Sunday, July 10, 2011

Atlantis nears final shuttle docking at station

Four Atlantis astronauts today are set to become the last shuttle crew to dock at the International Space Station.

Before that, they'll be the last to ride an orbiter through a dramatic backflip performed during its final approach to the outpost 240 miles above the planet.

The backflip is part of ongoing heat shield inspections, exposing Atlantis' underside so station crew members can snap pictures of it.

The action starts around 8:30 a.m. EDT, with a last major engine burn to close the distance between the station and shuttle.

A little before 10, within 600 feet of the station, commander Chris Ferguson will execute the backflip. And about an hour later, he'll slowly ease Atlantis to a docking at the station's Harmony node.

It will be the 37th and last time (the 12th for Atlantis) that a shuttle has visited the station since the first components were launched in 1998.

The docking will complete a rendezvous that began with Atlantis' 11:29 a.m. Friday launch from Kennedy Space Center.

The four-person shuttle crew then will join six already aboard the station. They're goal is to unload a module packed with more than 8,200 pounds of supplies that will help keep the station stocked for through next year.

Here's a look at the highlights of the day ahead in space:

3:29 a.m.: Crew awakes
5:34 a.m.: Rendezvous operations begin
8:31 a.m.: Engine firing to begin final approach
9:54 a.m.: Atlantis performs backflip
11:06 a.m.: Docking
1:19 p.m.: Hatch opening and welcome ceremony
1:30 p.m.: Mission status briefing
2:04 p.m. Station arm hands boom to shuttle arm
4 p.m.: Mission Management Team briefing
6:29 p.m.: Station crew sleeps
6:59 p.m.: Shuttle crew sleeps

IMAGES: Above, backdropped by the blackness of space and Earth's horizon, the International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-134 crew member on the space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 11:55 p.m. (EDT) on May 29, 2011. Below, On May 18, a view of the nose and the forward underside of the space shuttle Endeavour provided by an Expedition 27 crew member during a survey of the approaching STS-134 vehicle prior to docking with the station. Credit: NASA

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