Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Endeavour Engine Burn Sets Up Station Docking

Shuttle Endeavour is closing in on the International Space Station this morning after an engine-firing that set the stage for the final phases of a ground-up rendezvous that began with its precisely timed 8:56 a.m. launch from Kennedy Space Center on Monday.

With mission commander Mark Kelly at the controls, Endeavour's left-hand orbital maneuvering engine fired for 10 seconds, producing 6,000 pounds of thrust. The shuttle was about 10 miles from the station at the time. Outpost cameras showed the shuttle as a small white dot that lit up in a quick burst at 3:37 a.m. EDT.

"Good burn, Endeavour," NASA astronaut Megan McArthur radioed up from the Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"Roger, good burn," shuttle pilot Gregory "Box" Johnson replied.

The engine-firing increased the shuttle's orbit to one with high and low points of 214 and 210 -- a boost of about three miles in both apogee and perigee.

Coming up next: The shuttle's trademark post-Columbia backflip.

Known as the Rotational Pitch Maneuver, or RPM, the eight-minute, nose-over-tail flip will point the shuttle's belly toward the station so outpost flight engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli can photograph the fragile thermal tiles that cover it.

The high-resolution imagery will be beamed back to the ground for analysis. The idea is to detect any heat-shield damage that might endanger Endeavour and its crew during atmospheric reentry.

The maneuver is expected to take place between 5 a.m. and 5:15 a.m.

Docking at the station is scheduled at 6:16 a.m.

You can watch here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage.

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