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Shuttle Astronauts Get Ready For ISS Rendezvous

March 17, 2009

The astronauts on space shuttle Discovery are primed for rendezvous and docking operations that will link their ship to the International Space Station this afternoon and deliver a new crew member.

The crew was awakened at 8:44 a.m. CDT with “Radio Exercise,” performed by the Tokyo Broadcast Children’s Choir. The song traditionally accompanies exercise for Japanese schoolchildren, and was played for astronaut Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who’s to become his nation’s first long-duration space traveler later today.

By 10:38 a.m., shuttle Commander Lee Archambault, Pilot Tony Antonelli and Mission Specialist John Phillips will step into the rendezvous timeline for a series of engine firings to refine the orbiter’s pursuit of the station. The terminal initiation burn of Discovery’s engines is scheduled for 1:35 p.m., setting the shuttle on course to close the last eight miles to the station over the subsequent orbit.

Discovery should arrive at a point 1,000 feet below the station at 3 p.m., when Armchambault will begin manually flying the shuttle. He’ll pause 600 feet away to perform the rendezvous pitch maneuver, a backflip that points Discovery’s belly toward the station so Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke and Flight Engineer Sandra Magnus can document the condition of the shuttle’s heat protection tiles with up to 300 digital photos.

Archambault will guide the shuttle to a point 400 feet directly in front of the station, then begin a slow final approach. Discovery is expected to dock with the International Space Station at 4:12 p.m. CDT, as the two vehicles fly above Jakarta, Indonesia.

After hatch opening and a safety briefing, the crews will begin moving supplies and equipment into the station. Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, Steve Swanson and Richard Arnold will move spacesuits and spacewalking tools into the Quest airlock, and Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov will help Wakata install his custom-fitted seat liner in the Soyuz vehicle. Once that’s complete, Wakata officially becomes a member of the station crew and Magnus transfers to the shuttle after 121 days as a member of Expedition 18.

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