Space Shuttle Atlantis continues to close in on the International Space Station for today’s docking at 3:38 p.m. EDT. Atlantis’ arrival will set the stage for the next phase of the station’s on-orbit construction and a change in the Expedition 15 crew.
The STS-117 crew is scheduled to begin rendezvous operations this morning at 10:38. Commander Rick Sturckow and Pilot Lee Archambault will fire Atlantis’ engines at 1 p.m. to refine the approach to the station.
About an hour before docking, Sturckow and Archambault will guide the shuttle through a back-flip maneuver that will allow the Expedition 15 crew to photograph the shuttle’s protective heat-resistant tiles. The imagery will be sent to engineers on Earth for analysis.
After Atlantis docks, the shuttle and station crews will conduct pressure and leak checks before the hatches between the spacecraft open at 4:58. The two crews will greet each other and quickly begin joint operations.
One of the first major tasks is the station crew rotation. STS-117 Mission Specialist Clayton Anderson will switch places with Expedition 15 Flight Engineer Suni Williams, who will be wrapping up a six-month tour of duty as an Expedition crew member. Anderson is scheduled to stay on the station until he returns to Earth with STS-120 later this year.
Also, preparations will begin today for Monday’s installation of the Starboard 3 and 4 (S3/S4) truss segment and the first of three scheduled STS-117 spacewalks. The crews will use the shuttle robotic arm to lift the S3/S4 out of Atlantis’ payload bay and hand it off to the station arm.
The S3/S4 is scheduled to be attached to the station at 11:08 a.m. Monday. Then, STS-117 Mission Specialists John “Danny” Olivas and Jim Reilly will make connections between the station and the new truss segment during the spacewalk, which is set to kick off at 2:53 p.m.
On Saturday, the crew used Atlantis’ robotic arm and an attached boom extension to check the spacecraft’s underside, nose cap and leading edges of the wings as well as hard to reach shuttle surfaces. The robotic arm cameras took a closer look at an area of insulation blanket on the port orbital maneuvering system pod that pulled away from adjacent thermal tiles. Engineers are analyzing the imagery. Olivas will take additional photographs of the area this morning.