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February 8, 2008

Big Weekend in Orbit

Posted: 02:41 PM ET

Astronauts aboard the shuttle Atlantis and the crew of the International Space Station are gearing up for a blockbuster weekend in space.

Events kick off Saturday morning with Atlantis firing it's jets to rendezvous with the ISS, approaching from underneath.  Commander Steve Frick will be at the controls of the shuttle, and at a point about 600 feet below the station he will pause the approach and execute what's called the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, or RPM, which is essentially a back-flip designed to expose the underbelly of the orbiter to the station so that the Expedition 16 crew can shoot photographs of the tiles on Atlantis' belly - looking for signs of any damage that might have occurred during launch and ascent.  The back-flip is scheduled for 11:23am Eastern time, and the whole 360 degree rotation takes about 9 minutes.   The TV pictures of the RPM are truly spectacular, and more than worth checking out.

About an hour later, the shuttle will dock to the station, and a little more than an hour after that the hatches will open and the two crews will greet each other.   It will be the beginning of the end of his tour of duty for station astronaut Dan Tani, who will be replaced by arriving European astronaut Leo Eyharts.

Sunday is arguably the highpoint of the mission.  Using the space station's robotic arm, astronauts will unberth the European Columbus laboratory from Altantis' cargo bay and install it on the side of the U.S. Harmony node.    The crew members will wait until Monday, though, before they open the hatch and go inside.

Though 16 nations are part of the International Space Station partnership, up until now all the hardware on orbit has been supplied by the U.S. and Russia – with Canada contributing the station robotic arm.    Now that the European module is up, it will be Japan's turn next month.  The STS-123 crew, flying aboard the shuttle Endeavour, are scheduled to deliver the first of several Japanese components to the growing orbiting outpost.

- Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Tech

Filed under: NASA

Share this on:   February 8th, 2008 7:51 pm ET

With the successful installation of the European lab, a whole continent will be energized about space exploration.

Abiri   February 9th, 2008 12:40 pm ET

What is the orientation (orbital direction) of atlantis to the earth. Is it facing or backing the earth?

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