Atlantis docks for last time at space station

May 16th, 2010 - 11:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 16 (DPA) The Atlantis shuttle docked Sunday on its last mission to the space station after some tense hours about dodging a piece of orbiting debris.
NASA officials debated through Saturday about whether to reposition the International Space Station (ISS) to avoid a speeding piece of space junk.

But they ultimately decided that updated tracking information “showed the object will remain a safe distance away and the manoeuvre is not necessary.”

Atlantis blasted off Friday from Cape Canaveral on its farewell mission after 25 years of service. Only two more shuttle flights remain - Endeavour and Discovery.

On its way to the station, the Atlantis crew had to do a make-shift examination of its heat shield for damages after a cable snagged on the 17-metre boom normally used for the check. Instead, a laser camera and a digital camera mounted near the end of the boom were used, NASA said.

Before docking at the ISS, Atlantis performed a pirouette for the space station cameras to make one final check of the integrity of the shield.

The shield checks were started after the 2003 disintegration of the Columbia shuttle as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. The explosion was blamed on nicks in the heat shield caused by tumbling insulation that peeled off the fuel tanks during lift-off.

All seven Columbia astronauts perished. Among them was Indian-origin American Kalpana Chawla.

The first Atlantis spacewalk is set for Monday. Astronauts Steve Bowen and Garrett Reisman will install a spare space-to-ground antenna and then install a tool platform on the Dextre robotic arm.

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