Spaceflight Now

Atlantis' astronaut crew faces tight mission timeline
Posted: July 6, 2011

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Cargo-delivery module unberthed from shuttle on previous mission. Credit: NASA
The day after takeoff will be particularly busy as the astronauts use the shuttle's robot arm and a 50-foot-long extension to inspect Atlantis' reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels to make sure the parts of the heat shield that experience the most extreme heating came through launch in good condition.

The crew also will check out their rendezvous tools and aids to make sure Atlantis is ready for docking with the space station the next day.

"We expect this inspection to take most of the day on flight day two," said shuttle Flight Director Kwatsi Alibaruho. "It'll be challenging to get through that inspection with a reduced crew complement. But this crew has practiced considerably to be able to develop a flow or a routine, if you will, to where even though they have fewer hands available in the shuttle they'll be able to get through these inspections in the timeframe that's been allotted."

The next day, Ferguson and Hurley will guide Atlantis through a carefully choreographed rendezvous sequence, overtaking the space station from behind and below.

As usual with post-Columbia missions, Ferguson will halt the approach 600 feet directly below the space station and perform a slow, computer-assisted back-flip maneuver, exposing heat shield tiles on the shuttle's belly to powerful telephoto lenses wielded by the lab crew. The digital images will be downlinked to analysts at mission control in Houston for a detailed assessment.

With the rendezvous pitch maneuver complete, Ferguson will guide Atlantis up to a point about 400 feet directly in front of the space station with the shuttle's nose facing deep space and its open payload bay facing the station's forward docking port.

From there, Ferguson plans to manually guide Atlantis to the program's 37th and final station docking.

Standing by to welcome the shuttle crew aboard will be Fossum, Garan, Expedition 28 commander Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev, Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa. After a mandatory safety briefing the combined crews will get to work, beginning initial cargo transfer operations. The shuttle's heat shield inspection boom will be removed by the station's robot arm and then handed off to Atlantis' Canadian-built arm to clear the way from removal of the Raffaello cargo module.

The next day -- flight day four -- Magnus and Hurley will use the station arm to pull Raffaello, also known as a multi-purpose logistics module, or MPLM, out of Atlantis' cargo bay so it can be attached to the Harmony module.

Working at a robotics work station inside the multi-window cupola compartment, Magnus and Hurley will "move in and grasp the MPLM and carefully extract it from the payload bay," said space station Flight Director Chris Edelen.

"They'll maneuver the module up to the node 2, or Harmony (module), the Earth-facing port there, they'll maneuver it into position so the common berthing mechanism latches just a few inches from the interface ... will grab the module and pull it in. Then the crew will drive 16 bolts to secure the MPLM and get an airtight seal.

"After the MPLM is firmly attached to the station, the crew will go into node 2 and open that lower Earth-facing hatch. Then they will connect electrical, data and power jumpers so they can activate the MPLM. They'll also install air ducting and then they'll open the hatch, go into Raffaello and begin the cargo transfer process."

The MPLM is tightly packed with equipment and supplies, including 798 pounds of crew supplies, 1,677 pounds of food and 4,538 pounds of equipment, spare parts and science gear. Another 2,000 pounds of hardware and supplies is packed on the shuttle's middeck.

With the supplies ferried aloft by Atlantis, along with gear delivered aboard unmanned Russian, Japanese and European Space Agency cargo ships, "we should be able to do nominal operations with research for six crew through 2012," Suffredini said.

"That was our goal with this flight," he added. "This flight gave us about six more months on orbit worth of supplies. That was critical to us. That sounds like it's not that much, but what it does is give you time to manage. If the shuttle didn't fly, we'd have to start talking today about reducing the amount of research we were going to do in order to make sure the only thing on the (Japanese and European cargo ships) were going to be supplies for the crew. So this gave us the added flexibility of letting us continue research, take care of the crew through 2012."

PART 7: Station crew handles spacewalk chores -->