Shuttle Endeavour sails up
to the space station
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: November 16, 2008; Updated after evening status briefing
The space shuttle Endeavour, piloted by commander Chris Ferguson from the aft flight deck, glided to a picture-perfect docking with the international space station today as the two spacecraft sailed 212 miles above northeastern India at five miles per second.
"On the big loop, capture confirmed," an astronaut called at 5:01 p.m. as the docking mechanisms engaged to begin the process of locking the two vehicles together.
About two hours and 15 minutes later, after waiting for residual motion to damp out, correcting a minor misalignment, completing leak checks and setting up communications links, hatches were opened at 7:16 p.m. and Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke, Yury Lonchakov and Gregory Chamitoff welcomed the seven shuttle fliers aboard.
Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, station-veteran Don Pettit, incoming space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus and spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough floated into the Harmony module a few moments later to hugs, smiles and handshakes.
"Endeavour arriving," Chamitoff said, ringing the ship's bell.
"Sandy, welcome to your new home," Fincke said as Magnus floated into the Harmony module.
"I'm happy to be here!" she replied. Fincke then formally welcomed the shuttle crew aboard.
"Welcome Endeavour. You guys look awesome, It was a beautiful approach, beautiful docking, we're really glad you're here," he said. "We understand that this house is in need of an extreme makeover and that you're the crew to do it. We think we've got everything ready for you. We're really glad to see you. Welcome. Welcome everybody. Welcome to space.
"Hey, we figured we'd go for a 10-year anniversary party for the space station, so that's what we showed up for," Ferguson joked, referring to the Nov. 20, 1998, start of station construction. "We're looking forward to working on your house and making it look a little bit better when we're done. You guys are awesome. It's great to see you."
The primary goals of Endeavour's mission are to deliver urine recycling equipment, a new galley, a second toilet and two sleep stations, part of a long-range plan to boost crew size from three to six next year. Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough also plan to clean and lubricate a degraded solar array rotary joint on the right side of the lab's main power truss, prepare the Japanese Kibo module for additional outfitting next year and stow a spare coolant system component on the station's exterior.
"OK, let's transfer!" Magnus exclaimed when FIncke finished his welcome.
"On to work!" Fincke agreed. "Man, this place just got smaller."
The first item on the agenda today, after a safety briefing from Fincke, was to transfer a custom Soyuz seat liner fitted for Magnus from the shuttle to the station. Magnus is replacing Chamitoff, launched to the station last June, as a member of the Expedition 18 crew and the seat liner allows her to use the station's Russian Soyuz lifeboat in an emergency,.
The astronauts also planned to activate the station-to-shuttle power transfer system, or SSPTS, which routes electrical power from the station's solar arrays to the shuttle. FInally, the astronauts planned to use the station's robot arm to pull the shuttle's heat shield inspection boom from its perch on the right side of the ship's cargo bay. The boom then will be handed off to the shuttle's robot arm for the remainder of the docked mission.
Later this evening, around 10:20 p.m., the astronauts are scheduled to downlink high definition video of today's docking as part of an HD video test.
"Everyone on board Endeavour and the international space station is doing great," said lead flight director Mike Sarafin. "Everyone's in great spirits. We did get all of the rendezvous pitch maneuver imagery of Endeavour and all of that imagery has been downlinked. The debris assessment team is in the process of looking at that and we will let them work through their standard process and allow the team to review any data and we'll make a decision if a focused inspection is required after that point."
Said LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team: ""Now that we are safely docked with the international space station, the crew is ready, with teams on the ground, to embark on what is going to be a really exciting and complex mission."
Docking capped a textbook rendezvous that began with launch Friday evening from the Kennedy Space Center. Ferguson and Boe began the terminal phase of the procedure at 2:27 p.m., trailing the station by about 9 statute miles. By 4 p.m., Endeavour was positioned directly below the lab complex for a now-routine post-Columbia pitch-around maneuver intended to expose the shuttle's heat-shield tiles to digital cameras aboard the station.
While Ferguson carried out a 360-degree flip, Fincke and Chamitoff photographed the shuttle's belly with 400-mm and 800-mm telephoto lenses to help engineers assess the overall health of Endeavour's heat shield. While it will take several more days to complete that assessment, Fincke said the heat shield looked good through the camera.
"These kind of lenses are in essence big telescopes and Greg and I, with our professionally trained eyes, could not see anything obvious on the shuttle," Fincke radioed. "It looked like it was clean and dry, as we say. It looked really good."
"That's great to hear," Mark Vande Hei replied from the space station control center.
With the rendezvous pitch maneuver complete, Ferguson flew Endeavour up to a point directly ahead of the space station with its cargo bay facing the lab and its nose aimed at deep space. From there, he carefully guided the shuttle in to a docking at a pressurized mating adapter on the front of the Harmony module.
"Endeavour, Houston, on the big loop," astronaut Steve Robinson called from the shuttle control center a few minutes later. "The team down here on planet Earth wanted to compliment you on a well-done, very nicely done rendezvous and docking. It's great to see Endeavour docked with the international space station. And we can also pass that on for all the family ops going on in the viewing room behind us."
"On behalf of Heide and I, it's great to be back," Ferguson replied. He and Stefanyshyn-Piper visited the station together on their first flight in 2006. "I don't think there's anybody more happy to be back than Don, though, and I know Shane and Eric and Steve are happy to be visiting for the first time. And I know Sandy's happy to be at her new home."
"Roger that, and there just might be some smiles on the other side of that hatch going on, too," Robinson said.
"I bet there are."
Fincke then chimed in, saying "I don't know who's smiling more, Greg, myself or Yury. Can't wait to open the hatch, guys, and welcome you aboard. And very smooth, very beautiful docking. And you looked clean and dry on the RPM."
Going into the terminal rendezvous sequence, engineers were unsure whether Endeavour's KU-band antenna would function properly in radar mode to provide long-range navigational data to the ship's flight computers. The crew was trained to use the shuttle's star trackers as a backup, but the KU antenna operated normally in radar mode and there were no problems of any significance.
Cain said this evening that Endeavour is in good shape. One of two heater "strings" in the shuttle's aft orbital maneuvering system has failed, but the redundant string is operating normally and even if a second failure occurs, a thermal analysis shows no problems will result.
As for ascent debris, Cain said only one event remains under discussion. At roughly 28 seconds into flight, an object of some sort could be seen passing below the shuttle's aft left rocket pod. Engineers initially suspected a small strip of insulation had pulled off, but a video inspection by the crew showed the insulation is intact. The debris may have been ice, Cain said. Whatever it was, video analysis shows it never struck the orbiter.
Engineers are rushing to complete an assessment of the thermal protection system on the far end of Endeaovur's right wing. Once a cargo module mounted in the shuttle's payload bay is attached to the space station Monday, the ship's robot arm will not be able to reach the outboard regions of the right wing if any close-up inspections are required.
Sarafin said if any additional inspections are, in fact, required - and there are no signs of any problems as of this writing - attachment of the cargo module would be delayed to Tuesday.