STS-126/ULF2 MISSION ARCHIVE (FINAL)
Updated: 11/30/08

By William Harwood
CBS News/Kennedy Space Center

The following copy originally was posted on the Current Mission space page at http://cbsnews.com/network/news/space/current.html.

Comments, suggestions and corrections welcome!

TABLE OF CONTENTS


04:35 PM, 11/30/08, Update: Endeavour glides to smooth California touchdown (UPDATED at 6:40 p.m. with Ferguson quotes from runway)

The space shuttle Endeavour dropped out of a cloudless blue sky and settled to a tire-smoking touchdown on runway 4L at California's Edwards Air Force Base to wrap up a marathon space station assembly and maintenance mission.

With commander Christopher Ferguson and pilot Eric Boe at the controls, the black-and-white spaceplane touched down at 4:25:06 p.m. after an hour-long descent from orbit.

Barreling down the runway at more than 200 mph, Boe released a braking parachute, Ferguson dropped the nose gear to the runway and Endeavour rolled to a stop on the runway centerline a few moments later.

"Wheels stopped, Houston" Ferguson radioed.

"Copy, wheels stopped, Endeavour," replied Alan Poindexter from the Johnson Space Center. "Welcome back. It was a great way to finish a fantastic flight, Fergie."

"And we're happy to be here in California."

The shuttle pilots used temporary runway 4 because the 15,000-foot-long, 300-foot-wide runway normally used for shuttle landings was not available due to recent maintenance. While the temporary runway is 3,000 feet shorter and 100 feet narrower than the normally used landing strip, Ferguson had no problems.

"We have about 800 feet of it left, so we didn't quite use it all," Ferguson joked.

Aboard the international space station, Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke, flight engineer Yury Lonchakov and Sandra Magnus watched the landing on television beamed up from Houston. Fincke praised the shuttle skipper for "a picture-perfect landing."

"I'd like to extend congratulatons to the crew of Endeavour and to the entire team that made that incredible home makeover mission possible," he said. "Wow, what a great crew and what a great team we have. We're really proud of everyone."

Mission duration was 15 days 20 hours 29 minutes and 37 seconds, covering some 6.6 million miles through 250 complete orbits since blastoff Nov. 14 from the Kennedy Space Center.

Ferguson, Boe, Donald Pettit, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen, Robert "Shane" Kimbrough and returning space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff planned to fly back to Houston on Monday.

Chamitoff was launched to the space station May 31, joining the Expedition 17 crew and later, Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov. He was replaced by Magnus, who took off with Endeavour's crew and remained behind aboard the station when the shuttle undocked Friday.

To ease his re-adaptation to gravity after six months in space, Chamitoff made the trip home resting on his back in a recumbent seat set up on the shuttle's lower deck. Flight surgeons were standing by to assist as needed. Asked what he was looking forward to after seeing his family again, he said "Diet Coke, pizza and Rocky Road ice cream."

"I just cannot believe six months have gone by," Chamitoff said last week. "I regret having to leave and not see the end of Expedition 18. ... And of course, I'm really happy because I'm really looking forward to seeing my family. ... All my thoughts are there now."

About two hours after landing, Ferguson, Boe, Bowen and Kimbrough inspected the shuttle on the runway. Chamitoff, Stefanyshyn-Piper and Pettit did not join them, but Ferguson said all three are "doing just fine."

"Greg Chamitoff, of course, is a six-month space flier and it takes just a little bit longer for them to re-acclimate to the gravity and re-adapt to being on Earth again. Don Pettit and Heide Piper are doing just fine as well. They're in keeping a good eye on Greg.

"We just thought we'd take advantage of the beautiful weather to come out here and enjoy this gorgeous orbiter, which seems to have fared entry pretty well."

NASA managers had hoped to bring Endeavour down at the Kennedy Space Center, but high crosswinds and low clouds forced entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney to wave off two back-to-back landing opportunities. He briefly held open the option of keeping the crew in space for another Florida landing try Monday. But when forecasters concluded there was little chance for any major improvement, Lunney cleared the crew to head for California instead.

LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, said a diversion to California would have no major impact on NASA's processing schedule and manifest. But it will take a week or more to get the shuttle back to Florida.

Despite the unplanned diversion to Edwards, NASA managers said the flight was a near-total success, setting the stage for the agency to boost the station's crew size from three to six next May as planned.

Over the course of a marathon mission, the astronauts delivered more than 16,000 pounds of equipment and supplies, including two 1,700-pound water reprocessing racks, a new toilet, a new galley, a refrigerator, a combustion experiment rack and two sleep stations to give future astronauts a bit of privacy.

The water recycling equipment is critical to NASA's long-range plans, capable of converting condensate and urine to ultra-pure water for drinking, meal preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation. Vibration problems with a centrifuge in the urine processor's distillation assembly caused initial start-up problems, but the astronauts were able to resolve the issue by removing rubber vibration dampers.

More than a gallon of processed urine and condensate were sent home aboard Endeavour. The samples will be flown back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston as soon as possible for detailed chemical analysis to determine water purity and, in the process, collect the data necessary to help the station crew calibrate an on-board analyzer.

The station fliers plan to hook up the new toilet within the next two weeks. Water samples will be collected over the next three months to assess the system's performance and the crew of the next shuttle assembly mission, scheduled for launch Feb. 12, will use the new potty to simulate the activity of a six-member station crew. No one will actually sample any reprocessed water until testing is complete.

Along with installing the new water recycling gear, Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough, working in two-person teams, staged four spacewalks to clean and lubricate the station's damaged right-side solar array rotary joint and to lubricate its left-side counterpart. They also removed a spent nitrogen tank, attached a spare coolant system component and readied the Japanese Kibo lab module for attachment of an external experiment platform next year.

Successfully servicing the starboard solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, was crucial for NASA's long range plans. The joints are used to keep outboard solar arrays face-on to the sun as the lab orbits the Earth. But the 10-foot-wide drive gear at the heart of the starboard SARJ suffered extensive damage because of a lubrication breakdown that left one of three bearing surfaces cracked and eroded.

The Endeavour spacewalkers removed 11 of 12 trundle bearing assemblies, cleaned and lubricated the bearing races and re-installed the TBAs. A post-servicing test showed the joint rotated almost as smoothly as it did when it was first installed. Additional tests and analyses are planned, but engineers are hopeful the joint can resume normal, or near-normal, operations.

With Endeavour safely back on the ground, NASA will set its sights on launching the shuttle Discovery Feb. 12 on a mission to install a final set of solar arrays on the right side of the lab's power truss.


3:25 PM, 11/30/08, Update: Shuttle braking rockets fired

Flying upside down and backward over the southern Indian Ocean, commander Christopher Ferguson and pilot Eric Boe fired the shuttle Endeavour's twin braking rockets today a few seconds before 3:20 p.m. to begin an hour-long descent to California's Edwards Air Force Base.

The two-minute 54-second rocket firing sets up a touchdown on runway 4 at the Mojave Desert test center at around 4:25 p.m. to close out a successful 16-day space station assembly mission. This status report will be updated after Endeavour lands or as conditions warrant.


12:05 PM, 11/30/08, Update: Shuttle Endeavour cleared for California landing

The Endeavour astronauts, passing up two Florida landing opportunities, were cleared to fire the shuttle's braking rockets and head for a California landing today after forecasters concluded conditions at the Kennedy Space Center would not improve enough by Monday to warrant a one-day mission extension.

Flying upside down and backward over the Indian Ocean, commander Christopher Ferguson and pilot Eric Boe planned to fire Endeavour's twin braking rockets at 3:19:24 p.m., setting up a landing on runway 4L around 4:25 p.m.

"Based on the forecast at KSC tomorrow, which is similar, the winds are forecast to be similar to what they are today, a no-go forecast in addition to some upper level wind concerns, we're going to elect to press ahead with the Edwards opportunity today," radioed Alan Poindexter from mission control in Houston.

"OK, we understand," Ferguson replied. "And again, I know you╩folks have been working this real hard. My hat's off to weather, I'm sure he tried his best to make the weather as good as it can be at KSC, but it is what it is."

Here is a revised timeline of today's descent to runway 4L at Edwards (in EST; only the deorbit ignition time has been updated; other events reflect original estimates)

EST...........EVENT

02:59:24 PM...MCC 'go' for deorbit burn
03:05:24 PM...Astronaut seat ingress
03:14:24 PM...Single hydraulic unit start

03:19:24 PM...Deorbit ignition (dT: 2:53; dV: 293 fps; alt 221 miles)
03:22:17 PM...Deorbit burn complete

03:53:32 PM...Entry interface (alt 75.6 miles)
03:58:27 PM...1st roll command to left
04:07:17 PM...1st left-to-right roll reversal
04:18:47 PM...Velocity less than mach 2.5 (alt 80,100 feet)
04:20:49 PM...Velocity less than mach 1 (alt 50,700 feet)
04:20:50 PM...Shuttle on the HAC (alt 50,500 feet)
04:25:12 PM...Landing on runway 04L


11:05 AM, 11/30/08, Update: Second Florida landing opportunity waved off; crew sets up for California landing pending final weather update

High winds and low clouds forced Flight Director Bryan Lunney to wave off two Florida landing opportunities for the shuttle Endeavour today. The astronauts now are gearing up for a California landing at Edwards Air Force Base at 4:25 p.m., but Lunney is holding open the option of extending the mission another day if forecasters see signs of improvement in the outlook for a 24-hour delay.

The latest forecast for Monday at the Kennedy Space Center calls for low clouds and high crosswinds. While conditions are expected to improve compared to Sunday's, the crosswinds are still expected to be out of limits.

Commander Christopher Ferguson and his six crewmates, meanwhile, were told to close the shuttle's cargo bay doors and to ready the ship for a de-orbit rocket firing at 3:19:24 p.m. to begin the hourlong glide to Edwards. Lunney could delay a final decision on whether to proceed with the "burn" or wave off again until just a few minutes before the rocket firing.

Forecasters are expecting ideal conditions at Edwards on Sunday and Monday.


9:25 AM, 11/30/08, Update: Shuttle crew passes up first landing opportunity

Entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney ordered the Endeavour astronauts to delay closing the shuttle's cargo bay doors and to pass up their first Florida landing opportunity today because of high crosswinds and a dismal forecast.

"Fergie, the weather observation and the forecast at KSC (Kennedy Space Center) is no-go for crosswinds," astronaut Alan Poindexter radioed from mission control. "Right now, we're getting crosswinds up to 19 knots. So we're going to wave off this opportunity."

"Hey, Houston, thanks for the early call," shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson replied.

The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center in Houston is predicting winds out of 200 degrees with gusts up to 28 knots, a possible low ceiling, moderate turbulence below 10,000 feet and a chance of thunderstorms within 30 nautical miles of the runway.

Forecasters are not optimistic the weather will improve enough to permit the crew to land in Florida one orbit later, at 2:54 p.m. If not, and if the forecast for Monday does not improve, Lunney likely will order a second one-orbit wave off and tell the crew to head for Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.

