Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Station turns for unique final flyaround

The International Space Station is rotating to set up a first-of-its-kind final flyaround by a space shuttle.

The station is twisting sideways, or yawing, 90 degrees so that Atlantis looks directly down its long structural truss directly faces Atlantis from front to back, rather than presenting the typical side to side view.

Orbiters fly around the station before heading home so astronauts can take pictures of its exterior condition, helping engineers on the ground assess how it's weathering the harsh environment of space, including potential strikes by micrometeoroids or orbital debris.

The station's unique positioning today will provide a last chance for camera-wielding shuttle astronauts to take pictures of areas of the station not seen during past flyarounds.

Because of the angles, Hurley only needs to fly a half-lap over the top of the station to collect the desired imagery.

Atlantis is firing forward and aft steering jets to maintan its position 600 feet in front of the station.

Russian segment thrusters are propelling the station through its 90-degree yaw, which was expected to take about 26 minutes to execute.

Mission controllers reported some concern about cold temperatures from shadowing on solar array struts that could have cut the maneuver short, but they did exceed limits.

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