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Archive for Monday, November 17, 2008

Shuttle links with station, brings expansion supplies

November 17, 2008

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— Space shuttle Endeavour linked with the international space station on Sunday, kicking off a huge home makeover that will allow twice as many astronauts to live up there beginning next year.

Commander Christopher Ferguson guided the shuttle to a smooth docking as the two spacecraft soared 212 miles above India. His ship's radar worked just fine, despite earlier trouble with the antenna.

"We understand that this house is in need of an extreme makeover and that you're the crew to do it," the space station's skipper, Mike Fincke, said as he welcomed the seven shuttle astronauts aboard.

His crewmate, Gregory Chamitoff, was especially excited to see Endeavour. He's been living on the space station for almost six months, and the shuttle is his ride home.

"Wow," Chamitoff ex-claimed. "You look beautiful. : I am smiling from ear to ear."

Earlier in the afternoon, before Endeavour began its final approach from eight miles out, Fincke and his crew captured striking video of it and the moon, which was also prominent in many of the launch-night photos.

"It's a big day here today," Fincke said.

Once Endeavour closed to within several hundred feet, Ferguson guided it through a 360-degree backflip so Fincke and Chamitoff could take zoom-in photos of all its thermal shielding. About 200 digital images will help NASA determine whether Endeavour sustained any damage during liftoff Friday night. Fincke said he noticed nothing amiss.

Only one piece of debris has been spotted so far in launch pictures. It was probably ice and did not strike Endeavour, said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team. Flight controllers initially thought it might be one of the shuttle's thermal blankets.

NASA officials were delighted with how everything was going.

"The team down here on the Planet Earth wanted to compliment you on a well-done, very nicely done rendezvous and docking," Mission Control radioed up.

The first priority for the 10 astronauts was a crew member swap.

Astronaut Sandra Magnus moved into the space station for a 3 1/2-month stay, replacing Chamitoff. The two greeted each other with a bear hug. "Welcome to your new home," Fincke told her.

As soon as everyone embraced, Fincke declared: "On to work. Man, this place just got smaller."

Besides Magnus, Endeavour was delivering thousands of pounds of home improvement gear: an extra bathroom, kitchenette and exercise machine, two more sleeping compartments, and a fancy new recycling system for converting urine and condensation into drinking water.

NASA cannot double the size of the space station crew - currently at three - until all the new equipment is installed, checked out and working properly. The goal is to have six people living permanently on the orbiting outpost by June.

Most of the new stuff is inside a giant cylinder that Endeavour's astronauts will attach to the space station today.

Endeavour and its crew will spend almost two weeks at the space station, a little longer than usual. Four spacewalks will be carried out beginning Tuesday, primarily to clean and lubricate a solar wing-rotating joint that broke down more than a year ago. It's clogged with metal shavings from grinding parts.

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