By delaying the closing of the shuttle's cargo bay doors, the crew can continue using radiators to dissipate heat and conserve the water that must be used for cooling after the doors are closed. That means both California landing opportunities should be available, the first at 4:25 p.m. EST and the second at 6 p.m. A deorbit rocket firing to make the second Florida landing opportunity would take place at 1:49 p.m. A decision to either head for Florida or California is expected by around 1:45 at the latest but it could come earlier if the weather remains no-go.


7:55 AM, 11/30/08, Update: Endeavour astronauts gear up for landing; Florida weather forecast worsens

The Endeavour astronauts are making final preparations for re-entry and landing today to close out a successful space station assembly mission. The forecast for the Kennedy Space Center in Florida has worsened, however, raising the prospect of a possible diversion to Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Forecasters are now calling for a chance of thunderstorms within 30 nautical miles of the Florida runway, turbulence below 10,000 feet and winds gusting to 28 knots, producing crosswinds well above NASA's 15-knot safety limit. The outlook for Monday calls for a possible broken deck of clouds at 5,000 feet or lower and out-of-limits crosswinds.

The astronauts have two opportunities to land today in Florida, the first at 1:19 p.m. and the second one orbit later at 2:54 p.m. If the weather doesn't cooperate - and if the forecast for Monday does not improve - entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney likely will divert the astronauts to a landing at Edwards, where forecasters expect ideal conditions today and Monday.

The first California landing opportunity comes at 4:25 p.m. EST. A second opportunity is available at 6 p.m. Lunney said Saturday he did not plan to take advantage of that final opportunity, but if he passes up the first shot at Florida, that last option would become available if needed.

There are no technical problems of any significance aboard Endeavour and the weather is the only real concern. Here is a timeline for today's re-entry activity covering all four possible landing opportunities (in EST; statute miles throughout):

EST...........EVENT

1. Rev. 248 Deorbit to Kennedy Space Center

08:14 AM......Begin deorbit timeline
08:29 AM......Radiator stow
08:39 AM......Mission specialists seat installation
08:45 AM......Computers set for deorbit prep
08:49 AM......Hydraulic system configuration
09:14 AM......Flash evaporator cooling system checkout
09:20 AM......Final payload deactivation
09:34 AM......Payload bay doors closed
09:44 AM......Mission control 'go' for OPS-3 software load
09:54 AM......OPS-3 entry software loaded
10:19 AM......Entry switchlist verification
10:29 AM......Deorbit maneuver update
10:34 AM......Crew entry review
10:49 AM......Commander/pilot don entry suits
11:06 AM......Inertial measurement unit alignment
11:14 AM......Commander/pilot strap in; others don suits
11:31 AM......Shuttle steering check
11:34 AM......Hydraulic system prestart
11:41 AM......Toilet deactivation
11:49 AM......Vent doors closed for entry
11:54 AM......MCC 'go' for deorbit burn
12:00 PM......Mission specialists seat ingress
12:09 PM......Single hydraulic power unit start

12:14:27 PM...Deorbit ignition
..............dT: 2:54; dV: 293 fps; alt 219.7 miles)
12:17:11 PM...Deorbit burn complete

12:47:49 PM...Entry interface (alt 75.6 miles)
12:52:45 PM...1st roll command to left
01:02:58 PM...1st left to right roll reversal
01:05:00 PM...C-band radar acquisition
01:13:06 PM...Velocity less than mach 2.5 (alt 82,000 feet)
01:15:14 PM...Velocity less than mach 1 (alt 47,400 feet)
01:16:02 PM...Shuttle on the HAC (alt 35,900 feet)
01:19:28 PM...Landing on runway 15


2. Rev. 249 Deorbit to Kennedy Space Center

01:30 PM......MCC 'go' for deorbit burn
01:36 PM......Mission specialists seat ingress
01:45 PM......Single hydraulic power unit start

01:50:32 PM...Deorbit ignition
..............dT: 2:54; dV: 294 fps; alt 222 miles
01:53:26 PM...Deorbit burn complete

02:23:20 PM...Entry interface (alt 75.6 miles)
02:28:13 PM...1st roll command to right
02:41:20 PM...1st right-to-left roll reversal
02:48:36 PM...Velocity less than mach 2.5 (alt 83,000 feet)
02:50:43 PM...Velocity less than mach 1 (alt 47,500 feet)
02:51:12 PM...Shuttle on the HAC (alt 40,200 feet)
02:54:58 PM...Landing on runway 15


3. Rev. 250 Deorbit to Edwards Air Force Bace

03:00:41 PM...MCC 'go' for deorbit burn
03:06:41 PM...Mission specialists seat ingress
03:15:41 PM...Single hydraulic power unit start

03:20:41 PM...Deorbit ignition
..............dT: 2:53; dV: 293 fps; alt 221 miles
03:23:34 PM...Deorbit burn complete

03:53:32 PM...Entry interface (alt 75.6 miles)
03:58:27 PM...1st roll command to left
04:07:17 PM...1st left-to-right roll reversal
04:18:47 PM...Velocity less than mach 2.5 (alt 80,100 feet)
04:20:49 PM...Velocity less than mach 1 (alt 50,700 feet)
04:20:50 PM...Shuttle on the HAC (alt 50,500 feet)
04:25:12 PM...Landing on runway 04L


4. Rev. 251 Deorbit to Edwards Air Force Bace

04:37:13 PM...MCC 'go' for deorbit burn
04:43:13 PM...Mission specialists seat ingress
04:52:13 PM...Single hydraulic power unit start

04:57:13 PM...Deorbit ignition
..............dT: 2:55; dV: 296 fps; alt 224 miles
05:00:08 PM...Deorbit burn complete

05:29:10 PM...Entry interface (alt 75.5 miles)
05:34:08 PM...1st roll command to right
05:46:43 PM...1st right-to-left roll reversal
05:54:22 PM...Velocity less than mach 2.5 (alt 81,700 feet)
05:56:35 PM...Velocity less than mach 1 (alt 45,100 feet)
05:57:34 PM...Shuttle on the HAC (31,200 feet)
06:00:37 PM...Landing on runway 22R


7:45 AM, 11/30/08, Update: Progress supply ship docks at space station after Lonchakov takes over manual control

Space station flight engineer Yury Lonchakov took over manual control of an approaching Progress supply ship today when its automated docking system apparently malfunctioned at a distance of about 65 feet from the lab complex. Operating by remote control in the Zvezda command module, Lonchakov deftly guided the cargo ship to a smooth linkup with the Pirs module at 7:28 a.m. "Capture confirmed," Lonchakov radioed as the docking systems engaged.

"Yury, excellent work!" a Russian flight controller called. "Good job. Congtratulations."

The Progress, loaded with 5,342 pounds of propellant, oxygen, water and dry cargo, was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome last Wednesday. Shortly after reaching orbit, one of its navigation system antennas failed to deploy properly. It later extended, presumably because it was jarred free as the craft maneuvered.

But flight controllers told Lonchakov to be prepared to take over using the backup system if problems developed in the final phases of the rendezvous. He did, and the backup system worked normally.


5:30 PM, 11/29/08, Update: Entry flight director hopes for Kennedy landing, but prepared to divert Endeavour to California

Entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney hopes the Florida weather will cooperate and permit the Endeavour astronauts to land Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center. But if predicted high crosswinds and thunderstorms develop, he'll divert the crew to Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.

"For Sunday, we're going to have KSC and Edwards both called up," he said. "The purpose of that is, since the weather at KSC is not looking so good on Monday and it's not a program impact if we do end up landing over at Edwards, we would be willing to land on Sunday at Edwards if we look at the forecast and determine Monday is not worth waiting for.

"So we'll check the sites out tomorrow morning, I'm not going to commit to either one today, I'm not going to commit until probably as late as I can tomorrow before we decide where to go. Hopefully, KSC weather will be good enough and we can go land there, but if it is bad - and right now, looking at the forecast, we're worried about crosswinds, also we're worried about thunderstorm anvils blowing across and over the landing area - we'll look at Monday, we'll look at Edwards and decide then where to go. Both sites, KSC and Edwards, are fully called up and those folks will be ready to support as needed."

The forecast for Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center calls for scattered clouds at 3,000 and 9,000 feet and overcast at 25,000 feet. Winds will be out of 200 degrees at 16 knots with gusts to 23, producing crosswinds of about 18 knots. The forecast calls for a chance of thunderstorms within 30 nautical miles of the runway.

High crosswinds also are expected Monday, along with a possibly low ceiling. The forecast for Edwards calls for ideal conditions Sunday and Monday.

Endeavour has enough on-board supplies to stay in orbit for several days past Sunday, but only enough lithium hydroxide, the chemical used to remove carbon dioxide from the cabin's atmosphere, to last through Tuesday. Because NASA always tries to preserve the final landing day for unexpected problems with the shuttle, and at least one day for weather wave offs, Lunney has opted to bring Endeavour home Sunday, on one coast or the other depending on the weather.

Based on the forecast from the Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center, Sunday is "setting up to look pretty windy on the crosswinds and also the anvils, the big clouds that blow off the top of the thunderstorms," Lunney said. "We expect to see thunderstorms on the western side of Florida and those anvils will blow all the way across the peninsula and could affect us. We don't want to fly through those."

Shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson and his crewmates have four opportunities on successive orbits to return to Earth Sunday, the first two at Kennedy and the second two at Edwards. For the first Florida opportunity, the astronauts would close the shuttle's cargo bay doors around 9:30 a.m. and fire the ship's braking rockets at 12:14 p.m. for a landing on runway 15 at 1:19 p.m.

But once the payload bay doors are closed, the shuttle's radiators are stowed and cooling is provided by boiling water. Because a limited amount of water is available, Lunney said he would not use the fourth and final Edwards opportunity. Once the doors are closed, only three landing options are available: the two at Kennedy and the first of the two at Edwards.

Lunney said a final decision on whether to shoot for the first Florida opportunity might not be made until just before the deorbit rocket firing at 12:14 p.m. If the weather doesn't cooperate, the next opportunity would come with a rocket firing at 1:50 p.m. and a landing at Kennedy at 2:54 p.m. The first Edwards opportunity comes with a 3:20 p.m. EST rocket firing, setting up a landing in California at 4:25 p.m. EST

A detailed deorbit timeline for all the crew's Sunday landing opportunities is available on the CBS News STS-126 Quick-Look page:

http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/currentglance.html#ENTRY
Earlier today, the astronauts checked out the shuttle's flight control system and test fired the ship's steering jets. They also launched a small Defense Department satellite to test solar cell technology.

"We completed the flight control system checkout and that system checked out really well, there were no anomalies," Lunney said. "In addition, we did the reaction control system hot fire. We tested all 38 primary RCS thrusters, all of them fired just fine and they're ready for entry as well."

Lunney said a full team of engineers and flight surgeons were standing by at both Kennedy and Edwards and that returning space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, coming back to Earth after six months in space, will be well cared for either way.

