Having steadily caught up to the International Space Station (ISS), space shuttle Endeavour will make its final docking with the orbiting complex at 5:16 a.m. CDT on Wednesday.
Endeavour's six astronauts were awakened to begin preparations for the rendezvous at 9:56 p.m. Tuesday to the song "Drops of Jupiter" by the band Train, played for pilot Greg H. "Box" Johnson.
"I love that song and I love being in space!" exclaimed Johnson from on board Endeavour, adding his thanks and birthday wishes for his teenage son Matt, who he credited with choosing the song. "I want to say that's a perfect way to start an exciting rendezvous day!"
Johnson will assist commander Mark Kelly as he flies Endeavour through its final rendezvous to a docking with the space station.
The terminal initiation burn, an engine firing that will give Endeavour one last big push toward the ISS, is scheduled to take place at 2:37 a.m. That should bring the shuttle to a point 600 feet below the station at 4:14 a.m., at which point Kelly will fly Endeavour through a back flip for the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver.
As he does, ISS Expedition 27 flight engineers Paolo Nespoli and Cady Coleman will be stationed at the windows of the Zvezda service module, armed with 800- and 400-mm lens cameras, with which to photograph Endeavour's heat shield. The photos will be sent down to the ground for analysis of any damage to the shuttle.
Following the flip, Kelly will bring Endeavour to a point 310 feet directly in front of the ISS, and then allow the station to catch up with it for docking.
During the rendezvous and docking, mission specialist Drew Feustel will oversee the Sensor Test for Orion Rel-nav Risk Mitigation, or STORRM, equipment. The system is flying on board Endeavour to examine sensor technologies that could make it easier for future space vehicles to dock to the station.
Once docked together and after a series of leak checks, the crews of the two spacecraft should be able to open the hatches between them at 7:36 a.m.
The combined crew of 12 will begin almost 12 days of joint operations while the two vehicles are docked, including the installation of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and four spacewalks.
Beginning at 8:16 a.m., they will operate the shuttle and station’s robotic arms to transfer the spare parts carrier, Express Logistics Carrier 3, from the shuttle to installation on the exterior of the station. Among items on the platform are a spare ammonia tank, a high-pressure oxygen tank, two S-band antennas and 10 circuit breakers.
At 2:38 a.m. CDT, Endeavour performed a 10-second burn using its left orbital maneuvering system engine. Called the terminal initiation burn, the firing increased the shuttle's rate of approach to the space station by 5.7 miles per hour (8.4 feet per second).
The burn, which occurred when the shuttle was about nine miles from the space station, sets up Endeavour's rendezvous with the orbiting lab in the next orbit and a half, supporting a docking time of 5:16 a.m. CDT.
With space shuttle Endeavour at a distance of about 600 feet below the International Space Station, STS-134 commander Mark Kelly began the rendezvous pitch maneuver at 4:15 a.m. CDT, a slow "back flip" enabling the station crew members to photograph the orbiter's thermal protection system through the windows of the Zvezda service module.
Using cameras with 800- and 400-mm lenses, Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev and flight engineers Paolo Nespoli and Cady Coleman captured photos of Endeavour's upper and lower surfaces. Their photos will be downlinked to Mission Control in Houston, Texas for evaluation to determine whether the heat shield sustained any damage during launch.
With commander Mark Kelly in control, space shuttle Endeavour docked for its last time at the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:14 a.m. CDT Wednesday as the two vehicles orbited 220 miles up above and east of Chile.
"Houston and station, capture is confirmed," STS-134 pilot Greg H. "Box" Johnson radioed.
"Endeavour arriving," replied ISS flight engineer Paolo Nespoli, who rang the ship's bell following tradition.
The 36th visit by a shuttle to the ISS, Endeavour's arrival begins almost 12 days of joint mission operations between the STS-134 and Expedition 27 crew members. It is expected to take about two hours for the hatches between the spacecraft to be opened.
Space station commander Dmitry Kondratyev and flight engineers Paolo Nespoli, Cady Coleman, Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and Ron Garan will welcome the shuttle crew onboard and then brief them on safety procedures before beginning their first activities together.
