Space shuttle performs backflip before docking with space station
Destined for the International Space Station, space shuttle Endeavour roars off the launch pad into the night sky on Tuesday, March 11, 2008. (Photo: Jim Grossmann/NASA)
After a spectacular nighttime launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral, space shuttle Endeavour linked up with the International Space Station (ISS) late Wednesday.
"Endeavour arriving," announced space station commander Peggy Whitson, as she rung a ceremonial bell inside the ISS to signal the shuttle crew's arrival.
"Peggy, that's the sweetest bell I've ever heard," shuttle commander Dominic Gorie responded.
Endeavour's seven-member crew shared hugs and handshakes with their three ISS colleagues as the two spacecrafts floated more than 200 miles above Singapore.
Before docking with the ISS, however, Endeavour performed some safety acrobatics. Commander Gorie guided the shuttle through a 360-degree backflip to allow the space station crew to take pictures of the shuttle from nose to tail.
NASA Engineers will study the photos to see whether the shuttle suffered any damage during Tuesday's nighttime launch. This safety procedure was put into place after the space shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003, when the craft exploded on its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
Engineers are particularly curious about damage to Endeavour's nose. Something, perhaps a bird, may have hit the shuttle a few seconds after liftoff.
Mike Moses, the lead shuttle flight director for NASA, told reporters that a first look at data from a scan of Endeavour's heat shield showed nothing to worry about, however. "Everything looked really good," he said. Moses said that the crew can perform a second and more detailed inspection, if needed. See footage of the shuttle's backflip at NASA's video gallery.
New Additions to ISS
Part of Endeavour's 16-day mission is to help the ISS's newest crew member get settled in. Dextre, short for dexterous or "skilled with one's hands," is a giant two-armed robot from Canada.
Dextre—pronounced like Dexter—will assist astronauts on space walks and hopefully take over some of the dangerous outdoor chores that humans currently handle.
|Illustration of Canadian robot "Dextre." (Image courtesty NASA)|
Unloading the robot's parts was the first task for space walkers Richard Linnehan and Garrett Reisman, who will begin assembling the robot late tonight. Dextre will join the space station's robot arm, which has been in orbit for seven years and was also built by Canada.
Tonight's space walk is the first of five planned for Endeavour's outer-space construction project—the most space walks ever attempted. The 16-day trip is also the longest space station mission by a shuttle.
In addition to assembling the Canadian robot, Endeavour also delivered the first piece of Japan's new space station lab, named Kibo, which is the Japanese word for "hope. " Kibo will join the European Space Agency (ESA) lab, Columbus, which space shuttle Atlantis delivered in February.
Leopold Eyharts, who arrived at the space station aboard the shuttle Atlantis in February, is scheduled to return to Earth with the Endeavour crew on March 26. Garrett Reisman will take his place aboard the ISS.