Spaceflight Now: STS-106 Mission Report

Almost time for Atlantis to pull away from space station

Posted: September 17, 2000

With doorway leading to the Progress ship closed up in the background, the astronauts prepare to egress the Zvezda module. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
The Atlantis astronauts re-sealed the international space station early today, turning out the lights and closing a series of hatches behind them as they wrapped up six days of work to outfit and activate the orbital outpost.

Commander Terrence Wilcutt closed the final hatch shortly after 8 a.m. EDT as the two spacecraft sailed 237 miles above the Pacific Ocean southwest of Los Angeles. Total time spent working inside the space station was five days, nine hours, 21 minutes.

"The station team's really enjoyed working with you guys over the past few days," Stephanie Wilson told Wilcutt from space station control. "You had a lot of work scheduled, you got all that done and you kept asking for more.

"We think you did a fantastic job and we know the Expedition One crew will really appreciate all the effort you put in getting their new home set up. We look forward to seeing you in a few days."

"Thanks a lot, station team," Wilcutt replied. "We did get a lot of work done, but we know that we don't operate along up here. We appreciate all you help and the fine team support you guys provided. Thank you."

After an eight-hour sleep period this afternoon, the crew will be awakened at 7:46 p.m. EDT and if all goes well, Atlantis will undock from the space station at 11:44 p.m. EDT as the two spacecraft pass over Russian ground stations. Landing at the Kennedy Space Center is on tap early Wednesday.

At the Kennedy Space Center, meanwhile, engineers are bracing for high winds and rain from Hurricane Gordon, expected to slam into Florida's west coast later today.

But the predicted ground track passes northwest of the Kennedy Space Center and NASA managers decided early today not to haul the shuttle Discovery off its seaside launch pad and back to the protection of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Shuttle Discovery sits on launch pad 39A after its rollout from the Vehicle Assembly Building earlier this week. Photo: NASA-KSC
Discovery is awaiting launch Oct. 5 on the next space station assembly mission, a high-stakes four-spacewalk flight to install another docking port and an 18,400-pound truss housing four stabilizing gyroscopes.

Ascent flight director Wayne Hale, who also serves as flight director for Atlantis's landing Wednesday, said today it appeared Gordon would spare both Discovery and, hopefully, Atlantis.

"They're getting quite a bit of rain this morning in Florida, they are forecasting flooding in many low lying areas," Hale said. "The storm track is projected to go through North Florida, miss the Cape and they will not have the high winds you would associate with a hurricane.

"They will have some moderate winds and again, the main threat there is the heavy rainfall," he said. "So the decision that was made earlier this morning by the launch director and the Kennedy Space Center officials was not to roll Discovery off the launch pad."

As a precaution, however, the Z1 truss and pressurized mating adaptor No. 3 were loaded into Discovery's cargo bay ahead of schedule. Loose items have been secured and protective weather panels and barriers have been erected around Discovery at pad 39A.

"All the weather protections is in place, so Discovery is well protected at the launch pad," Hale said.

But normal work at the spaceport has been suspended and Hale said it is likely the storm will use up all the contingency time left in Discovery's schedule. At this point, however, Oct. 5 remains the official launch target for the 100th shuttle mission.

"It's really too early to tell," Hale said. "This does probably chew up most of our pad contingency time that we had on the STS-92 launch. So it might work out to be a day or two (late) or it might work out to be no impact to the launch date at all."

The picture is cloudier - literally - for Atlantis, scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center around 3:56 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

"They are basically shut down and are not working at all (today)," Hale said. "We've been told that by midday Monday, they should be back up to full operations.

"The outlook - and of course, this is Sunday morning and we're looking out to Wednesday - the weatherman tells us that following the storm, weather conditions in Florida should be pretty good."

But for the next day or two, Kennedy is not available as a landing site in case of any problem that might force the crew to return to Earth ahead of schedule. Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert is the shuttle's prime landing site until the weather in Florida improves.

"When we come around to Wednesday morning, we'll take a good hard look at the weather in Florida," Hale said. "If at all possible, we'd like to land back in Florida. If the weather's not good in Florida, we'll have a decision to make whether or not we want to go to California or wait a day and try to go back to KSC a day later."

Astronauts float through the packed Zarya module on their way out. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Aboard Atlantis, meanwhile, the crew was winding down a busy day in space.

Astronaut Daniel Burbank said before launch the crew planned to leave the station "in a very specific, pre-planned configuration, with certain hatches closed, with valves in a certain configuration that would be necessary so that the ground, if there were a problem, could command those remotely."

"And we're going to basically be sweeping our way through the space station, kind of an all-hands evolution, tidying everything up and making sure all the cargo that we've got there is secured and ready to go and ready to receive the next mission."

But first, Burbank and his crewmates moved a few final items into the station, including special desserts for the station's first full-time crew. Wilcutt andpilot Scott Altman also fired Atlantis's steering jets 36 times late Saturday to boost the station's altitude by another 3.5 miles.

Their crewmates, meanwhile, tested a high-tech vibrationless exercise treadmill called TVIS that was installed early Saturday and did a bit of housekeeping before leaving. They also bumped up the station's air pressure to 14.9 psi.

If all goes well, Atlantis will undock from the orbital complex at 11:44 p.m. EDT Sunday. Altman plans to guide Atlantis through two loops around the station for a detailed photo survey before departing for good around 1:30 a.m. EDT Monday.

Video vault
The Atlantis crew send greetings and best wishes to the athletes gathered in Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Summer Olympics.
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