Sunday, November 16, 2008

520p 11/16 Update: Shuttle docks with space station

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CBS NEWS STS-126 STATUS REPORT: 21
Posted: 5:20 PM, 11/16/08

By William Harwood
CBS News Space Analyst

Changes and additions:

   SR-18 (11/16/08): Shuttle closes in on space station; crew awake
   SR-19 (11/16/08): Terminal phase of space station rendezvous begins
   SR-20 (11/16/08): Shuttle docks with space station
   SR-21 (11/16/08): Endeavour docks with space station

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5:20 PM, 11/16/08, Update: Shuttle Endeavour docks with space station

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 through orbital darkness 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. It will take about an hour and a half to complete the process and carry out leak checks before hatches can be opened and Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke and his two station crewmates can welcome the seven shuttle fliers aboard.

Docking capped a textbook rendezvous that began with launch Friday evening from the Kennedy Space Center. Ferguson and pilot Eric 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 outgoing flight engineer Gregory 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 crewmate Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper visited the station together on their first flight in 2006. Their crewmates this time around include Boe, station-veteran Don Pettit, rookies Stephen Bowen, Shane Kimbrough and shuttle veteran Sandy Magnus, who will replace Chamitoff as a member of the Expedition 18 crew.

"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," Ferguson continued. "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 (Lonchakov). 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.

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Quick-Launch Web Links:

CBS News STS-126 Status Reports:
http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/current.html

CBS News STS-126 Quick-Look Page:
http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/currentglance.html

NASA ISS Expeditions Page:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/index.html

NASA Shuttle Web: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/index.html
NASA Station Web: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/index.html
Spaceflight Now: http://spaceflightnow.com/index.html
GoogleSatTrack: http://www.lizard-tail.com/isana/tracking/

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