November 17, 2008

Endeavor Docks Successfully At International Space Station

Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with the International Space Station on Sunday carrying a crew of seven astronauts with a mission to update the station's living quarters.

The shuttle carried 14,000 pounds of materials to allow the station to accommodate six crewmembers instead of the current three.

"Can't wait to open the hatch, guys, and welcome you aboard," said station commander Mike Fincke. "International Space Station is indeed ready for extreme home makeover."

Astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who has been living on the space station for almost six months, will return to Earth with Endeavor.

Commander Christopher Ferguson guided the shuttle to a smooth docking after a successful 360-degree backflip so Fincke and another space station resident could take zoom-in photos of all its thermal shielding.

Mission Control congratulated the crew 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 digital images will help NASA determine whether Endeavour sustained any damage during liftoff Friday night.

At least two signs of debris damage were spotted during the launch on Friday night, sparking fears that a narrow strip of thermal blanket may have been torn off.

The photographic inspections are standard for NASA since the Columbia disaster of 2003, when debris from the external tank struck the shuttle, damaging the heat shield and causing its destruction as it tried to re-enter the atmosphere. All seven crewmembers died.

Endeavor's 15-day flight mission will include four spacewalks in order to repair joint damage on the ISS's solar arrays.

NASA crewmembers have dubbed the mission Extreme Home Improvements as the newly arrived crew is installing new quarters, with an additional bathroom and a galley.

Additional updates include two new sleeping compartments, more exercise gear and a second toilet as NASA plans to double the station's crew size as early as May.

Endeavour, making its fourth mission of the year, and its crew are due to land back at Kennedy on November 30.

Only 10 more shuttle flights are left before the fleet is retired in 2010.


Image Caption: Not long after the opening of the payload bay doors on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, crewmembers were able to get their first looks at cargo and hardware located in the bay, from windows on the aft flight deck. Visible in the frame are the Canadian-built remote manipulator system's robot arm, the docking system which will have a major role in the following day's docking with the International Space Station, and the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Leonardo en route to its fifth visit to the orbital outpost. (NASA)


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