Atlantis docks with station
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: September 11, 2006
Commander Brent Jett guided the shuttle Atlantis to a gentle docking with the international space station today after a spectacular end-over-end flip across Africa, Italy and the Balkans to let the lab crew photograph the spaceplane's heat shield.
While the rotational pitch maneuver is a now-standard part of every post-Columbia flight, the lighting today was ideal and video beamed down from the space station provided crystal clear views of the orbiter as it slowly pirouetted some 600 feet below against the backdrop of northern Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.
The shuttle's underbelly looked pristine, but engineers will have to wait for the station crew to downlink high resolution digital still images to get the clarity needed to assess the health of the tiles on the belly of the shuttle.
After completing the RPM, Jett guided Atlantis in a slow loop up to a point about 400 feet directly in front of the station with the shuttle's nose pointing toward deep space and its open payload bay toward the lab complex.
From there, flying Atlantis from the aft flight deck, Jett manually guided the shuttle to a docking at 6:48 a.m. as the two spacecraft sailed 220 miles above the south Pacific Ocean west of Chile. Hatch opening was expected about an hour later.
For most shuttle flights, docking would be the highlight of the day. But for Atlantis' crew, there will be no time for celebration. Dan Burbank will use the shuttle's robot arm later this morning to pull the $372 million P3/P4 solar array truss from Atlantis' cargo bay.
After maneuvering the 45-foot-long truss to a point out over the left wing of the shuttle, Burbank plans to hand it off to Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean, operating the station's more powerful Canadarm 2 space crane.
Canadarm 2, anchored to work site 7 on the left end of the station's unfinished solar array truss, will hold the new P3/P4 truss segments in place overnight before installation Tuesday.
The official crew patch for the STS-115 mission of space shuttle Atlantis to resume orbital construction of the International Space Station.
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