"There's a crew of folks who travel out to Edwards, there's a crew of folks who work out there on a regular basis and between all those folks ... they are fully capable of supporting all the orbiter needs once we touch down," Lunney said. "Edwards is fully capable in terms of processing people, experiments, samples and the orbiter."


3:30 PM, 11/29/08, Update: Shuttle heat shield cleared for entry

Data from a final inspection of the shuttle Endeavour's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels shows the ship is in good shape for landing Sunday, the chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team said today.

The nose cap and leading edge panels experience the most extreme heating during entry, up to about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They were examined with a laser scanner after Endeavour undocked from the international space station Friday to make sure no damage had occurred from space debris impacts since an identical inspection the day after launch.

"The team worked through the night and reviewed all the data," said MMT Chairman LeRoy Cain. "They are satisfied we don't have any issues with the reinforced carbon carbon wing leading edge or the nose cap and so, as a Mission Management Team, we have cleared Endeavour's thermal protection system for a safe entry and landing."

In fact, he said, "from what we've seen on orbit in our inspections on this vehicle, Endeavour looks to me and to the experts to be as clean or cleaner than any vehicle we've flown."

Endeavour is scheduled to land Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center. But high crosswinds and possible thunderstorms associated with a cold front could force entry Flight Director Bryan Lunney to divert the crew to Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.

California landings add a week or more to a shuttle's processing turnaround. But Cain said in this case, an Edwards landing for Endeavour would have no major impact on downstream planning.

Joining Endeavour's crew for the trip back to Earth is Gregory Chamitoff, a space station flight engineer launched at the end of May and completing a six-month stay in space. Flight surgeons will be standing by at the Kennedy Space Center and Edwards to assist him regardless of which landing site is selected.

"I talked to the flight surgeons a bit about that yesterday," Cain said. We have facilities out at (Edwards) to accommodate the crew members in that regard. So they don't have any issues at all."


8:00 AM, 11/29/08, Update: Astronauts pack for landing

Keeping tabs on threatening weather, the Endeavour astronauts are working through what they hope will be their last full day in orbit, stowing equipment and testing the shuttle's re-entry systems before landing Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a 16-day space station assembly mission.

Returning space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff will make the trip home resting on his back in a reclining seat on the shuttle's lower deck to ease his return to the unfamiliar tug of Earth's gravity after six months in space. The astronauts were awakened today just before 5 a.m. by a recording of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" beamed up by mission control from Chamitoff's family.

"Good morning everyone," Chamitoff called. "Thank you for that song, that was great. It reminds me of home, it reminds me of my kids, who I've been thinking about so much lately. We sing that song together very often going to bed, so that's great, thanks for that and thanks to my family for sending that music to play for me this morning.

"We're all thinking about going home," he said. "It's going to be a great day, a last great day in space for everyone. We're looking forward to this day and enjoying the rest of our time up here. Thinking of home, it's been great to have an amazing home away from home for the past, uh, my watch is telling me that it'll be 182 days for me away from home. A lot of people have to spend time away from home, but I've been lucky to have a really spectacular place to live for the past half year.

"I'm very proud that all of us here are leaving the space station a better, more spectacular place than it was when we arrived. So thanks a lot, good morning everybody and looking forward to a great day in space."

While the rest of the crew packs up, shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe and flight engineer Stephen Bowen plan to check out the shuttle's re-entry systems in a standard day-before-landing test, firing up one of the ship's hydraulic power units and test firing their steering rockets.

The entire crew - Ferguson, Boe, Bowen, Chamitoff, Don Pettit, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough - will review re-entry procedures just after noon and then field questions from reporters in a final set of round-robin interviews starting at 12:40 p.m.

At 3:35 p.m., Ferguson and Boe will launch a small Department of Defense research satellite called the Pico Satellite Solar Cell Testbed, which will test new solar power technology. The two pilots then will take turns practicing landing procedures with a computer simulator and a bit later, Chamitoff's recumbent seat will be set up on the shuttle's lower deck.

Endeavour appears to be in good shape for landing with no technical problems of any significance. A final inspection of the ship's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels was carried out after undocking Friday and no obvious problems were seen. An update on the results of a detailed engineering analysis will be presented today at 2:30 p.m., after NASA's daily Mission Management Team meeting.

The astronauts will have two opportunities to land in Florida on Sunday, the first at 1:19 p.m. and the second at 2:54 p.m. NASA also plans to staff Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert. Two landing opportunities are available at Edwards Sunday, at 4:24 p.m. and 5:59 p.m.

The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center issued a forecast at 7:10 p.m. Friday that called for a chance of thunderstorms within 30 nautical miles of the Florida runway and higher-than-allowable crosswinds because of a cold front expected to move across the state.

The forecast for Monday called for a possible deck of broken clouds at 5,000 feet and high crosswinds. Conditions were expected to improve by Tuesday. The forecast for Edwards called for good weather Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

The shuttle has enough on-board supplies to stay in orbit until Tuesday, when it would have to land one way or the other. Entry flight director Bryan Lunney will brief reporters on his landing strategy at 4:30 p.m. today.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision O of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/29/08
04:55 AM...14...09...00...Crew wakeup
08:10 AM...14...12...15...Cabin stow begins
09:40 AM...14...13...45...OBSS berthing
10:45 AM...14...14...50...Flight control system checkout
11:55 AM...14...16...00...Reaction control system hotfire
12:10 PM...14...16...15...Deorbit review
12:40 PM...14...16...45...Media interviews
01:00 PM...14...17...05...Crew meal
02:00 PM...14...18...05...Cabin stow resumes
02:05 PM...14...18...10...Landing comm checks
02:30 PM...14...18...35...Post-MMT briefing on NTV
03:35 PM...14...19...40...Picosat deploy
03:55 PM...14...20...00...PILOT landing simulator practice
04:30 PM...14...20...35...Mission status briefing on NTV
04:55 PM...14...21...00...Robot arm powerdown
04:50 PM...14...20...55...Ergometer stow
03:55 PM...14...20...00...PILOT landing simulator practice
05:20 PM...14...21...25...Recumbent seat setup
05:50 PM...14...21...55...Launch/entry suit checkout
05:45 PM...14...21...50...KU antenna stow
05:55 PM...14...22...00...Wing sensor system deactivation
06:15 PM...14...22...20...Laptop computers stowed
08:55 PM...15...01...00...Crew sleep begins
09:00 PM...15...01...05...Flight day 16 highlights

11/30/08
04:55 AM...15...09...00...Crew wakeup
06:45 AM...15...10...50...Progress docking coverage on NTV
07:30 AM...15...11...35...Group B computer powerup
08:15 AM...15...12...20...Deorbit timeline begins
12:14 PM...15...16...19...Deorbit ignition (rev. 248)
01:19 PM...15...17...24...Landing, runway 15, KSC


6:25 PM, 11/28/08, Update: Sarafin pleased with mission; delayed maneuver no problem for Picosat deploy; landing weather iffy for Sunday

The Endeavour astronauts completed a final inspection of the shuttle's nose cap and wing leading edge panels today after undocking from the international space station. No obvious problems were seen, but it will take engineers a day or so to complete their analysis and give the ship a clean bill of health.

Endeavour undocked from the station at 9:47 a.m. The astronauts delayed a final rocket firing to leave the vicinity after an analysis indicated the "burn" would have resulted in a relatively close encounter - 6.8 miles - between the shuttle and a breadbox-size piece of debris from a Russian Cosmos satellite that broke up earlier this year.

Delaying the rocket firing ensured a wider separation and still preserved the right conditions for the deployment of a small "Picosat" on Saturday designed to test solar cell technology.

"The third burn was going to put us in proximity to some junk from a Cosmos satellite that was launched in June of 2006 and subsequently broke up in orbit in March of this year," said lead flight director Mike Sarafin. "The proximity, if we performed that, was going to put us about 11 kilometers from this junk and it just, per the flight rules, it was the safe course of action not to perform that burn."

The delayed rocket firing will "set up a good distance, a relative height distance between the international space station and Endeavour tomorrow before we deploy the Picosat satellite such that the two can fly in proximity to each other over the coming months."

The 23-second rocket firing was carried out around 6:22 p.m. There were no problems.

The astronauts plan to spend the day Saturday packing up, testing re-entry systems and preparing the shuttle for landing Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center. The crew has two back-to-back landing opportunities on successive orbits, the first at 1:19 p.m. and the second at 2:54 p.m.

The Spaceflight Meteorology Group at the Johnson Space Center is predicting a chance of thundershowers within 30 nautical miles of the shuttle's runway and crosswinds of 16 knots, both violations of NASA's safety rules. A low deck of broken clouds and even higher crosswinds are expected Monday, with near ideal conditions predicted Tuesday.

Sarafin said Endeavour has enough on-board supplies to remain in orbit through Tuesday if necessary. Entry flight director Bryan Lunney will outline his landing strategy during a briefing Saturday afternoon.

For Sarafin, getting to this point represents a major accomplishment given the demanding goals of Endeavour's mission.

Over the course of four spacewalks, the astronauts successfully serviced the station's damaged right-side solar array rotary joint, lubricated the port-side joint as a preventative measure, installed a spare cooling system component, removed a spent nitrogen tank, installed a new external TV camera and prepared the Japanese Kibo module for attachment of an external experiment platform next year.

Inside the station, the astronauts installed and activated a new urine recycling system that ultimately will be connected to a new toilet and galley that will permit NASA to boost the station's crew size from three to six next May. Along with the recycling equipment, the shuttle crew also delivered two sleep stations, a refrigerator/freezer and combustion research equipment.

Sarafin said the new toilet will be hooked up in the next two weeks while the station crew hopes to activate the new refrigerator this weekend.

"I am grateful to be here and be at this point where we have accomplished the mission," Sarafin told reporters today after finishing his final planned shift in mission control. "Clearly, everybody did their part and I'm very happy to be here at this point where now it's just a matter of getting Endeavour home.

"If you want to talk about the mission by the numbers, we rotated the crew, Greg Chamitoff is on his way home, Sandy Magnus is now on board the international space station as part of the Expedition 18 crew. We delivered over 1,400 pounds of water for use on board the international space station ... We successfully completed all four of the EVAs, we transferred over eight tons of equipment and logistics to the international space station and are returning home two tons of equipment.

"We also rotated some spare hardware to the space station, a flex hose rotary coupler (for the cooling system) and are returning a nitrogen tank. ... The regenerative life support equipment was problematic at one point during the mission in terms of getting all that equipment up and running in a timely fashion. But the team knew the problem and knew the hardware and quickly fixed it and I just couldn't be happier at this point."


11:30 AM, 11/28/08, Update: Final shuttle separation burn delayed to avoid close encounter with Russian satellite

A third and final rocket firing by the shuttle Endeavour to leave the international space station behind was delayed about six hours today to avoid any chance of a close enounter with debris from a defunct Russian satellite. The delay eliminated a predicted "conjunction" and posed no threat to the shuttle crew. But the slip prompted flight controllers to revise the crew's afternoon schedule, moving other activities up a bit.


