Endeavour heading for space station rendezvous
HOUSTON ” Speeding 17,000 miles an hour around Earth, space shuttle Endeavour aimed for a docking with the international space station Sunday to drop off a new housemate and deliver equipment which will change the outpost into a two-kitchen, two-bath, five-bedroom home.
“It’s the eve of showtime,” space station commander Mike Fincke said Saturday night. “Everyone get some rest. We’re going to have a great day tomorrow.”
As Endeavour closed in on the space station at about 600 miles per orbit for a Sunday afternoon rendezvous, engineers on the ground pored over images from Friday night’s launch to determine if any debris hit the shuttle. At least two pieces were spotted, but Mission Control told Endeavour’s seven astronauts that there were no obvious signs of damage.
Shuttle officials initially thought the earlier piece may have been a narrow strip of thermal blanket that was yanked off the shuttle during launch, but images from the inspection showed no apparent damage, said flight director Mike Sarafin.
Analysts will continue studying images from the area at the tail of the shuttle, near the orbital-maneuvering engine pod on the left side, before reaching any conclusions.
“The good news is that it’s not an area of concern,” said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.
Shuttle officials said they wouldn’t have enough information about the second debris piece until analysts were done examining the images.
As part of a routine, second-day inspection done on all shuttle missions since the Columbia disaster in 2003, Endeavour’s astronauts on Saturday surveyed the spacecraft’s heat shield for any damage using an extra-long inspection boom with a camera and sensors on its tip. Debris from Columbia’s external tank struck the orbiter, allowing fiery gases to penetrate the spacecraft on its return to Earth. Seven crew members died.
Endeavour will get another check-out before docking on Sunday, this time with help from space station crew members. When Endeavour is about 600 feet below the station, commander Christopher Ferguson will shift the spacecraft into a back flip so that the space station crew members can snap up to 300 digital pictures to send back to Earth for review.
Engineers on the ground worked only two minor problems on Endeavour: a malfunctioning heater on a fuel line and a misbehaving communications system. A backup heater was being used on the fuel line.
The communications system antenna was failing to lock onto NASA satellites, forcing ground controllers to do extra work sending directional commands to the antenna.
The problem also could force Ferguson to rely on a backup navigation system for Sunday’s docking instead of the usual radar.
Shortly after Endeavour meets up with the space station, shuttle astronaut Sandra Magnus will trade places with space station astronaut Gregory Chamitoff. Magnus will settle in for a three-month stay at the space station, while Chamitoff returns to Earth in Endeavour in two weeks.
Astronauts will then begin unloading and installing the approximately 14,000 pounds of home-improvement equipment. The space station currently has one kitchen, one bathroom and three bedrooms. Endeavour’s delivery will transform the orbiting outpost into a two-kitchen, two-bath, five-bedroom home, allowing the space station crew to grow from three to four people next year.
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