Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of seven astronauts successfully docked with the International Space Station on Sunday. They are carrying equipment to expand the station's living quarters.
Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of seven astronauts successfully docked with the International Space Station Sunday, beginning a "home improvement" mission to double the living space on the orbiting complex.
Docking was confirmed at 5:01 pm (2201 GMT), three minutes earlier than scheduled, NASA television said.
The hatches between the two crafts will open at around 2345 GMT, giving time to ensure the airlock is perfectly airtight, NASA said, and ISS residents will welcome their terrestrial visitors.
Endeavour launched on Friday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a 15-day mission to expand the living quarters of the orbiting space station and equip it with a new ovens, a refrigerator and a new toilet.
Before the two crafts linked up, the Endeavour, piloted by commander Chris Ferguson, performed a backflip so astronauts aboard the station could photograph the heat shield for closer analysis.
On Saturday, crew members used the shuttle's robotic arm and an attached boom extension to check the spacecraft's underside, nose cap and leading edges of the wings as well as hard to reach surfaces.
The five-hour examination yielded a 30 by 45 centimeter (12 by 18 inches) portion of missing heat tiles that apparently ripped off during launch, said NASA engineers back on earth who viewed the images sent by the shuttle.
The gap in the heat shield, however, was considered "of no great concern since it is not an area that experiences high heat during reentry," NASA said in a statement.
The task of the Endeavour, which launched nearly 10 years to the day since a shuttle crew first began constructing the ISS on November 20, 1998, will be to repair the station's power-generating solar arrays and expand its living quarters to accommodate bigger crews.
"This mission is all about home improvement," Ferguson said this week during launch preparations. "Home improvement inside and outside the station."
It will be the most extreme home makeover ever attempted by NASA astronauts. The additions will include two new sleeping quarters, exercise equipment, a second toilet, two new ovens to heat food, a refrigerator for food and drinks, a freezer and an oven for scientific experiments.
Endeavour is carrying 14.5 tonnes of material and equipment to the Italian module Leonardo, allowing for the ISS crew to expand from three to six in 2009.
As one NASA expert described it on NASA Television shortly after the launch, the upgrades will effectively turn the ISS into "a five-bedroom two-bath house with a kitchen, and support six residents on a continuing basis."
The astronauts also will be installing a system that can turn urine back into drinking water. The 250-million-dollar upgrade will allow enough recycling for a six-person ISS crew to sharply reduce the amount of water that has to be flown up from Earth.
Four planned spacewalks during the mission will focus on servicing the station's solar wings, mainly the large joints that allow the apparatus to rotate to track the sun.
The first spacewalk begins on the fifth day of the mission.
The 27th shuttle flight to the orbiting space station and the fourth and final shuttle mission for 2008 consists of a crew of five men and two women, all Americans.
While docked to the ISS, the Endeavour astronauts and ISS crew will mark the 10th anniversary of the International Space Station, a multi-billion-dollar collaborative effort between the space agencies of Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Endeavour's crew includes commander Ferguson, 47, co-pilot Eric Boe, 44, and five other mission specialists including Sandra Magnus, 44.
She will replace compatriot Greg Chamitoff as ISS Expedition 18 flight engineer. Chamitoff is scheduled to return to Earth on Endeavour in late November while Magnus is to stay on through February 2009.
Endeavour's mission is scheduled to end November 29, though NASA has said the flight could well be extended a day.
Date created : 2008-11-16