Sunday, July 10, 2011

Atlantis Astronauts Dock With International Space Station

Atlantis Astronauts Dock With International Space Station: "

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Commander Chris Ferguson, left, pilot Doug Hurley guide Atlantis to NASA's final shuttle program
docking with the International Space Station. Photo Credit/NASA TV

The Atlantis astronauts successfully docked with the International Space Station on Sunday, uniting 10 U. S., Russian and Japanese astronauts for seven to eight days of high priority cargo exchanges and a spacewalk.

The two spacecraft linked at 11:07 a.m., EDT, as they sailed 240 miles miles over the Pacific Ocean, east of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim lifted off Friday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on the 12-day, STS-135 supply mission, NASA's final shuttle flight. At the orbiting science laboratory, they were greeted by Commander Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and Sergei Volkov, of Russia; Americans Mike Fossum and Ron Garan; and Japan's Satoshi Furukawa.

'Capture confirmed,' Hurley radioed to announce the link up.

'Atlantis arriving,' responded Garan, as the station's ship's bell pealed in nautical tradition.

'It's great to be here,' said Ferguson.

Atlantis stumbled for the first time on the flight -- several hours ahead of Sunday's rendezvous -- when the No. 3 general purpose computer encountered an apparent switch failure. One of five cockpit GPCs, the No. 3 processor was one of three computers assigned to guidance, navigation and control tasks during the rendezvous. Two GNC computers proved sufficient. A trouble-shooting session of the faulty GPC is planned for Monday.

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The supply laden Raffaello Mutli-Purpose Logistics Module rests in the aft payload bay, as
Atlantis closes in on the International Space Station from below. Photo Credit/NASA TV.

A 12 second Terminal Initiation burst from the shuttle's left Orbital Maneuvering System engine at 8:29 a.m., placed the orbiter 1,000 feet below the station at 9:51 a.m., when Ferguson began the 46th and final manual shuttle program docking operation involving either the ISS or Russia's former Mir station.

At 600 feet below the orbiting lab, Ferguson steered the winged orbiter through a nine minute back flip, the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, to expose the shuttle's underside heat shielding to three camera toting station astronauts. Furukawa, Fossum and Volkov aimed cameras equipped with 400, 800 and 1,000 millimeter lenses at the shielding as the final step in the shuttle's post-launch damage assessment.

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RPM "back flip" provides close up view of orbiter
orbiter underside heat shielding to digital space station
cameras. Photo Credit/NASA TV

Dozens of digital photos, with resolution as high as 1 inch, were quickly transmitted to NASA's Mission Control, where imagery experts will attempt to complete their heat shield assessments by Monday.

The crews of the two spacecraft plan to initiate the primary focus of the shuttle's visit on Monday as well. They will hoist the 21-foot-long Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module out of the orbiter's cargo bay with robot arm operations and transfer it to the station's U. S. segment Harmony module.

The astronauts should have access to Raffaello by mid-day.

Magnus will supervise as her colleagues remove more than 8,000 pounds of food, spare parts and research gear from the MPLM and re-load it with about 5,000 pounds of trash and unneeded hardware.

The mission's only spacewalk is scheduled for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Atlantis continues to acquire fuel cell margins that are likely to afford the additional electricity needed to extend the STS-135 mission to a 13th day.

The re-supply mission should stock the orbital outpost with enough supplies to sustain six crew activities through 2012, while NASA transitions to still emerging commercial cargo providers.


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