Atlantis Docks with the Station

Image credit: NASA

After its second day in space, Atlantis caught up, and docked with, the International Space Station. Its seven-astronaut crew are preparing to add the next major component to the station: a 13.4 metre truss which will serve as a backbone for new modules to be installed in future missions. The first spacewalk is scheduled for tomorrow, when astronauts Steve Smith and Rex Walheim will exit the shuttle and help make the first connections between the truss and the station. Three additional spacewalks are planned.

Atlantis gently docked with the International Space Station this morning over southern China, setting the stage for the installation of a 13 1/2 ton truss structure to the complex tomorrow and the ultimate expansion of the ISS to the length of a football field.

Commander Mike Bloomfield guided Atlantis to a linkup with the forward docking port of the station’s Destiny Laboratory at 11:05 a.m. Central time as the two vehicles sailed at an altitude of 240 statute miles. The docking culminated a textbook rendezvous executed by Bloomfield and Pilot Steve Frick. As Atlantis docked, Expedition Four Flight Engineer Dan Bursch, a Navy Captain, rang the ISS ship?s bell to greet the arriving shuttle crew.

About two hours later, at 1:07 p.m. Central time as the two craft flew over New Zealand, hatches swung open between Atlantis and the station, and the ten crew members greeted one another inside Destiny, marking the arrival of the first visitors for Expedition Four Commander Yury Onufrienko, Flight Engineer Carl Walz and Bursch since they entered the ISS in December for the start of their six-month mission.

After a safety briefing for the shuttle astronauts by Onufrienko, the two crews began to transfer gear for the first spacewalk tomorrow by Steve Smith and Rex Walheim as well as experiments to be housed in Destiny.

Ellen Ochoa joined Bursch to brush up on procedures for the use of the station?s Canadarm2 robotic arm tomorrow which will be employed to grapple and unberth the 13 ? ton S0 (S-Zero) Truss from Atlantis? cargo bay for mating to a capture device at the top of Destiny. Smith, Walheim, Jerry Ross and Lee Morin will conduct four spacewalks to electrically and structurally mate the S-Zero to Destiny over the next week. Ochoa maneuvered the arm and verified it is in good working order to support the S-Zero operations on Thursday.

Smith and Walheim set up all the equipment in the Quest Airlock on the ISS from which they will mount the first of the four spacewalks to deploy two of the four mounting struts to Destiny and to bring power to the new truss from the U.S. Laboratory. Ochoa is scheduled to grapple the S-Zero around 5 a.m. Central time with the first spacewalk set to get underway around 10 a.m.

Atlantis and the ISS are in excellent shape, orbiting the Earth every ninety minutes in an orbit inclined 51.6 degrees to either side of the Equator.

The two crews began an eight-hour sleep period at 7:44 Central time this evening and will be awakened at 3:44 Thursday morning for the fourth day of the mission.

Original Source: NASA News Release