Successful rendezvous for Discovery and station
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 17, 2009
With hugs, smiles and handshakes,the crew of the international space station welcomed shuttle commander Lee Archambault and his six crewmates aboard late today after a picture-perfect docking over western Australia.
Manually flying Discovery from the aft flight deck, Archambault guided the orbiter to a docking at a port on the front of the lab complex at 5:20 p.m. After the docking mechanisms locked the two craft together and leak checks showed tight seals, a final hatch was opened at 7:09 p.m.
Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke, Russian flight engineer Yury Lonchakov and NASA engineer Sandra Magnus greeted Archambault, pilot Dominic "Tony" Antonelli, station veteran John Phillips, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and spacewalkers Steven Swanson, Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold aboard the lab complex.
"Space shuttle Discovery, arriving," Magnus said, ringing the ship's bell as the Discovery astronauts floated into the Harmony module. Magnus promptly welcomed her replacement, Wakata, aboard with an enthusiastic embrace. Wakata will remain behind aboard the station when Discovery undocks next week, becoming Japan's first long-duration astronaut. Magnus will return to Earth in his place after four-and-a-half months in orbit.
"All right, to the crew of Discovery, welcome aboard our beautiful international space station," Fincke said. "We've been waiting for you guys for a while. We understand you have a couple of really important things for us. First and foremost, Koichi-san, first long-duration Japanese guy in space ever. Welcome aboard!
"We also understand you have a (solar power) truss out there - more power to us - got some spacewalks lined up, we're excited for that. And also, it's always proper to recognize a former space station crew member. John, welcome back. It's gotten a lot bigger since we both first flew on here."
"It's great to be back," said Phillips, who completed a 179-day stay aboard the station in 2005.
"So welcome, Lee, welcome to your entire crew, we are dang glad to see you!" Fincke concluded.
Replied Archambault: "Mike, it's an honor to be here again, the second time for myself and Swanee and John. We're really delighted to join you, Sandy, Yuri. We've got a lot of work to do, we're looking forward to it. But this is a very special moment. So thanks for having us aboard."
"So let's get to work!" Fincke said.
After a mandatory safety briefing, the first item on the post-docking agenda was to transfer spacesuits from Discovery to the station, along with a custom seatliner that will enable Wakata to use the station's Soyuz lifeboat in an emergency. At that point, Wakata will become an official member of the ISS-18 crew and Magnus will take his place aboard Discovery.
Fincke and Lonchakov will be replaced later this month by Expedition 19 commander Gennady Padalka and Michael Barratt, who plan to launch March 26 aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft. Fincke and Lonchakov will return to Earth April 7 aboard the Soyuz TMA-13 craft that carried them into orbit last October.
Lead Flight Director Paul Dye said Archambault flew a textbook rendezvous and docking, adding that no problems of any significance have yet developed.
"We had a wonderful rendezvous today, it was extremely smooth," he said. "I can't think of any one that I've had in recent memory that went that smooth. All the major burns we did were spot on, we didn't have to do any trimming, targeting was really nice. The manual phase, in close, flown by the crew was very efficient, it looked really really good to me. Everything was within our normal parameters. I've haven't gotten the prop (fuel usage) numbers yet, but I'm guessing they're pretty good."
During final approach to the station, Archambault paused 600 feet directly below the complex and carried out a graceful 360-degree flip to let the station astronauts photograph the heat-shield tiles that protect the shuttle's belly during re-entry.
"The RPM photos of the belly of the orbiter will be coming down as soon as the crew can get them onto the computer system," Dye said. "I think they're already being downloaded and that'll give our engineering community a chance to look over the belly of the orbiter. I have not gotten any definitive word on the inspection we've done yesterday, but I haven't heard any issues come up so I think that's going very well. I know they've looked at about 70 percent of it already this morning."