Space Shuttle Atlantis and its five astronauts continue to close in on the International Space Station (ISS), where three other spacefarers await their arrival late this morning and the delivery of a new addition to their home.
With the U.S. Destiny laboratory module in its cargo hold, Atlantis was only 230 statute miles from the Station at the time Atlantis' astronauts were awakened just after 4 a.m. Central time to the sounds of "Who Let the Dogs Out", played in honor of Commander Ken Cockrell, who previously flew on a Shuttle mission with astronauts dubbed the "Dog Crew".
Shortly after 6 this morning, Cockrell and Pilot Mark Polansky will move into their final rendezvous procedures, with a final critical engine firing of Atlantis' jets planned for 8:24 a.m. with the Shuttle only 9 miles behind the Station.
Cockrell will take over manual control of Atlantis' approach about 9:45 a.m., when the Shuttle arrives about 1000 feet below the ISS. With the help of Polansky and Mission Specialists Marsha Ivins, Tom Jones and Robert Curbeam, Cockrell will inch Atlantis toward the downward-facing docking port on the Station's Unity module.
Atlantis is scheduled to link up with the international outpost at 10:50 a.m. Central time as the two craft fly over the Western Pacific northeast of New Guinea. About ninety minutes later, hatches will swing open between Atlantis and the ISS, enabling the two crews to greet each other and transfer critical gear before they are closed again late today in preparation for the first of three planned spacewalks tomorrow by Jones and Curbeam to help in the installation and hookup of Destiny on the Station.
Expedition One Commander Bill Shepherd, Pilot Yuri Gidzenko and Flight Engineer Sergei Krikalev were awakened a short time after Atlantis' crew, to finish tidying up their home prior to Atlantis' arrival. Now in their 101st day in orbit and their 99th day aboard the Station, the Expedition One crewmembers will videotape Atlantis' arrival and assist Atlantis' astronauts in the transfer of the initial cache of items for the remainder of their four-month stay on orbit. Atlantis' astronauts are delivering water, supplies, family gifts and DVD movies to Shepherd, Gidzenko and Krikalev for entertainment on the weekends.
Atlantis is currently orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 238 statute miles, completing an orbit around the Earth every 90 minutes. All of its systems are functioning in excellent shape.
A post-docking Mission Status Briefing will be held at 3 p.m. Central time this afternoon on NASA Television. The next STS-98 Mission Status Report will be issued at 7 p.m., or sooner, if developments warrant.
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