9:50 AM, 11/28/08, Update: Shuttle Endeavour undocks from space station

With pilot Eric Boe at the controls, the shuttle Endeavour undocked from the international space station today at 9:47 a.m. to wrap up a marathon assembly mission, leaving astronaut Sandy Magnus behind with the Expedition 18 crew and taking Gregory Chamitoff home in her place after six months in space.

"Physical sep, Houston," an astronaut called as powerful springs gently pushed Endeavour way from the station's forward docking port. Undocking occurred in orbital darkness as the two spacecraft sailed 220 miles above Taiwan.

"Endeavour, departing," Magnus radioed, following naval tradition by ringing the ship's bell aboard the station.

"Thank you Sandy, it was great working with you guys," shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson radioed from Endeavour's flight deck.

"And Endeavour, this is the international space station," Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke called. "Thanks for the incredible makeover and leaving the station in fantastic shape. Thanks to your heroic efforts, we are one step closer to a six-person crew. From the international space station, Godspeed, soft landing."

"We copy, ISS, thanks," Ferguson said. "Even from 25 feet you look better." "Copy that, and thanks Fergie, see you guys in a few months," Magnus said.


7:40 AM, 11/28/08, Update: Astronauts gear up for undocking

The Endeavour astronauts are preparing to undock from the international space station to close out a marathon assembly mission. The crew was wakened around 5:55 a.m. today by a recording of "In the Meantime" by Spacehog beamed up from mission control.

"Endeavour, Houston, good morning," astronaut Shannon Lucid called from Houston. "A special good morning to you today, Eric."

"Good morning, Shannon," pilot Eric Boe replied. "My wife first sent me that song when I was deployed on the other side of the world. It's good to hear it again now that I'm deployed up here. I'd like to thank my family. ... It's a good day for an undock and fly-around."

Boe, commander Chris Ferguson, Don Pettit, returning space station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff and spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough plan to undock from the international space station at 9:47 a.m. to end a record 11.7 days of docked operations.

Manually flying the shuttle from Endeavour's aft flight deck, Boe will pull straight away in front of the lab complex and then initiate a looping fly-around, passing above, behind, below and back out in front of the station before firing thrusters to leave the area for good.

"I am really looking forward to getting a chance to undock and do the fly around," Boe told CBS News before launch. "The views we're going to get, the sun angles are going to be really good for us. For me personally, it'll be really exciting to get the chance to fly around the structure and just see the dynamics. I've seen it in the simulator many times, but seeing it in real life and how things really work, there are always differences between the simulated stuff and the way it actually looks outside."

Beginning around 1:50 p.m., the astronauts plan to carry out a final inspection of Endeavour's reinforced carbon carbon nose cap and wing leading edge panels to make sure no damage from space debris has occurred since an identical inspection the day after launch. The crew will go to bed around 8:55 p.m.

Saturday is a standard day-before-landing preparation day, with flight control system checkout, a test of the shuttle's steering jets, cabin stow, pressure suit checkout and setup of a reclining seat for Chamitoff, who will be returning to the unfamiliar tug of Earth's gravity after a six-month stay aboard the station.

An unmanned Russian Progress supply ship is scheduled to dock at the station at 7:23 a.m. Sunday, about an hour before the Endeavour astronauts move into their deorbit timeline. If all goes well, Ferguson and Boe will fire the shuttle's braking rockets at 12:14 p.m. Sunday for a landing 1:19 p.m. on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a 16-day mission.

Here is a timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision N of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/28/08
05:55 AM...13...10...00...Crew wakeup
07:25 AM...13...11...30...ISS daily planning conference
08:05 AM...13...12...10...Group B computer powerup
08:59 AM...13...13...04...ISS in undockling orientation
08:59 AM...13...13...04...U.S. solar arrays feathered
09:00 AM...13...13...05...Undocking timeline begins
09:03 AM...13...13...08...Noon
09:30 AM...13...13...35...Sunset

09:47 AM...13...13...52...UNDOCKING

09:48 AM...13...13...53...ISS holds attitude
09:48 AM...13...13...55...PMA-2 depressurization
09:52 AM...13...13...57...Range: 50 feet; reselect -X jets
09:54 AM...13...13...59...Range 75 feet; low Z
10:06 AM...13...14...11...Sunrise
10:16 AM...13...14...21...Range: 400 feet; start fly around
10:25 AM...13...14...30...Range: 600 feet
10:27 AM...13...14...32...Shuttle directly above ISS
10:34 AM...13...14...39...Noon
10:39 AM...13...14...44...Shuttle directly behind ISS
10:50 AM...13...14...55...Shuttle directly below ISS
11:01 AM...13...15...06...Separation burn No. 1
11:02 AM...13...15...07...Sunset
11:29 AM...13...15...34...Separation burn No. 2
12:14 PM...13...16...19...Separation burn No. 3
12:20 PM...13...16...25...Crew meal
01:20 PM...13...17...25...Group B computer powerdown
01:25 PM...13...17...30...Post undocking computer reconfig
01:40 PM...13...17...45...EVA unpack and stow
01:50 PM...13...17...55...OBSS starboard wing survey
03:10 PM...13...19...15...Post ISS EVA entry preps
03:35 PM...13...19...40...OBSS nose cap survey
04:25 PM...13...20...30...OBSS port wing survey
05:30 PM...13...20...35...Mission status briefing on NTV
06:30 PM...13...22...35...LDRI downlink
08:55 PM...14...01...00...STS crew sleep begins
09:00 PM...14...01...05...Flight day 15 highlights on NTV


8:00 PM, 11/27/08, Update: Hatches closed; shuttle set for undocking Friday

With Thanksgiving Day hugs, handshakes and broad smiles, the shuttle Endeavour's crew bid farewell to space station commander Mike Fincke, Yury Lonchakov and Sandra Magnus today before leaving the lab complex for the last time, sealing hatches between the two spacecraft and preparing for undocking Friday morning.

Gathering in the station's Harmony module and sharing their farewells with mission control via high definition television, Fincke thanked shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson and his crewmates - pilot Eric Boe, Don Pettit, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough - for giving the space station a makeover inside and out.

Over the course of four spacewalks, the Endeavour astronauts successfully serviced the station's damaged right-side solar array rotary joint, lubricated the port-side joint as a preventative measure, installed a spare cooling system component, removed a spent nitrogen tank, installed a new external TV camera and prepared the Japanese Kibo module for attachment of an external experiment platform next year.

Inside the station, the astronauts installed and activated a new urine recycling system that ultimately will be connected to a new toilet and galley that will permit NASA to boost the station's crew size from three to six next May. Along with the recycling equipment, the shuttle crew also delivered two sleep stations, a refrigerator/freezer and combustion research equipment.

"We'd like to say to Fergie and your crew, thank you very much for this extreme home makeover," Fincke said today. "I think we succeeded as a team, not just us guys here up in space, but the entire team down on planet Earth, across 15 different nations, it's something really incredible. You totally fixed us up on the inside and on the outside and the results speak for themselves. I think everybody's really ecstatic and I'm really proud to have worked with you. So on behalf of the space station, I'd like to say thanks for coming.

"On behalf of myself, this is the first time I've seen a space shuttle up here and I didn't know what to expect," said Fincke, who has flown to the station twice aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. "You guys set the bar high for the next crew because boy, it was so much fun having you here and seeing you here, you guys were such perfect guests. You left the place cleaner than you found it and we tried to make it pretty clean for your arrival. And it's even better now and we're so glad."

Along with delivering more than 16,000 pounds of equipment and supplies, Endeavour also brought Magnus to the station to begin a three-month stay as a flight engineer with Expedition 18. She replaced Gregory Chamitoff, who was launched to the station May 31 and who will return to Earth aboard Endeavour.

"Greg, I'm really proud, and really glad to have served with you," Fincke said. "You've accomplished so much, just the normal day-to-day work plus all the science that you got done. I'm really proud to have served with you."

Chamitoff said "I just cannot believe six months have gone by."

"It feels like it's ending very much as it began, with the spectacular shuttle flight and the accomplishments of the shuttle crew, who gave us a makeover both inside and outside the space station, prepared us for six-person crew in the future. It's been a real pleasure to see this crew come up. After being on board for six months, mostly with three people at a time, and all the sudden there's 10 people up here and the work they've done is just amazing. It's great to see it."

Chamitoff said he had mixed feelings as he prepared to leave the station for the trip home.

"As I leave it today, I feel both happy and sad, he said. "Very sad to leave my crew because my crewmates have been just terrific and I know that I'm leaving this space station in really the best possible hands. ... And of course, I'm really happy because I'm really looking forward to seeing my family. ... I just can't wait to get home and seem my family, all my thoughts are there now."

The station's hatch was closed at 7:31 p.m. After leak checks, the shuttle astronauts planned to call it a day. They will get up around 6 a.m. Friday to begin final preparations for undocking. if all goes well, the two spacecraft will separate at 9:47 a.m. Heat shield inspections are on tap Friday afternoon with normal pre-entry tests and cabin stow Saturday. Landing back at the Kennedy Space Center is scheduled for 1:18 p.m. Sunday, weather permitting.

Here is a timeline of Friday's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision M of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/28/08
05:55 AM...13...10...00...Crew wakeup
07:25 AM...13...11...30...ISS daily planning conference
08:05 AM...13...12...10...Group B computer power up
08:59 AM...13...13...04...ISS in undocking orientation
08:59 AM...13...13...04...U.S. solar arrays feathered
09:00 AM...13...13...05...Undocking timeline begins
09:03 AM...13...13...08...Noon
09:30 AM...13...13...35...Sunset

09:47 AM...13...13...52...UNDOCKING

09:48 AM...13...13...53...ISS holds attitude
09:48 AM...13...13...55...ISS docking port depressurization
09:52 AM...13...13...57...Range: 50 feet; reselect -X jets
09:54 AM...13...13...59...Range 75 feet; low Z
10:06 AM...13...14...11...Sunrise
10:16 AM...13...14...21...Range: 400 feet; start fly around
10:25 AM...13...14...30...Range: 600 feet
10:27 AM...13...14...32...Shuttle directly above ISS
10:34 AM...13...14...39...Noon
10:39 AM...13...14...44...Shuttle directly behind ISS
10:50 AM...13...14...55...Shuttle directly below ISS
11:01 AM...13...15...06...Separation burn No. 1
11:02 AM...13...15...07...Sunset
11:29 AM...13...15...34...Separation burn No. 2
12:14 PM...13...16...19...Separation burn No. 3
12:20 PM...13...16...25...Crew meal
01:20 PM...13...17...25...Group B computer powerdown
01:25 PM...13...17...30...Post undocking computer reconfig
01:40 PM...13...17...45...EVA unpack and stow
01:50 PM...13...17...55...Starboard wing TPS survey
03:10 PM...13...19...15...Post ISS EVA entry preps
03:35 PM...13...19...40...Nose cap TPS survey
04:25 PM...13...20...30...Port wing TPS survey
05:30 PM...13...20...35...Mission status briefing on NTV
06:30 PM...13...22...35...Laser data downlink
08:55 PM...14...01...00...Crew sleep begins
09:00 PM...14...01...05...Flight day 15 highlights on NTV

"Words can't express the thanks we have for all the folks who supported this docked mission," Ferguson said before leaving the station today. "As far as my tally is, we've accomplished all the major mission objectives and when I say we, I don't mean just the 10 of us, I mean everybody in both flight control rooms and all our supporting personnel as well.

