Endeavour arrives at station for international delivery
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 12, 2008
The shuttle Endeavour glided to a gentle docking with the international space station today as the two spacecraft sailed 212 miles above Malaysia at five miles per second. With commander Dominic Gorie at the controls, the shuttle's docking system engaged its counterpart on the front of the lab complex at 11:49 p.m. to wrap up a two-day orbital chase that began with Endeavour's sky-lighting blastoff early Tuesday.
"Houston, Endeavour, capture confirmed," a shuttle astronaut radioed as the two vehicles came together.
"Houston copies," astronaut Terry Virts replied from mission control.
"Houston, Endeavour, we see flashing lights. Free drift."
"And Alpha can verify station is in free drift," Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson confirmed. In keeping with naval tradition, she then rang the ship's bell in the Destiny laboratory module, saying "Endeavour, arriving."
"Peggy, that's the sweetest sound I've ever heard," Gorie said. "Thank you very much."
Whitson, flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko and European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts were standing by to welcome their shuttle visitors aboard after leak checks to make sure the two spacecraft were firmly locked together.
The terminal phase of the rendezvous began around 8:42 p.m. with a critical rocket firing as Endeavour trailed the station by about 9.2 miles. After reaching a point about 600 feet directly below the lab complex, Gorie fired small maneuvering jets to put the shuttle through a slow 360-degree back flip, exposing the ship's heat shield to cameras on the space station.
Whitson, using a camera with a 400-mm lens, and Malenchenko, wielding an 800-mm telephoto, shot dozens of digital pictures of the shuttle's belly as the spacecraft streaked over Australia to help engineers assess the health of the ship's heat shield. No obvious problems could be seen in television views from the station, but it will take image analysts another day or so to examine the pictures downlinked by Whitson and Malenchenko.
The combined crews face a busy day in space. After a mandatory safety briefing to familiarize the shuttle astronauts with emergency procedures, the two crews will get busy transferring spacesuits and other equipment to the station's Quest airlock to prepare for the mission's first spacewalk overnight Thursday. They also will transfer astronaut Garrett Reisman's Soyuz seat liner to the station, allowing him to replace Eyharts as a member of the Expedition 16 crew. Eyharts, launched to the outpost in February to help activate the European Space Agency's new Columbus research module, will return to Earth aboard Endeavour after six weeks in space.
The goal of Thursday's spacewalk, the first of five EVAs planned for the mission, is to prepare a Japanese logistics module for attachment to the station and to begin assembly of a Canadian Space Agency robot known as the special purpose dextrous manipulator, or Dextre for short. Dextre is an attachment that will, in effect, give the station's Canadian-built robot arm two hands and the ability to remotely change out components that might otherwise require a spacewalk.
The disassembled Dextre robot, designed to operate in weightlessness, has been tested but never fully assembled on Earth. It made the climb to space in pieces bolted to a Spacelab pallet in the shuttle's cargo bay. Later this morning, Robert Behnken and shuttle pilot Gregory Johnson, operating the station's robot arm from inside the Destiny lab module, plan to pull the pallet out of the cargo bay. It will be attached to a grapple fixture on the side of the mobile base system normally used to move the station arm along the front face of the main solar power truss.