With the 16-ton, bus-sized Destiny laboratory now virtually weightless in its cargo bay, the Space Shuttle Atlantis today drew ever closer to Destiny's permanent home, the International Space Station, and the five shuttle astronauts prepared for the complex construction job to come.
More than two thousand miles ahead, the three-member space station crew -- passing their 100th day in space - watched early this morning as ground controllers commanded a Progress cargo craft to undock from the outpost, clearing the way for Atlantis' arrival. A few hours after the undocking, the Progress craft, filled with trash, descended into the atmosphere and was destroyed. Atlantis is planned to dock with the station at about 10:50 a.m. Central Friday.
Aboard Atlantis, astronauts Tom Jones and Bob Curbeam checked out the spacesuits they will wear for three spacewalks during the next week to finalize connections between the new laboratory and the station. The crew found the suits in good shape, but noted a preliminary indication of a possible oxygen tank leak in a third, spare spacesuit aboard the shuttle. Later, more precise checks of the spare suit showed that the preliminary finding was likely false. The spare suit is usable as well if needed. As suit checks were conducted on the lower deck of Atlantis, on the upper deck Astronaut Marsha Ivins powered up the shuttle's robotic arm and surveyed the cargo bay, finding everything in good shape. The arm will be used to lift the Destiny lab out of the shuttle bay on Saturday and maneuver it into position to attach to the station. Ivins also checked alignment aids and cameras that she will use to precisely maneuver the 28-foot long module.
Periodically, Commander Ken Cockrell and Polansky fired Atlantis' thrusters to adjust the rate at which the shuttle is closing in on the International Space Station, maintaining a course toward Friday's docking. At present, Atlantis is about 950 statute miles behind the station, moving about 110 miles closer with each orbit of Earth. Atlantis is in a 227 by 192 statute mile orbit. The International Space Station is in a 229 by 214 statute mile orbit. Atlantis and the station crew will go to sleep at 8:13 p.m. Central today. Atlantis' crew will awaken at 4:13 a.m. Friday, and the station crew will awaken at 4:43 a.m.
Both spacecraft are in excellent condition, ready for tomorrow's combined activities. The final phase of the rendezvous will begin with a terminal intercept engine firing by Atlantis at 8:24 a.m. Central, when the shuttle is about nine statute miles behind the station. Cockrell will take manual control of Atlantis' approach to the station at about 9:45 a.m., about a half-mile from the complex. After the 10:50 a.m. docking, the two crews will perform leak checks and open hatches between the spacecraft at 12:43 p.m. The Johnson Space Center newsroom will close at 9 p.m. and open at 4 a.m. Friday. The next Mission Status Report will be issued at 7 a.m. Central.
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