"So with that, we'll bid a fine farewell to this Expedition 18. Good luck in the rest of their stay up here. We wish Sandy could come back with us but we know she's answering to a higher calling right now. So with that, we'll finally drag (Chamitoff) with us."


11:50 AM, 11/27/08, Update: Shuttle crew beams down Thanksgiving greetings; Pettit demonstrate weightless toasts

The Endeavour astronauts beamed down Thanksgiving greetings today while astronaut Don Pettit, known for his entertaining "Saturday morning science" demonstrations during an earlier space station expedition, amused flight controllers with an innovative technique for sharing weightless toasts using improvised cups fashioned along the same lines as rocket fuel tanks.

"We just wanted to take this opportunity once again to wish everybody a Happy Thanksgiving," shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson, flanked by his crewmates, said from Endeavour's flight deck. "You know, Thanksgiving is one of those truly American holidays that isn't celebrated anywhere else, a time when we have an opportunity to reflect on everything that we've been given and all the privileges that we have living in the fine country we live in.

"We generally spend it with family. For us today, we have the opportunity to spend it with our once-removed family if you will, our space family, and I think the same holds true for everybody down there in mission control. Like I said a little bit earlier, I think you all have an opportunity to get home and perhaps get some leftovers today.

"We just wanted to, once again, come up live and thank everybody down there who is working this Thanksgiving Day to support this mission. We wish you all well, we wish your families well and please have a little bit of turkey for us. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving."

A few minutes later, Pettit and Bowen put on an impromptu science demonstration, using cups made from clear plastic taped into an elliptical shape with one side pinched into a sharp angle. As Pettit showed in a previous demonstration, tea or coffee squirted into such a cup will cling to the sides and naturally flow, or wick, to one corner for drinking.

"We decided to propose a toast," Pettit said. "So here's our cup filled with tea, and Steve has a cup filled with tea, and again, this is using the contact angle wetting phenomenon that rocket engineers use in fuel tanks in rockets to make a tea cup. And what we're going to do is propose a Thanksgiving toast on orbit.

Both astronauts tipped their cups and took a sip of tea.

"And now we're going to propose a toast to Thanksgiving, wishing everyone on Earth and off Earth a good Thanksgiving," Pettit said.

The astronauts took another sip.

"And now we're proposing a toast for future explorers."

The astronauts took another sip.

"And finally, we're proposing a toast just because we're in space and we can! And again, due to this contact angle wetting phenomenon, we can sip most of the fluid out of these cups and we no longer have to drink our beverages sucking through a straw in a pouch."

The seven shuttle astronauts plan to join the station's three-person crew for a joint meal later today before getting back to work.


8:40 AM, 11/27/08, Update: Astronauts celebrate Thanksgiving in space

Celebrating Thanksgiving in space, the crews of the international space station and the shuttle Endeavour enjoyed a half-day off today, looking forward to sharing a turkey dinner in orbit before saying farewell and closing hatches between the two spacecraft to set the stage for undocking Friday.

The astronauts were awakened to begin their holiday in space just after 7 a.m. by a recording of "Hold on Tight" by the Electric Light Orchestra that was beamed up from mission control.

"Good morning, Endeavour," astronaut Shannon Lucid called from Houston. "A special good morning to you today, Heide, and happy Thanksgiving to the entire crew."

"Good morning to you, Shannon, and the rest of Houston," Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper replied. "Thank you for that great song on this Thanksgiving day. We can give thanks for what we have and never stop dreaming."

The two crews are able to enjoy Thanksgiving together thanks to a one-day mission extension that delayed undocking to Friday. As it is, they plan to enjoy a joint meal around 1:40 p.m. that will feature traditional holiday fare.

"We have 10 crew members on board, we've managed to scare up a full Thanksgiving dinner complements of some rations the food people back in Houston were nice enough to put together for us," shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson said earlier. "We'll have a true Thanksgiving feast where we'll share a meal with our international space station counterparts and we'll share some stories, I'm sure, and we'll just enjoy the turkey."

Space station Flight Director Emily Nelson said the crews deserved a break.

"It's just been a really great mission and we are happy these guys are going to get a little bit of time off to appreciate the stars and what they can see in low-Earth orbit and to look down on us and see this beautiful planet of ours," she said early today. "We look forward to getting them back on the ground and getting to celebrate with them in person."

Joint shuttle-station crews "tend to eat back in the (Russian) service module of the space station," she said. "So they'll have their Thanksgiving dinner together, we assume they'll probably be eating back there. We don't have cameras back in there so they can get a little privacy from us. They'll have the standard turkey, cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole and some cranberry crumble for desert."

Outgoing station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, launched to the lab complex May 31, will return to Earth aboard Endeavour. He was replaced by flight engineer Sandra Magnus. Early today, while his crewmates slept, Chamitoff enjoyed an unhurried conversation with Robert Hanley in mission control.

"It's a real privilege to be part of all this," he reflected. "You know, this is kind of a turning point. There's only one space station. Someday, there'll be many and there will be other places to go other than this one space station. So it's really an honor for us to be part of this turning point for humanity. It's amazing."

"We just celebrated the 10th anniversary (of the station) and a lot of us, almost everybody around here, worked the very first (missions) and remember when the station was just contents and small pieces," Hanley said. "Now, it's amazing it's become what we envisioned."

"Yeah, it really has," Chamitoff said. "It's taken the whole world to build this place. ... This has been a really amazing life experience to be here."

"It's been a great six months working with you on the station."

"Yeah, thanks, it's really hard to leave," Chamitoff said. "I'm looking forward to coming back and seeing everybody on the ground. It'll be fun to celebrate."

Chamitoff will join Stefanyshyn-Piper, Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, Don Pettit, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough for the trip home Sunday. A farewell ceremony with station commander Mike Fincke, flight engineer Yury Lonchakov and Magnus is scheduled for 5:55 p.m. Hatches between Endeavour and the station will be closed a few minutes later to set the stage for undocking Friday at 9:47 a.m.

The astronauts staged four spacewalks during the mission and moved more than 16,000 pounds of equipment and supplies from the shuttle to station, including critical water recycling gear needed to boost the lab's crew size from three to six next year.

Despite initial problems, the astronauts were able to activate the water processing system, collecting samples for return to Earth aboard Endeavour, and successfully serviced the station's damaged right-side solar array rotary mechanism.

Today, the astronauts were rewarded with time off to relax and enjoy Thanksgiving.

Station Flight Director Holly Ridings said the crew's flight schedule was adjusted to synchronize shuttle and station crew off-duty periods "so that all of them can spend the first part of their day together, as a crew, as a team and enjoy Thanksgiving."

"The first half of the crew day up until the midday meal is basically off-duty time," she said. "So they have roughly half of their day that they can enjoy each other's company. During that time we do have the right KU-band antenna coverage where they'll be able to use their (internet) phone that they have on board to call people here on the ground and of course, since the mission lines up pretty nicely with central standard time hours they'll be able to find people awake, which is always a bonus. We have several opportunities to uplink and downlink email."

In mission control at the Johnson Space Center, meanwhile, "we have folks that are willing to feed our flight control teams," Ridings said. "They'll be bringing Thanksgiving to us. They'll do it several times, actually. They'll start Wednesday night pretty late to hit that overnight shift that gets done at 5 and 6 o'clock in the morning. Then they'll bring food again at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving and they'll do it it one more time later that day. They do a really good job of taking care of us."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision M of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/27/08
06:55 AM...12...11...00...Crew wakeup
08:25 AM...12...12...30...ISS daily planning conference
09:10 AM...12...13...15...ISS crew off duty
09:20 AM...12...13...25...Shuttle crew off duty
01:21 PM...12...17...26...Crew interviews
01:40 PM...12...17...45...Thanksgiving meal
02:40 PM...12...18...45...EVA transfers
02:50 PM...12...18...55...Final middeck transfers
03:30 PM...12...19...35...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
04:55 PM...12...21...00...Rendezvous tools checkout
04:55 PM...12...21...00...Departure preps
05:55 PM...12...22...00...Farewell ceremony
06:00 PM...12...22...05...Hatches closed
06:20 PM...12...22...25...Orbiter docking system leak checks
07:00 PM...12...23...05...Evening planning conference
09:25 PM...13...01...30...ISS crew sleep begins
09:55 PM...13...02...00...STS crew sleep begins
10:00 PM...13...02...05...Flight day 14 highlights

11/28/08
06:55 AM...13...10...00...Crew wakeup
08:30 AM...13...12...35...HD flight day 14 highlights
09:47 AM...13...13...52...Endeavour undocks from space station
"This is a very busy time for all of us," Ferguson said earlier. "I really don't think we've had time to prepare for the holidays at all. I do know we plan to get together ... for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Of course, it gives us a moment to pause and reflect on just how fortunate we are as a country and as a global community to participate in a partnership like this. ... Truly, it gives us an opportunity to come together as a global community and we're very thankful for that in addition to the opportunity to fly in space."

Added Fincke: "We all miss our families when we're gone away for the holidays and we're just another military family with one of the parents deployed."

"We're just like every other military family, we miss our loved ones when we're gone. but we're going to come home and we're going to have a really nice time when we're all together," he said. "So for that I'm very thankful, and I'm thankful for all the other people out there who are protecting our country and who are away from home on the holidays, especially Thanksgiving. So God bless the troops and God bless my family."


6:45 PM, 11/26/08: Leonardo cargo module detached from station, re-berthed in shuttle cargo bay

Astronauts Don Pettit and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough, operating the space station's robot arm from inside the Destiny laboratory module, carefully detached the Leonardo cargo canister today and re-berthed it in the shuttle Endeavour's cargo bay.

The Endeavour crew delivered 16,390 pounds of cargo to the station, more than 14,400 pounds inside Leonardo, including two 1,700-pound water recycling racks, a combustion research rack, a new toilet, a new galley and two sleep stations. The astronauts also transferred 3,642 pounds of no-longer-needed equipment and trash from the station back to Leonardo and the shuttle's crew cabin for return to Earth.

The astronauts continued work with the station's water processing system today, collecting an additional sample to send down for detailed chemical analysis. The urine processing assembly that gave the crew trouble during initial startup operations last week completed three full processing cycles Tuesday. It will not be used again until after Endeavour departs.

