Shuttle Endeavour links with space station

November 16, 2008 3:14:08 PM PST
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.

"Can't wait to open the hatch, guys, and welcome you aboard," said the space station's skipper, Mike Fincke.

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 exclaimed. "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.

"International space station is, indeed, ready for an extreme home makeover," Fincke told his shuttle friends. He noted, "It's a big day here today."

Once Endeavour closed to within several hundred feet, Ferguson guided it through a 360-degree backflip so Fincke and another space station resident could take zoom-in photos of all its thermal shielding. The digital images - as many as 300 - will help NASA determine whether Endeavour sustained any damage during liftoff Friday night.

At least two pieces of debris have been spotted so far in launch pictures.

Mission Control radioed up congratulations minutes after the docking.

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

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

Astronaut Sandra Magnus was moving into the space station for a 3½-month stay, replacing Chamitoff.

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 on Monday.

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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NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov


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