Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shuttle Aims To Dock At Station Early Wednesday

Endeavour's astronauts aim to dock at the International Space Station early Wednesday, marking the 36th and next-to-last link-up between a U.S. shuttle and the outpost.

With the shuttle trailing about nine miles below and behind the station, Endeavour commander Mark Kelly will ignite his ship's twin maneuvering engines in what NASA calls the "Terminal Initiation" burn.

The engine-firing will propel Endeavour into the final phases of a ground-up rendezvous that began with a precisely timed launched at 8:56 a.m. Monday at Kennedy Space Center.

In between 5 a.m. and 5:15 a.m., Kelly will guide Endeavour through a backflip that will point the underside of the orbiter toward the station. Inside the outpost, U.S. astronaut Cady Coleman and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli will use high-resolution cameras to take photographs of the fragile thermal tiles that line the belly of the ship. The idea is to detect any damage that might endanger the astronauts and Endeavour during atmospheric reentry on June 1.

Kelly then will bring the shuttle in for a docking at 6:16 a.m.

Hatches between the spacecraft are scheduled to open at 8:36 a.m., and the shuttle crew will get to work almost immediately. A spare parts pallet in Endeavour's cargo bay will be hoisted up with Endeavour's robot arm and installed on the port side of the station's central truss.

The pallet holds two bulky radio communications satellites, an ammonia coolant tank, a high-pressure gas tank and a spare arm for the station's two-armed Canadian robot Dextre.

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