Because of the initial problems with the UPA, NASA managers made contingency plans for bringing its distillation sub-system home for troubleshooting. But after rubber vibration dampers were removed from its mounting, the device operated normally and space station Flight Director Holly Ridings said mission managers today made a "definitive decision that the DA, or the distillation assembly component of the UPA, would stay on orbit."

"Yesterday, we were running the urine processor assembly, the third cycle since we had completed the second round of modifications on the distillation assembly," she said. "And I'm happy to report it continued to run as we expected and processed right around 65 pounds of (urine) distillate, which is the amount we were targeting to combine with the condensate collected in the water processing assembly and then give us the samples we need to return to the ground.

"So the UPA performed well through the rest of the crew day yesterday. We turned it off, again nominally, put it in a shutdown state and we don't have any plans to run it again during the docked mission. So that's all very good news that that part of the system is working."

The water recycling racks are tied into a potable water bus. A new water dispenser was connected Tuesday and samples were collected today for return to Earth. After Endeavour departs, the space station crew will connect a new toilet to the bus that will feed urine to the processing assembly. The idea is to produce pure water for drinking, food preparation, hygiene and oxygen generation to support an expanded crew of six full-time astronauts and cosmonauts starting next May.

For Thanksgiving, the combined 10-member crew of the shuttle-station complex will enjoy a half-day off, followed by a joint meal that will include turkey, stuffing, corn, candied yams and green beans.

Thursday evening, just before 6 p.m., the seven shuttle astronauts will bid station commander Mike Fincke, Sandra Magnus and Yury Lonchakov farewell and hatches between the two spacecraft will be sealed in preparation for undocking Friday morning. Endeavour is scheduled to land back at the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday.


12:05 PM, 11/26/08: Balky antenna successfully deployed on Progress supply ship

Russian flight controllers successfully commanded a balky antenna on a Progress supply ship to deploy and lock in place today about three-and-a-half hours after launch, officials said. The antenna initially failed to extend, raising the prospect of a manual, remote control docking Sunday by space station flight engineer Yury Lonchakov. Russian engineers are still investigating why the antenna failed to extend in the first place and whether that might affect an automated rendezvous. Docking is scheduled for 7:23 a.m. EST Sunday.


9:50 AM, 11/26/08: Progress cargo ship launched; antenna glitch may force manual docking; Endeavour cargo module move to shuttle on tap

An unmanned Russian Progress supply ship, loaded with rocket fuel, water, oxygen and nearly 3,000 pounds of cargo, was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today at 7:38 a.m. EST, bound for a docking with the international space station Sunday. The climb to space was uneventful and shortly after reaching orbit, the spacecraft's solar panels unfolded as planned. But officials said one of two proximity antennas, part of the vehicle's automated docking system, failed to deploy, raising the prospect of a manual linkup by remote control.

Docking at the station's Pirs module is scheduled for 7:23 a.m. Sunday, about six hours before the shuttle Endeavour's landing at the Kennedy Space Center to close out a marathon assembly mission. Progress cargo ships normally fly fully automated approaches, but a manual "TORU" system also is available as a backup. If the stuck antenna cannot be coaxed into its normal deployed position, station flight engineer Yury Lonchakov, operating controls in the Zvezda command module, will have to manually guide the Progress through the final 65 feet or so to the station.

"We have the first maneuver done and everything is well except for one thing," Russian flight control called around 9:45 a.m. "One of the antennas did not get deployed. It is still folded. ... We will ask you to use the TORU in the manual mode for bringing Progress to docking. Copy? That's why TORU (training) today is very important. The instructors are in here, please make sure you refresh everything so that everything is clear. Because the probability for the use of this mode is very high." "I copy," Lonchakov replied.

The Progress 31 spacecraft is loaded with 1,808 pounds of propellant, 108 pounds of oxygen, 463 pounds of water and 2,963 pounds of cargo. It also is equipped with new navigation equipment being tested for use in upgraded Soyuz crew ships.

"The arrival of a Progress is always something the crews look forward to because there will always be some type of fresh food on there for them as well as some care packages and also the items that maybe aren't quite as interesting but certainly necessary for sustaining the ISS," station Flight Director Brian Smith said earlier today.

Aboard the space station today, the Endeavour astronauts face a busy day of work to close out the Leonardo cargo module and, using the station's robot arm, move it from the Harmony module's downward facing port back to the shuttle's cargo bay for return to Earth. Also known as a multi-purpose logistics module, or MPLM, Leonardo was launched with more than 14,000 pounds of cargo, including new water recycling equipment, a new toilet, a galley and two crew sleep stations that are part of NASA's push to expand crew size from three to six next May.

The water recycling equipment, designed to convert condensate and urine into fresh water, is critical to those plans. The astronauts resolved startup problems with the urine processing assembly by removing rubber vibration dampers and firmly bolting it to its mounting shelf. Since then, Smith said, the system has operated smoothly and the astronauts will be able to bring the required samples home to help engineers assess the system's performance.

"Last night, we completed what will be the final run of the urine processor assembly for this docked phase of the mission," Smith said. "So that was excellent news, we were happy to see it made it all the way through the run and we have as much processing out of it that we need to to collect the proper samples that are scheduled for return. We're still going to run the water processing assembly later on today. And then the crew's going to ... take different samples for us and by the end of the day, they'll have them all complete. So the urine processing assembly performed well over the last few days and we got what we need out of it."

Reflecting on the startup trouble with the UPA, Smith said "it's pretty amazing to see that we've made it all the way to this point where we actually have in the plan the last water sample to be collected."

"The sampling plan has changed from what it was pre-flight and it's changed so it'll put the ISS program in a better posture for making a decision about their readiness for six-person crew early next year," he said. "So we were glad ... we were able to find a way to get the equipment working and come up with a plan that would accommodate all the samples that had been requested."

Starting shortly after 1 p.m., the astronauts plan to depressurize the vestibule between the Harmony module's nadir port and Leonardo's hatch. Astronauts Don Pettit and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough, operating the space station's robot arm, plan to detach the cargo module around 4:50 p.m. and carefully move it back to its mounting point at the rear of Endeavour's cargo bay for return to Earth.

"Everything that's going into the MPLM is in," Smith said. "We have a few items that, by design, come out at the very last minute and the crew will retrieve those out of the MPLM today and then we'll go through the operations to close it out, depressurize the vestibule between the node 2 and the MPLM and the crew will place the MPLM back into the payload bay. So all those operations are going well, we don't expect any issues.

"The crew did a fantastic job of staying on track and getting everything in and out of the MPLM that we needed. And the ground team responsible for the transfer has done a tremendous job pre-flight and also during the flight, maintaining a list of every single item that needs to move in and out of the MPLM and exactly where it goes on the space station and exactly where items go inside the MPLM. That is a really tough task and these guys have done a fantastic job."

Endeavour's original flight plan called for undocking on Thanksgiving day. But the flight was extended one day to permit additional troubleshooting to fix the UPA and the combined shuttle-station crews plan to enjoy off-duty time and a joint Thanksgiving dinner Thursday.

"The first half of the day is going to be some well-deserved off-duty time for the crew and we were able to manage the shuttle and the station crew to have that jointly, and that's going to be very important for them," Smith said. "They can enjoy some time together without being bugged by the flight directors, the flight controllers and the CAPCOMs asking them to do all kinds of things. So they'll have some time to themselves."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision L of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/26/08
07:55 AM...11...12...00...Crew wakeup
08:30 AM...11...12...35...Flight director briefing replay
08:30 AM...11...12...35...Flight day 12 HD highlights
09:55 AM...11...14...00...Daily planning conference
10:30 AM...11...14...35...Departure preps
10:10 AM...11...14...15...Russian Progress systems training
11:15 AM...11...15...20...Middeck transfers
11:10 AM...11...15...15...Cargo module (MPLM) egress
11:25 AM...11...15...30...MPLM deactivation
11:45 AM...11...15...50...MPLM vestibule demate
01:15 PM...11...17...20...Tool stow
01:15 PM...11...17...20...MPLM vestibule depress
02:35 PM...11...18...40...Crew meals begin
03:30 PM...11...19...35...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
03:35 PM...11...19...40...Station arm (SSRMS) grapples MPLM
04:05 PM...11...20...10...Harmony module berthing mechanism demate
04:50 PM...11...20...55...MPLM demate and move to shuttle
06:10 PM...11...22...15...MPLM locked in payload bay
06:20 PM...11...22...25...SSRMS ungrapples MPLM
06:40 PM...11...22...45...Water recovery system sample collection
08:00 PM...12...00...05...Evening planning conference
10:25 PM...12...02...30...ISS crew sleep begins
10:55 PM...12...03...00...STS crew sleep begins
11:00 PM...12...03...05...Flight day 13 highlights

11/27/08
06:55 AM...12...11...00...Crew wakeup
07:30 AM...12...11...35...Flight director update
08:30 AM...12...12...35...Flight day 13 HD highlights


5:45 PM, 11/25/08: SARJ operation smoother than expected; NASA may be able to forego building replacement bearing race; urine processor now operating well; water samples collected from processor, dispenser

Work to replace bearings and re-lubricate the space station's damaged right-side solar array rotary joint went better than expected, a senior manager said today, resulting in remarkably smooth operation that may permit the agency to forego building, launching and installing costly replacement hardware.

Space station Program Manager Mike Suffredini also said the station's newly installed water recycling system, including an initially cantankerous urine distillation assembly, appears to be operating normally and that the Endeavour astronauts will be able to bring some six liters of processed urine and condensate back to Earth for chemical analysis, more than engineers expected before launch.

"When we went into this mission, we said there were two primary objectives we needed to take care of," Suffredini said. "One was to repair the SARJ (solar alpha rotary joint) and prepare the port SARJ for continued operations. And of course, the other major objective was to get started on our regenerative ECLSS (environmental control and life support) system, get it going in preparation for six-crew operations in the May timeframe. I'm happy to report today that we're well on our way in both of those cases."

Early today, flight controllers activated the right-side solar alpha rotary joint and commanded it to operate in normal "auto-track" mode for two full orbits. In auto-track, the station's two SARJ mechanisms rotate outboard solar arrays like huge paddle wheels to keep them face on to the sun.

Engineers first noticed problems with the starboard SARJ last year when sensors measured increased vibration levels and power usage in the drive motor. Inspections by spacewalking astronauts later showed one of the gear's three bearing races was heavily damaged, apparently because of a lubrication breakdown that generated extensive metallic contamination.

One of the 12 trundle bearings that grip the gear was replaced last June to help engineers troubleshoot the problem. During parts of four spacewalks, the Endeavour astronauts replaced 10 bearing assemblies and re-installed the 11th, cleaned off the metallic debris and re-lubricated all three races.

Going into the flight, Suffredini said engineers believed the outer canted bearing race was too damaged to permit resumption of around-the-clock auto-track operations. The goal was to lower vibration and friction levels enough to permit periodic operations to boost power when needed.

