of six then began to swing out in front of the station and its crew of six to prepare for docking.

The shuttle will back into a port on the front of the station's Harmony node.

Mission controllers gave an official "go" for docking around 1:40 p.m. EST.

Earlier, station commander Scott Kelly kidded the shuttle crew about its launch Thursday three minutes later than planned, blasting off seconds before the launch window closed.

"What took you guys so long?" he radioed.

"We kind of waited until like the last two seconds," Lindsey replied. "You guys look great. We're on our way."

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