Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Endeavour Flips For Space Station Photographers

The Endeavour astronauts just executed a back-flipping photo opportunity in low Earth orbit, but like the shuttle's launch, much of it could not be seen live on Earth.

Two days after ducking into clouds 22 seconds after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center, Endeavour started to rotate about 600 feet beneath the International Space Station.

But about a minute into the now-traditional post-Columbia maneuver, NASA lost signal with the shuttle.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the shuttle was passing out of range of NASA Tracking & Data Relay Satellites or whether the ship's high-data rate Ku band antenna in blockage. But flight controllers in Mission Control had to settle for computer-generated graphics of the orbital gymnastics.

Mission commander Mark Kelly was at the controls when Endeavour went into the eight-minute maneuver, which presented the shuttle's belly to the station.

Armed with cameras, outpost flight engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli captured high-resolution imagery of the shuttle's fragile heat-shield tiles from windows in the Russian Zvezda command & control module.

The imagery will be beamed back to Earth for analyses. The idea is to spot any tile damage that might endanger Endeavour and its crew during atmospheric reentry.

Docking at the station remains scheduled for 6:16 a.m.

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