But it now appears the bearing swap-out and re-lubrication might permit more routine operations than originally expected. That's a major issue as NASA transitions to full-time operations with an expanded crew of six and a full slate of experiments that require all the power the lab's solar arrays can generate.

Along with bringing the old bearings down for a comprehensive failure analysis, the goal of the servicing work was to "clean up the race and lubricate it and see what we could do about reducing the currents on the motor to drive this joint (and) to see if we could reduce the vibrations," Suffredini said. "One of the things that's not immediately obvious to you is the vibrations induced╩by rotating this joint had the potential to put extensive life (reduction) on the structure. So that was another big driver for not operating in auto track.

"And so we performed both of those tasks and we found that the current dropped dramatically, in fact the currents are now much, much closer to where they were when we started off," he said. "We've seen as low as 0.17 amps since we lubricated it. It was as high as 0.7 to 0.9 in some cases. These are the peak numbers, we average the lower numbers. This particular joint, when it first started out, was operating at about 0.15 amps. So you can see the data is suggesting we're awfully close to our original drive currents.

"We took vibration data that we're looking at now. So I can't tell you what that data tells us, but I can tell you anecdotally, one of the ways we discovered this problem, one of the cameras on the starboard truss would vibrate, you could look at an image with this camera and you'd see it vibrate when the joint was rotating. And that particular camera is still now. So if you want to take that as an indication that we reduced vibrations, we certainly have."

Suffredini said it will take weeks of engineering analysis and additional auto-track test runs to fully characterize the behavior of the joint. But if the initial results hold up, the agency may be able to stop work on a long-range plan to build a new bearing race that would be launched on the last planned shuttle mission and installed over multiple spacewalks.

"If, in fact, we could keep the currents down through a lubrication process that's not extensive, that we wouldn't have to do every three or four months but maybe once every year or two, perhaps we could choose that avenue as opposed to replacing that race," he said. "So this is a very positive step for us. It's very possible we could save ourselves quite a bit of time and effort and get this joint in auto-track sooner than we had hoped."

The Endeavour astronauts also lubricated the station's port SARJ. That mechanism has been operating normally, but engineers wanted to add fresh lubrication to prevent problems like those experienced by the starboard joint. The astronauts reported seeing signs of very slight damage on one bearing race, but Suffredini said it appeared to be normal wear and tear.

As for the urine processor, Suffredini said it appears the removal of rubber vibration isolators and additional work to hard mount the distillation assembly to its mounting bracket paid off. Initial startup problems appear to be related to subtle harmonic effects as an internal centrifuge spins in a vacuum distillation assembly. The vibration dampers were put in place to reduce noise, but taking them off apparently prevented the motions that contributed to an unwanted balance issue, allowing the system to operate in a more normal fashion.

"So now we believe where we are is that we'll keep the distillation assembly on orbit and we will look to methods to mount it perhaps a little stiffer to the structure, we'll see if there's anything we want to do different, if we want to perhaps build some sort of bracket we bring to orbit to stiffen up the structure," Suffredini said. "We may choose to do that. But right now, the thinking is we'll probably leave this distillation assembly on orbit and we'll nurse it along╩ the way we have been and learn from the system."

Today, the astronauts hooked up a potable water dispenser that is connected to the same water "bus" as the water recycling gear. A new toilet will be connected to the bus after the shuttle departs, routing urine to the processor for conversion into pure water for drinking, food preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation. Flight Director Holly Ridings said the astronauts will bring down about six liters of processed water for detailed chemical analysis to determine purity and to help calibrate an analyzer on the space station. No one will drink any processed water until after additional samples are brought down next February.

Assuming the equipment continues working normally, NASA will be clear to boost crew size to six next May as planned.


08:40, 11/25/08: SARJ tested; urine processor tests continue

Engineers began testing the space station's right-side solar array rotary joint today to find out if the damaged 10-foot-wide drive gear at the heart of the mechanism is rolling with less vibration and friction after spacewalking work by the Endeavour astronauts to install new bearings and lubrication. While engineers will spend weeks evaluating the test data, officials said telemetry showed lower motor currents, indicating reduced friction and smoother operation.

The space station is equipped with two SARJ mechanisms on either side of its main solar power truss. The joints are designed to rotate outboard solar arrays to keep them face-on to the sun as the station goes around the planet.

Engineers first noticed problems with the starboard SARJ last year when sensors measured increased vibration levels and power usage in the drive motor. Inspections by spacewalking astronauts later showed one of the gear's three bearing races was heavily damaged, apparently because of a lubrication breakdown that generated extensive metallic contamination.

One of the 12 trundle bearings that grip the gear was replaced last June to help engineers troubleshoot the problem. During parts of four spacewalks, the Endeavour astronauts replaced the other 11 bearing assemblies, cleaned off the metallic debris and re-lubricated all three races.

Going into the flight, station managers said the outer canted bearing race was too damaged to permit resumption of around-the-clock auto-track operations. But engineers hoped the cleaning and re-lubrication would lower vibration and friction levels enough to permit periodic operations to boost power when needed.

Officials said a realtime assessment of telemetry showed the joint was, in fact, operating more smoothly than it did before the repair work, indicating the spacewalks may have accomplished the objective. But it will take several weeks of data analysis before engineers develop a plan for using the starboard SARJ on a more regular basis.

Inside the station, meanwhile, the newly installed urine processor assembly continues to operate after work Monday to mount the unit's centrifuge and distillation assembly more firmly to its mounting rack. Flight controllers ran the unit for more than five hours late Monday and after a three-hour cool-down period, restarted it again today. The plan is to let the processor operate all day to collect additional performance data and process additional samples.

The astronauts also plan to hook up and activate a new potable water dispenser later today that is tied into the Destiny lab module's potable water bus. Engineers want to bring down samples from the water recovery system racks and from the dispenser to test water quality. More than three months of tests are required before NASA wll be clear to boost station crew size from three to six next year.

Additional details about the SARJ operation and the water recycling system troubleshooting are expected at today's mission status briefing at 3:30 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision K of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/25/08
08:55 AM...10...13...00...Crew wakeup
10:25 AM...10...14...30...ISS daily planning conference
11:10 AM...10...15...15...Potable water bus vent/fill
11:10 AM...10...15...15...Water recovery rack UPA troubleshooting
12:20 PM...10...16...25...Post-EVA spacesuit transfer and reconfig
12:35 PM...10...16...40...Potable water dispenser activation
03:30 PM...10...19...35...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
04:05 PM...10...20...10...Joint crew meal
05:05 PM...10...21...10...PAO event
05:25 PM...10...21...30...Node 2 CBM/CPA install
08:10 PM...11...00...15...Configure MPLM racks
09:00 PM...11...01...05...Evening planning conference
11:25 PM...11...03...30...ISS crew sleep begins
11:55 PM...11...04...00...STS crew sleep begins

11/26/08
12:00 AM...11...04...05...Flight day 12 highlights
07:30 AM...11...11...35...Flight director update
07:55 AM...11...12...00...Crew wakeup


12:10 AM, 11/25/08: Urine processor appears to run normally in extended test; additional test runs planned overnight; engineers hopeful

After three false starts and around-the-clock troubleshooting, the newly installed urine processor aboard the international space station was fired back up late Monday and appeared to run relatively smoothly after additional work earlier in the day to stabilize a centrifuge in the system's distillation sub-system. Despite occasionally sounding like a washing machine in the spin cycle, the processor continued running well past the times of earlier shutdowns.

"It looks like we are still spinning and it's been three hours and 18 minutes or something like that," station commander Mike Fincke reported just before 11:30 p.m.

"Yes, the UPA has been going very well," Robert Hanley replied from Houston. "Our regen (regenerative life support system) guys are actually smiling, which is really nice, here in the control center."

A few minutes later, Fincke said he could hear a change in the sound of the centrifuge.

"Stand by... I'm just hearing some washing machine noises that are coming from the UPA that wasn't there before and I can see on our motor currents that it's spiking a little bit. You guys probably see the same."

"Yeah, Mike, we see the same thing," Hanley replied.

"It definitely sounds like a washer in a spin cycle," Fincke said.

"OK, we copy that, Mike. And we think you may be hearing the sound go back to normal," Hanley said, apparently referring to telemetry.

"And we hear it going back to normal now and we can see the motor current dropping, so that sounds good," Fincke said.

A few minutes past midnight, Fincke said "I'd like to congratulate the entire team because we've been operating for four hours and two minutes now."

"Yes, everybody's very happy down here," Hanley said "it's looking good so far."

"Well, not to spoil anything, but I think up here we're feeling the appropriate words are 'yippee!'"

"There will be dancing later," Hanley said.

The urine processor assembly is a key component in a new system designed to convert condensate and urine into potable water for drinking, meal preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation. The closed-loop life support system is required before NASA can boost the station's crew size from three to six next May.

But the astronauts and flight controllers have had problems getting the urine processor assembly up and running. The first two test runs ended with computer-commanded shutdowns after about two hours of operation. Telemetry indicated a speed sensor was physically interfering with the operation of the centrifuge, possibly due to thermal expansion or harmonic effects as the spinning hardware warmed up.

Fincke and Endeavour astronaut Don Pettit removed rubber vibration dampers from the centrifuge housing to firmly lock the unit down in a bid to change the vibration modes thought to be contributing to the problem. In a third test run, the processor operated past the two-hour mark but eventually shut down with the same signature: slower motor speeds and higher currents.

On Monday, Fincke added two more bolts to add additional support to the distillation unit housing. The processor was restart shortly after 8 p.m. and was still running at midnight. Engineers planned to run the unit for five hours before shutting it down, allowing it to cool off and starting a new test run.

Earlier Monday, mission managers agreed to extend Endeavour's mission one day to give engineers more time to troubleshoot the UPA problem. During a briefing following the crew's fourth and final spacewalk Monday, station flight director Ginger Kerrick said flight planners are hoping for the best but, playing it safe, planning for the worst: bringing the distillation unit back to Earth for repairs if it fails to operate in an acceptable manner.

"The ground teams are looking at options for returning the urine processor assembly, potentially either in the shuttle middeck or in the MPLM (cargo module)," Kerrick said. "We hope to have a bingo time of sorts where we can continue out troubleshooting up to a certain time and, based on where the processor will be returning on the shuttle, MPLM or middeck, that bingo time will be slightly different. The addition of the plus one day does give us some additional time for further troubleshooting."

Even if the processor fails to operate normally, Kerrick said mission managers could still opt to leave the unit in place if tests show it can be operated in an on-again off-again way.

"If it passes and keeps running, I think our engineers will get comfortable that they have found a solution," Kerrick said. "If it fails, the alternative method is to operate it in one-hour and 45-minute increments with cool downs in between. We have not tested that yet, but we still have time with the additional docked day to test that theory. ... So I think there's two ways for folks to get comfortable with the urine processor remaining on board."

