If you were watching NASA TV late Tuesday/early Wednesday you likely saw the beautiful backflip maneuver that space shuttle Endeavour performed before docking at 12:06 a.m. EST with the International Space Station. It was a striking sight to behold (see video above) as Commander George Zamka guided the orbiter through the nine-minute Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, rotating the orbiter backwards so that space station astronauts could take high-resolution pictures of the shuttle’s heat-resistant tiles. Meanwhile, the ISS astronauts not taking the hi-res images were busy taking pictures of the approaching orbiter and posting them on Twitter.
The detailed images of the Endeavour’s heat shield were analyzed on Wednesday and showed that everything looked “nominal” in NASA speak, and that no further examinations are required until after the shuttle undocks with the ISS. There are two other minor problematic items that NASA is monitoring for the shuttle.
A round ceramic spacer near one of the cockpit windows is sticking out. And a thermal tile repair that was made before the flight has failed, and the original crack is back, right over the cockpit.
Mission management team leader LeRoy Cain said Wednesday that neither problem appears to be serious. But he said everyone wants to be “very vigilant and take a closer look” in case spacewalking repairs are needed.
The shuttle astronauts had to wait about an hour longer than usual before entering the ISS. The vibrations that normally occur when the two spacecraft meet up and dock lasted longer than usual. Space shuttle flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho said this was caused by the massive and unsymmetrical bulk of the joined space station and shuttle, as well as the constant pull of Earth’s gravity on the “stack.” “It certainly not unexpected,” Alibaruho said.
The ISS and shuttle astronauts are now working together, getting ready for taking the Tranquility Node from the shuttle payload bay to attach it to the station. the first spacewalk of the mission. Today Endeavour’s crew transferred supplies from the shuttle’s middeck to the space station, including spacewalking equipment. Tonight, spacewalkers Bob Behnken and Nicholas Patrick will sleep in the Quest airlock as part of the overnight “campout” procedure that helps purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams, preventing decompression sickness once they move out into the vacuum of space.
See this interactive Flash feature from NASA which highlights the activities for each day of the shuttle mission.
Hat Tip to Stu Atkinson on the Twitpics