Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Docking Day for Space Shuttle Endeavour

The crew of space shuttle Endeavour awoke at 10:56 p.m. EDT to “Drops of Jupiter” by Train, played for Pilot Greg Johnson. The song won the 2002 Grammy Rock Song of the Year and is a favorite of Johnson’s son Matt, whose birthday is tomorrow.

Today is docking day in space. The terminal initiation burn at 3:38 a.m. will put the shuttle on the final course to link up with the International Space Station at about 6:16 a.m.

Commander Mark Kelly and pilot Johnson will fly Endeavour on its approach for docking to the station. After a series of jet firings to fine-tune the shuttle’s path to the complex, Endeavour will arrive at a point about 600 feet directly below the station about an hour before docking. At that time, Kelly will execute the rendezvous pitch maneuver, a one-degree-per-second rotational “backflip” to enable station crew members to snap hundreds of detailed photos of the shuttle’s heat shield and other areas of potential interest – another data point for imagery analysts to pore over in determining the health of the shuttle’s thermal protection system.

Once the rotation is completed, Kelly will fly Endeavour in front of the station before slowly docking. Less than two hours later, at 8:36 a.m., hatches will be opened between the two spacecraft. Along with Kelly and Johnson, shuttle Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and the European Space Agency’s Roberto Vittori will join the Expedition 27 crew: Commander Dmitry Kondratyev and Flight Engineers Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev of Russia, Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, and NASA's Cady Coleman and Ron Garan.

The combined crew of 12 will begin almost 12 days of operations while the spacecraft are docked, including installation of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 and four spacewalks. Beginning at 9:16 a.m., they will operate the shuttle and station’s robotic arms to transfer the spare parts carrier, Express Logistics Carrier 3, from the shuttle to installation on the station. Among items on it are a spare ammonia tank, a high-pressure oxygen tank, two S-band antennas and 10 circuit breakers.