Spaceflight Now: Space Station/STS-98

Shuttle Atlantis docks with space station

Posted: February 9, 2001
Updated at 4:50 p.m. EST (2130 GMT)

The docking ports of Atlantis and the International Space Station close together. Photo: Spaceflight Now/NASA TV
The Atlantis astronauts were welcomed aboard the international space station today after a flawless docking that sets the stage for a long-awaited spacewalk Saturday to attach a $1.4 billion lab module that will serve as the station's main control center.

Sailing high above the Pacific Ocean northwest of New Zealand, shuttle commander Kenneth Cockrell manually guided Atlantis to a precisely orchestrated linkup at 11:51 a.m. as the two spacecraft raced along at five miles per second.

"Capture confirmed," Cockrell radioed as the shuttle's docking system engaged.

"Great job," replied astronaut Mario Runco from mission control in Houston.

Looking on from inside the space station were commander William Shepherd, Soyuz pilot Yuri Gidzenko and flight engineer Sergei Krikalev, launched Oct. 31 and working through their 102nd day in space.

After completing leak checks to make sure Atlantis was firmly attached to the station, hatches between the two spacecraft were finally opened at 2:03 p.m. and the two crews greeted each other inside the station's roomy Unity module.

The astronauts then began work to transfer equipment and supplies from the shuttle to the station.

Among the supplies launched aboard Atlantis were fresh food, clothing, a new laptop computer loaded with updated station control software and spare parts for an air conditioner and carbon dioxide removal system in the Russian Zvezda command module.

  Hatch opens
Shuttle commander Ken Cockrell works to open the hatch between the shuttle and the station. Photo: Spaceflight Now/NASA TV
Television from inside the space station initially was sparse with just a few views downlinked as the main hatches were opened. When the KU-band television link was re-established around 3 p.m., Cockrell told mission control the crew was too busy to downlink any videotape of the docking or the two crews greeting each other.

Videotape presumably will be downlinked later in the day. In the meantime, reporters - and the public - had to settle for live shots inside the Russian Zvezda service module showing the astronauts floating about as they transferred equipment to the station.

Lead flight director Robert Castle praised Cockrell for pulling off a near-perfect rendezvous and docking, saying "everything went about as by the book as I could have hoped."

"The rendezvous went off exactly per the timeline, all the maneuvers went fine, the shuttle Atlantis performed flawlessly, everyone saw the approach and docking, which went just fine," he said at an afternoon status briefing.

The goal of the 102nd shuttle flight is to attach the $1.38 billion Destiny laboratory module to the space station, the most complex - and expensive - station component MASA plans to build.

Later this evening, hatches between Atlantis and the station will be closed so air pressure in the shuttle can be lowered from 14.7 psi to 10.2 psi in preparation for a spacewalk Saturday by Thomas Jones and Robert Curbeam to attach the new module.

During the last station assembly flight in December, hatches between the station and the shuttle Endeavour were not opened until after the shuttle crew completed three spacewalks.

Shuttle crews carrying out spacewalks typically lower the ship's cabin air pressure to 10.2 psi to help spacewalkers avoid the bends after transitioning to their five psi spacesuits. The station operates at 14.7 psi.

But Atlantis' crew went ahead and opened up the hatches today in order to move critical cables into the station that will be needed Saturday as soon as the lab module is attached to the station to enable flight controllers to begin activating internal systems.

"The most critical thing is some of the outfitting cables that have to be installed between the Unity node and the Destiny laboratory," Castle said. "We have to have those in order to activate the lab, and that happens tomorrow after the lab is installed but before we open up the hatches again.

"The spare central post (laptop) computer is also required for the software reload, which we're now going to be starting tomorrow, again, before we open up the hatches. Those are the critical things."

Cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko (left) and Sergei Krikalev work aboard the station's Zvezda service module. Photo: Spaceflight Now/NASA TV
The lab will serve as the station's primary research center and provide the computer systems needed for NASA to take over day-to-day operation of the complex from Russian controllers in Moscow.

The 28-foot-long Destiny also will supply an additional 3,750 cubic feet of pressurized volume to the station, pushing the total to more than 13,000 cubic feet.

Atlantis docked to a downward-facing port on the U.S. Unity module with the shuttle's nose pointing down the long axis of the station toward the Russian Zarya and Zvezda modules.

Destiny must be attached to Unity's end hatch, which is located just above the shuttle's cargo bay.

On Saturday, Marsha Ivins will use Atlantis's robot arm to detach a docking port called PMA-2 from Unity's forward hatch and to move it to a temporary storage location. She then will use the arm to attach Destiny to Unity's now-available forward port.

Jones and Curbeam will be standing by to connect electrical cables between the lab and the rest of the station and to hook up ammonia coolant lines to keep the lab's electronic systems from overheating.

"Everything is in good shape for all that, I'm very optimistic things are going to work very well for us tomorrow, hopefully as well as they did today," Castle said. "I don't have much else to say, there are no problems and nothing else that we're working today."

The combined crews will enter Destiny on Sunday to continue activation of its computer systems and life support gear.

Video vault
Take a flying tour around the international space station as it looks before Atlantis' visit and after when the Destiny laboratory is added.
  PLAY (269k, 1min08sec QuickTime file)
NASA animation shows space shuttle Atlantis' approach and docking to the international space station. Lead Flight Director Bob Castle narrates.
  PLAY (261k, 33sec QuickTime file)

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