Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Endeavour Docks with International Space Station

Endeavour Docks with International Space Station: "blog post photo
Commander Mark Kelly steers Endeavour out in front of the International Space Station prior to docking. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is visible in the aft cargo bay. The robot arm is latched to the Express Logistics Carrier-3 for a speedy transfer to the International Space Station. Photo Credit/NASA TV

The shuttle Endeavour successfully docked with the International Space Station early Wednesday, joining a dozen astronauts from the U.S., Russia and Italy for nearly 12 days of scientific outfitting, cargo exchanges and external upgrades to the orbiting science laboratory.

The shuttle docked with the U.S. segment's Harmony module at 6:14 a.m., EDT, as the two spacecraft sailed about 220 miles over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile on a northeasterly course.

Prior to the linkup, Endeavour commander Mark Kelly halted the closure at a separation of 600 feet below the station to steer the 247,000-pound orbiter through a slow back flip called the rotational pitch maneuver.

The RPM allowed three of the station's crew to snap several hundred images of the shuttle's underside heat shielding to complete the post-launch thermal protection survey. The survey began Tuesday with camera and laser scans of the shielding on the shuttle wings and nose.

The underside photos were transmitted to NASA's Mission Control for analysis by the imagery assessment team.

The first major activities for the two crews called for astronauts Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency, and NASA's Drew Feustel, Greg H. Johnson and Greg Chamitoff to use the shuttle and station robot arms today to hoist the 15,000-pound Express Logistics Carrier-3 platform from Endeavour's payload and secure it to the orbiting lab's port solar power system truss.

A similar transfer of the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the station's starboard truss is scheduled for Thursday just before 4 a.m., EDT.

The particle physics detector will be activated within hours of the installation to begin a decade-long search for primordial antimatter, dark matter and other forms sub atomic particles. The 16-nation project is expected to furnish new insight into the genesis and evolution of the universe.

During the rendezvous phase, the shuttle crew reported a successful data take with the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation (STORRM) experimental flash LIDAR and high-definition color camera sensors developed by NASA and its Lockheed Martin/Ball Aerospace Technology Corp. team for the Orion spacecraft's autonomous docking operations.

The STORRM hardware, mounted on the orbiter docking system, was activated during the approach to shadow the Endeavour-mounted radar and trajectory control system sensors used for traditional manual shuttle/station docking operations. The STORRM sensors will be re-calibrated during the shuttle's docked period to prepare them for a four hour re-rendezvous test after Endeavour undocks late on May 29.

Kelly, Johnson, Feustel, Chamitoff, Vittori and Mike Fincke began their 16-day mission with a lift off on Monday from the Kennedy Space Center. The voyage marks Endeavour's 25th and final trip to orbit, and the 19-year-old spacecraft's 12th trip to the space station. "

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