Sunday, July 10, 2011

Atlantis Enters Final Phase Of Station Rendezvous

With a 12 second firing of its left orbital maneuvering engine, shuttle Atlantis and four astronauts are embarking on the final phase of their ground-up rendezvous with the International Space Station.

The winged spaceship and its crew were zooming 238 miles above the planet when the engine ignited. A camera on the station showed the shuttle as a white dot against deep black space, suddenly surrounded by a quick, halo-like burst. Atlantis was 9.5 miles behind the station at the time.

The engine-firing was the final Termination Initiation, or TI, burn of the shuttle program. It took place as Atlantis soared over the Atlantic Ocean, approaching the western coast of Europe.

Coming up next: Mission commander Chris Ferguson will guide Atlantis through a nose-over-tail backflip around 10 a.m. after the shuttle closes to within about 725 feet of the station.

Station flight engineers Mike Fossum and Satoshi Furakawa will use high-resolution cameras to document the condition of fragile thermal tiles that cover the underside of the shuttle orbiter.

The 37th and final shuttle docking at the station will come about 11:07 a.m. It will be the 12th docking at the station for Atlantis and the 46th shuttle docking in program history. Shuttles docked nine times at the Russian space station Mir in the mid- to late-1990s.

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