Spaceflight Now STS-104

Shuttle Atlantis arrives at space station alpha
Posted: July 14, 2001

  Atlantis approaches
Atlantis pictured on final approach by a camera on the space station's robot arm. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Space shuttle Atlantis pulled up and latched ahold of the international space station while cruising 230 miles above South America on Friday night, kicking off a week-long visit that will see a $164 million airlock added to the orbiting outpost.

The shuttle docked to Alpha at 11:08 p.m. EDT, some 15 minutes later than planned as Atlantis skipper Steve Lindsey took took some extra time to ensure a smoothly link up between the winged-spaceship and the sprawling orbital outpost. Cameras on the robot arm provided spectacular views of the approaching orbiter.

"Atlantis, Alpha, you all are looking beautiful down there. Be sure and smile," radioed station astronaut Jim Voss as the shuttle inched ever closer.

  Yuri greets
Space station commander Yuri Usachev welcomes the visiting crew aboard Alpha. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Two hours after docking the hatchway between the two spacecraft was opened and the five shuttle astronauts -- Lindsey, pilot Charles Hobaugh and mission specialists Mike Gernhardt, Janet Kavandi and Jim Reilly -- floated into the station's U.S. Destiny laboratory module where they were greeted by the three-person Expedition Two crew -- Yuri Usachev, Jim Voss and Susan Helms -- now in their 128th day in orbit.

The united eight-astronaut team then went to work preparing for Saturday night's installation of the Joint Airlock "Quest" and spacewalk by Gernhardt and Reilly.

"We want to actually get the two crews together who haven't actually been in the same room for several months now and let them talk about the next day's activities, to make sure they're all on the same page with the choreography of using both arms in the spacewalk and make sure they just generally have a good level of confidence and they're all ready to go the next day," said shuttle flight director Paul Hill.

  EVA briefing
The Atlantis and Alpha crews review plans for the first spacewalk of the mission which will see the installation of Quest, the station's airlock. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Helms limbered up the station's new Canadarm2 robotic crane for a dress rehearsal of the maneuvers it will perform to hoist the 6.5-ton airlock from Atlantis' payload bay and mount it to the station's Unity node; Kavandi operated the shuttle's robot arm like she will to move the spacewalkers around to assist in the airlock attachment.

"Since we have two robotic arms moving at the same time -- this'll be the first time we have two robotic arms moving at the same time -- clearances are critical, the coordination of who's moving where when, to avoid conflict being in the same space at the same time everything is critical as to how it's done, when it's done, and the communication between myself and the operator on the space station, Susan Helms, is perfect, so that everything will go smoothly," Kavandi said in a pre-flight interview.

  Arm rehearsal
The space station arm stretches forward as the orbiter's arm is positioned in the background during a dress rehearsal for the airlock installation. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
"It's a very well-choreographed mission here in this aspect of: when she will move, when I will move, how I will move around her. She's got the major task, the most important task, of lifting the airlock out of the payload bay with the space station arm, and taking it around to the starboard side of the Node, where the shuttle arm cannot reach, so it has to be done by the space station."

Added Lindsey: "There's a tremendous amount of coordination between the crews, and by doing this dry run it enables us to essentially practice and do one last training session the day before the spacewalk."

Looking ahead to the key events later today:

  • Atlantis and station astronauts will be awakened at 5:04 p.m. EDT.

  • Spacewalk preparations are due to begin at 7:04 p.m. EDT.

  • The spacewalk, the first of three planned for this shuttle mission, is slated to begin at around 10:09 p.m. EDT.

  • Canadarm2 grapples the airlock at 12:04 a.m. EDT.

  • The airlock begins rising out of the shuttle's payload bay at 12:19 a.m. EDT after the spacewalkers disconnect umbilicals.

  • The spacewalkers return to the shuttle's airlock at 12:39 a.m. EDT to wait out the time it will take for Canadarm2 to maneuver the airlock up to the station docking port.

  • Spacewalkers exit the airlock at 1:24 a.m. EDT and head up to the station's Unity node to assist in airlock installation.

  • Airlock is physically attached to the international space station at 3:04 a.m. EDT.

  • Spacewalkers go to work connecting critical cables between the station and airlock module at 3:34 a.m. EDT.

  • The spacewalk concludes at 5:19 a.m. EDT.

  Airlock installation
A computer graphic, created by Boeing, depicts the upcoming installation of the Quest airlock. Image: Boeing
Delivery of the airlock on this 10th U.S. mission to the international space station will represent completion of the first phase of Alpha assembly.

The airlock will allow spacewalks to be performed from the station without disrupting life aboard the orbiting complex. The only station-based spacewalk to date turned a compartment of Russian Zvezda module into a make-shift airlock, requiring substantial work for the astronauts before and after the excursion.

Quest also will permit spacewalkers to use either U.S. or Russian spacesuits -- the hatches on Russian modules are too small for an American suit to fit through.

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The space shuttle Atlantis docks with the International Space Station as seen live on NASA Television.
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The hatches between space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station open and the shuttle crew board the station.
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