Space Shuttle Endeavor Readies for Station Linkup
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Space shuttle Endeavour closed in for a 220-mile-high linkup with the international space station on Sunday, hauling gear for a huge home makeover that will allow twice as many astronauts to live up there beginning next year.
"International space station is, indeed, ready for an extreme home makeover, so get here when you do and we'll be sure to open the door," the station's skipper, Mike Fincke, radioed to the shuttle astronauts.
Endeavour's commander, Christopher Ferguson, got some good news as he prepared for the final stage of the rendezvous. The shuttle's main radio antenna was working fine as a radar navigation device, despite earlier trouble.
Before steering Endeavour toward a late-afternoon docking, Ferguson had to guide it through a 360-degree backflip so Fincke and another space station resident could take zoom-in digital pictures of the approaching shuttle. The images — as many as 300 — will help NASA determine whether Endeavour sustained any damage during liftoff Friday night.
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At least two pieces of debris have been spotted so far in launch pictures.
Just before Endeavour began its final approach from eight miles out, Fincke and his crew captured striking video of it and the moon, which was also prominent in many of the launch-night photos.
The first priority for the 10 astronauts, once united, was a crew member swap.
Astronaut Sandra Magnus was moving into the space station for a 3 1/2-month stay, while Gregory Chamitoff was leaving after six months in orbit.
Besides Magnus, Endeavour was delivering thousands of pounds of home improvement gear: an extra bathroom, kitchenette and exercise machine, two more sleeping compartments, and a fancy new recycling system for converting urine and condensation into drinking water.
NASA cannot double the size of the space station crew — currently at three — until all the new equipment is installed, checked out and working properly. The goal is to have six people living permanently on the orbiting outpost by June.
Most of the new stuff is inside a giant cylinder that Endeavour's astronauts will attach to the space station on Monday.
Endeavour and its crew will spend almost two weeks at the space station, a little longer than usual. Four spacewalks will be carried out beginning Tuesday, primarily to clean and lubricate a solar wing-rotating joint that broke down more than a year ago. It's clogged with metal shavings from grinding parts.