This was Endeavour's 12th and final docking with the International Space Station. Its first docking back in December 1998 was also the birth of the station itself, as Endeavour mated Russia's Zarya functional cargo block (FGB) with the U.S.-built Unity Node 1.
The hatches between Discovery and the International Space Station were opened at 6:38 a.m. CST, beginning almost 12 days of joint ops between the six STS-134 astronauts and the six ISS Expedition 27 crewmates.
Following a safety briefing, the 12 members of the joint crew will set to work on their first tasks. Using the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm, they will move the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier-3 from Endeavour's cargo bay and attach it to the port side of the space station's truss. There it will be used to store spare parts, including an ammonia tank, a high-pressure oxygen tank, two S-band antennas and 10 circuit breakers that launched with it.
Crew members will also bring spacesuits and spacewalk equipment over from the shuttle's middeck to the station's Quest airlock to begin setting up for the mission's first spacewalk, scheduled for Friday.
The crew of 12 will be together until May 23, when station crew members Dmitry Kondratyev, Cady Coleman, and Paolo Nespoli will board Soyuz TMA-20, undock and return home to Earth. Before departing, Kondratyev will hand over command of the station to cosmonaut Andrey Borisenko.
The fourth and last Expedite the Processing of Experiments to the Space Station (ExPRESS) Logistics Carrier (ELC), ELC-3, was handed off from space shuttle Endeavour's Canadarm to the International Space Station's Canadarm2 and attached to the left side of the station's truss structure at 10:18 a.m. CDT on Wednesday.
STS-134 mission specialists Mike Fincke and Roberto Vittori used the shuttle robotic arm to lift the ELC-3 from Endeavour's payload bay and hand it off to the station's arm, operated by pilot Greg H. "Box" Johnson and mission specialist Greg Chamitoff.
Johnson and Chamitoff then used the Canadarm2 to install the carrier on the space station's port 3 truss segment.
Designed as a "parking place" for spare parts, ELC-3 holds an ammonia coolant tank, a high pressure gas tank to support the U.S. Quest airlock, a cargo transport container, two S-band antenna assemblies and a spare arm for DEXTRE, the Canadian-built robot or Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator.
As ELC3 was being moved outside, Fincke and fellow spacewalker Drew Feustel transferred the spacesuits that they and Chamitoff will use during the four STS-134 scheduled spacewalks from Endeavour into the station. Oxygen and other cargo from the orbiter were also moved to the orbiting laboratory.
Following a staggered sleep schedule to support the later undockings by Soyuz TMA-20 and Endeavour, station flight engineer Ron Garan went to sleep at 2:26 p.m., followed 30 minutes later by Endeavour's crew. The remaining station crew members retired for the day at about 5:30 p.m.
Photographs taken of Endeavour's underbelly as it approached a docking with the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday have revealed several "dings" to the shuttle's heat shield tiles.
Mission managers are waiting on further analysis of the damaged tiles to be completed before deciding if additional inspections are needed later in the STS-134 mission.
"This is not cause for alarm, this is not cause for any concern," said LeRoy Cain, mission management team chair. "We haven't done enough work yet to be able to determine whether there's any more information or assessment we need. We are in the throes of doing that work right now."
Seven dings or gouges were noted, all along the right side of the vehicle, but only three are "areas of interest."
"These are the three areas that are an example of some areas where the team wants to do some more work, some more assessment," said Cain.
Two of the three dinged tiles are located on or near the right landing gear door. The third crosses the hinge line of the right-side inboard elevon and is the largest at about 6.5 inches wide.
Engineers are assessing the depth of the gouges compared to how thick the damaged tiles are and what type of heating they are expected to see during reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.
"I am not concerned, myself," said Cain. "And the team, we are certainly not alarmed by what we're seeing here. We undertand the work we need to go do and we are very much in the midst of doing that work."
Time has been set aside early on Saturday morning (Flight Day 6) should focused inspections using the shuttle's robotic arm and its sensor boom extension be needed to gather more data about the damaged tiles.