Atlantis Docks With Space Station

Sunday, September 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) — Flying without one of its navigational eyes, the space shuttle Atlantis sped alongside and latched onto the growing international space station early Sunday.

Cmdr. Terrence Wilcutt and co-pilot Scott Altman sidled Atlantis up to the station for the linkup, which occurred some 230 miles above Kazakstan. The duo accomplished the docking with only one of two star trackers working, a handicap which required a few extra roll maneuvers.

Even with the flight complexities created by the failed star tracker, which broke down Friday, Wilcutt and Altman were able to save fuel toward an extra day in orbit. Shuttle managers want to stretch the mission from 11 days to 12, a luxury that can only be afforded by saving power and fuel.

``Congratulations on a fine rendezvous and docking,'' Mission Control told the crew once the spacecraft were latched together. ``That was letter-perfect. Great to watch.''

Shortly after the docking, Wilcutt popped the space station's outer hatch to capture an air sample. NASA scientists were to analyze it back on Earth, but an adapter Wilcutt was to use to grab the sample malfunctioned and station managers chose to forgo the task, considered non-critical.

Ground controllers had already fired up the heaters inside the U.S. segment of the station in advance of Wilcutt's brief foray, and flipped on scrubbers to clean the air inside before Atlantis' crew of five astronauts and two cosmonauts heads back inside late Monday.

Before then, astronaut Edward Lu and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko have several exterior tasks to complete during a 6 1/2 hour spacewalk. The pair will attempt the longest tethered spacewalk in NASA's history, venturing 110 feet along the station to connect power and data cables between the two Russian segments, Zvezda and Zarya. They'll also install a 6 1/2 -foot boom for an instrument that measures Earth's magnetic field.

Once that's done, the crew can look forward to moving day — actually about five days of hauling and stowing thousand of pounds of gear aboard the still-uninhabited space station.

The orbiting complex is twice as large as it was when astronauts last visited in May, thanks to the July arrival of the Russian service module Zvezda. But all that new space is largely empty, since the module had to be launched without most its contents because of its heft.

Nonetheless, station managers were thrilled to take a good look at the station and its latest addition, which arrived two years late and delayed an ambitious construction schedule.

``It was really great to see that the station has changed since the last time we were there,'' station flight director Mark Ferring said. ``The assembly is really picking up and it's really exciting for us to see.''

Atlantis' crew will also unload an unmanned Russian supply ship which docked with the station last month. The equipment brought up by both spacecraft is for the station's first permanent residents, who are due in their new home in November.