Endeavour departs station, Tito to arrive Monday
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
Posted: April 29, 2001 at 4:50 p.m. EDT
The food's nothing to write home about, the main computer system broke down last week and the satellite TV is on the blink.
But they say the view is out of this world and even though NASA claims it's not safe for non professionals to visit the lab during construction, Tito and his chauffeur-driven Soyuz limousine will pull up to the Hotel Alpha Monday morning for a six-day stay.
First, however, the station's current visitors had to check out after completing an extended eight-day visit of their own to deliver a $600 million Canadian-built robot arm, along with several tons of food, supplies and scientific equipment.
Departure originally was scheduled for Saturday, but the shuttle's seven-member crew stayed an extra day after an unlikely string of failures last week that crippled the station's central computer system.
Engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston ultimately restored all three command-and-control computers to operation. While additional work is required to revive a balky hard drive - two reformatting attempts today failed - NASA managers late Saturday cleared Endeavour's crew for departure today.
"From a space station program point of view, I couldn't be happier," said Robert Cabana, a senior station manager in Houston. "We're in the process of evaluating our computer problems, we still haven't found the source of it.
"But we're bringing the third computer back up slowly now, taking our time to ensure that we get it done properly and again, I'm confident the team, once they analyze the data and the computer that's coming home on the shuttle, will be able to identify the source of that problem.
Based on the work done during Endeavour's flight, NASA is ready to press ahead with a flight in June to deliver the station's main airlock, a key milestone that will enable on-board crews to perform assembly and maintenance spacewalks between shuttle missions.
With shuttle pilot Jeffrey Ashby at the controls, Endeavour undocked from the 120-ton station complex at 1:34 p.m., pushed away from its docking port on the front end of the lab by powerful springs.
"Alpha, Houston, Endeavour has physical separation," commander Kent Rominger called as Endeavour slowly pulled away.
From a point 450 feet directly in front of the station, Ashby guided Endeavour through a slow loop around the complex, flying up, directly over, behind and below the outpost, pausing along the way to film the huge station against the backdrop of planet Earth.
Spectacular video downlinked later showed the station from directly above, silhouetted against the huge ice-locked Manicouagan impact crater in Quebec, Canada.
"Don't know if it's you, but we see this really realistic model of the space shuttle down below us and thunderstorms below that," station flier James Voss radioed his departing shuttle colleagues.
"We agree, we've been kind of oohing and ahhing over those thunderstorms as well," Rominger replied.
"Yeah, it's really quite a sight seeing you guys flying underneath us as it's getting dark," Voss said as the two spacecraft sailed 240 miles above Africa.
"Well, you're in one beautiful spaceship."
Engelauf took a moment earlier today to congratulate Endeavour's crew for assisting Helms and Voss with recovery of the station's computer system after a domino-like string of failures left the success of the mission in doubt.
"It was a lot of work getting to this point and there are a whole lot of really, really happy people down here on the ground," Engelauf radioed from mission control. "I wanted to send you congratulations on absolutely superb work on everything you guys have done on orbit.
"This has been a superb mission, we're thrilled to death with the way everything has come out and I want to say thanks not only from the shuttle team but also from the ISS flight control team. Please pass our regards to Yuri, Jim and Susan. We'll be looking forward to seeing you back here on the ground and we'll have a couple of cold ones when you get back and swap stories."
"The feelings are very mutual," Rominger replied. "You guys have done an outstanding job and I think in a lot of ways, you worked much harder than we did. You're the ones that had to pull this all together. ... I really don't think we could have had a better team working this."
The Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft was launched Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is scheduled to dock with the international space station Monday at 3:52 a.m. EDT. Docking and hatch opening, scheduled for around 5:22 a.m., are expected to be carried live on NASA television.
The purpose of the Soyuz TM-32 mission is to deliver a fresh crew return vehicle to the station to serve as an emergency lifeboat in case of problems that might force the lab's on-board crew to bail out. Tito and his crewmates will return to Earth in the station's current lifeboat, a Soyuz that is nearing the end of its six-month orbital lifetime.
Only two cosmonauts are required to fly such a Soyuz taxi mission, but the Russian Space Agency sold the spacecraft's third seat to Tito for a reported $20 million. That works out to about $30 per second over the course of his weeklong voyage.
See the Status Center for full play-by-play coverage.