Earlier Monday, astronauts Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough staged a successful spacewalk to finish lubricating the station's two solar alpha rotary joint mechanisms. They also retracted a balky berthing latch on the Japanese Kibo module, mounted one of two GPS antennas and installed a new television camera on the station's solar power truss.

A major goal of Endeavour mission was to clean and lubricate the main drive in the station's right-side SARJ mechanism and replace 11 of 12 bearing assemblies. That work spilled over into Monday's spacewalk, but Bowen had no problems installing a final bearing assembly and completing the lubrication of a 30-degree segment of it's 10-foot-wide drive gear.

The starboard SARJ suffered extensive damage to one of its three bearing race rings because of a lubrication breakdown in space. Engineers hope the Endeavour crew's cleaning, lubrication and bearing replacement will reduce rolling friction and vibration and allow periodic "auto-track" sun tracking to improve power generation.

Engineers plan to test the starboard SARJ starting at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, commanding the massive joint to operate in auto-track mode for two full orbits. Sensors will measure vibration levels and drive motor currents while television cameras looks for any signs of unwanted shaking.

The astronauts said they wanted to watch the test, but flight controllers late Monday told them to stay in bed. Any vibrations caused by crew members moving around inside the station could affect data being collected to assess SARJ performance.

"They did want to see it and I can appreciate that, but we need to minimize disturbances on the space station so that we get the best data that we can," Kerrick said. "We're looking at some accelerometer data, vibration data, and we want to make sure that what we're seeing is truly caused by the SARJ and not by eager crew members looking out the window."

While Bowen serviced the starboard SARJ Monday, Kimbrough worked to lubricate the port-side drive gear's bearing races. The port mechanism has operated normally to this point, but Bowen reported today that he could see signs of wear on the outer bearing race similar to, but not as serious as, the damage on the right-side gear.

"I'm sure that got a lot of discussion back with our SARJ engineering team, Kerrick said. "That was a surprise to me, something different than we had heard reported from the port SARJ. But at the same time, we know the port SARJ could be susceptible to the same failure the starboard SARJ saw, so it seems to me we caught it in time."


7:45 PM, 11/24/08: Spacewalk ends

Astronauts Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough ended at six-hour seven-minute spacewalk today at 7:31 p.m. after servicing the space station's two solar array rotary joints and making preparations for attachment of new components next year.

"Outstanding work today, guys," spacewalk coordinator Eric Boe radioed from the shuttle Endeavour. "Great EVA, really enjoyed working with you and it was a great day."

Today's excursion was the 118th in station assembly history, the 19th of 20 planned this year and the fourth and final outing for the shuttle Endeavour's crew. Total station EVA assembly time now stands at 745 hours and 29 minutes, while Endeavour's total ends up at 26 hours and 41 minutes. Bowen logged 19 hours and 56 minutes during EVAs 1, 3 and 4 while Kimbrough put in 12 hours and 52 minutes during spacewalks 2 and 4. Crewmate Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, who participated in the first three spacewalks and two excursions in 2006, has logged 33 hours and 42 minutes of EVA time, moving her to 25th on the list of most experienced spacewalkers.

Bowen and Kimbrough accomplished all of their objectives today, finishing up work on the station's right-side solar alpha rotary joint by installing a final bearing assembly and lubricating a final 30-degree segment of its 10-foot-wide drive gear. One of the three bearing races on the drive gear has suffered extensive damage because of a lubrication failure and engineers hope the servicing by Endeavour's crew will permit periodic sun-tracking sessions to maximize solar power production. A test run is planned for Tuesday morning.

While Bowen worked on the starboard SARJ, Kimbrough lubricated the left-side joint to reduce friction and prevent similar problems down the road. He also installed a new TV camera on the solar power truss while Bowen prepared the Japanese Kibo module for the attachment of an external experiment shelf next year.

There were no problems of any significance other than a slight buildup of carbon dioxide in Kimbrough's suit toward the end of the spacewalk. He had similar buildups during a spacewalk last Thursday and flight controllers asked him to rest periodically to help lower the CO2 level.

Inside the station, meanwhile, commander Mike Fincke helped flight controllers in an on-going effort to troubleshoot problems with the lab's newly installed urine processor assembly. Today, while checking the water processing rack's cooling, Fincke discovered a connection that was not fully seated. He then filled the system for another test run early Tuesday.


4:10 PM, 11/24/08: Starboard SARJ work complete

Two-and-a-half hours into today's spacewalk, astronaut Stephen Bowen has installed a final bearing assembly in the space station's starboard solar array rotary joint mechanism and finished cleaning and lubricating a final 30-degree section of its bearing races.

"FInally!" Bowen exclaimed as flight controllers burst into applause.

"Thanks for your work," communicator Mark Vande Hei replied from Houston.

"You're welcome, any time," Bowen said. "Although never on the SARJ again, I hope."

After returning tools and equipment to the station's Quest airlock module, Bowen plans to make he way forward to the Japanese Kibo lab module to manually retract a berthing latch that will be used next year for attachment of an external experiment platform. He will then re-install thermal covers and attach GPS antennas needed for the docking of a Japanese cargo ship next year.

Fellow spacewalker Robert "Shane" Kimbrough, meanwhile, is working to install an external television camera. He earlier lubricated one half of the station's port-side SARJ drive gear. After the TV camera is attached to the downward-facing side of the port 1 solar array truss segment, he will head back to the port SARJ to complete the lube job.


2:15 PM, 11/24/08: Inspection of port SARJ shows signs of wear on bearing race

Astronauts inspecting the space station's left-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, prior to lubrication intended as preventive maintenance, reported seeing signs of wear on a bearing race that appears similar to, though not nearly as extensive as, damage to the right-side SARJ.

The astronauts spent most of the first three spacewalks of Endeavour's mission cleaning and lubricating the starboard SARJ's three bearing races and installing new trundle bearing assemblies to reduce friction and fatigue-inducing vibration. One bearing race, called the outer canted surface, was heavily damaged by pressure-loaded rollers in the bearing assemblies because of a lubrication failure.

The port SARJ has been operating normally and Kimbrough plans to spend most of today's spacewalk applying lubrication as preventive maintenance. But during an inspection before the work began, one of the astronauts reported seeing signs of wear on the port SARJ's outer canted surface.

"If you look at the outer canted surface, you can see two dark lines, one above and one below the track where the trundle bearings are riding, it looks at though there is some wear where the trundle bearings are riding," Bowen said. "You can see ... a little wear pattern in there that's sort of a junior version of what we have on the other side."

The SARJ mechanisms are critical to space station power generation, rotating outboard solar panels to keep them face-on to the sun as the lab orbits the Earth. The damaged right-side SARJ can no longer operate in auto-track mode, but engineers hope the cleaning, lubrication and bearing replacement carried out during Endeavour's mission will permit occasional sun-tracking to improve power generation.

The port SARJ has been operating normally, although Bowen's report today would seem to indicate the planned lubrication could be of more immediate benefit than initially thought.


1:25 PM, 11/24/08: Spacewalk begins

Astronauts Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough switched their spacesuits to internal battery power at 1:24 p.m., about 20 minutes ahead of schedule, to officially kick off a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk, the fourth and final EVA planned for the shuttle Endeavour's crew.

This is the 118th EVA devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998 and the 19th this year. Going into today's excursion, the shuttle crew had logged 20 hours and 34 minutes of spacewalk time, pushing the station's total to 739 hours and 23 minutes.

For identification, Kimbrough's spacesuit features broken red stripes on the legs. His radio call sign is EV-3 and views from his helmet camera will have the number 16 in the lower right corner. Bowen's suit is unmarked, his call sign is EV-2 and his helmet cam is No. 18.

After attaching safety tethers, Bowen and Kimbrough will make their way to the station's left-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, to remove thermal covers around the mechanism's 10-foot-wide drive gear. While Kimbrough works to lubricate the gear's bearing races, Bowen will be working on the opposite side of the solar power truss to install a final bearing assembly in the damaged right-side SARJ and to finish cleaning and lubricating the joint.

See the 9:10 a.m. update for a detailed overview of today's spacewalk.


11:30 AM, 11/24/08: Shuttle mission extended one day

NASA managers today decided to extend the shuttle Endeavour's mission by one day, presumably to give troubleshooters more time to resolve problems with the space station's new urine processor. Endeavour now is scheduled to undock the day after Thanksgiving and land back at the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday.

"Mike, as you may have heard, hopefully on the big loop, the IMMT has just decided to extend the shuttle for a day," astronaut Terry Virts radioed from Houston. "Just wanted to make sure you guys got the word."

"Well great," replied Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke. "We really enjoy having these guys up here and if we can only extend by one day that will have to do, but we're grateful for the news."

"Well, hopefully it will be a good extra day for you guys," Virts said.

A revised flight plan will be posted here as soon as it's available.


9:10 AM, 11/24/08: Astronauts gear up for final spacewalk; urine processor troubleshooting continues

Astronauts Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough are preparing for a six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk today to finish work on the space station's damaged right-side solar array rotary joint and to carry out preventive maintenance on its port-side counterpart. The spacewalkers also plan to manually retract a berthing latch on the Japanese Kibo lab module, install GPS antennas and thermal covers and mount a new external TV camera.

The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 1:45 p.m., but the astronauts likely will start early if they complete preparations in time (an updated timeline is posted below).

While the spacewalk is going on outside, the astronauts inside the space station will be wrapping up final equipment transfers to and from the shuttle's Leonardo cargo module while engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston continue troubleshooting problems with a newly installed urine processing assembly, or UPA. Urine recycling is critical to NASA's plans for boosting the station's crew from three to six next May.

The urine processor assembly is designed to run about four hours at a time converting urine into potable water using a complex vacuum distillation technique. During test runs Friday and Saturday, the motor driving a centrifuge in the distillation sub-system slowed down after about two hours, forcing shut downs. Telemetry indicated the problem involves physical interference between the spinning centrifuge and a speed sensor, possibly caused by thermal effects and/or a frequency mode the device gets into after extended operation.

In a bid to reduce the unwanted oscillations, station commander MIke Fincke and Endeavour astronaut Don Pettit removed rubber vibration dampers on the distillation unit housing Sunday and bolted it directly to its mounting rails in water processing system rack No. 2. A third test run then was attempted Sunday evening. The unit ran for about an hour longer than in the first two tests, but it ultimately shut down with the same motor-slowdown signature."

Later today, starting around 12:50 p.m., Fincke will make another adjustment to the distillation unit housing in an attempt to coax the unit into normal, or near normal, operation.

"We tried running the UPA twice," station flight director Brian Smith said early today. "We had the same signature where it shut down due to high motor current and ... a slower speed on the centrifuge. After the second time, commander Mike Fincke performed a maintenance activity on the distillation assembly. And the maintenance activity involved him changing the mounting configuration (by removing rubber vibration dampers). He modified that to change the nature of the vibrations.

"We ran the urine processor assembly after that modification was made, we got to the two-hour mark and that was where we had seen the failures the last two times," Smith said. "We got to the two-hour mark (Sunday night) and we saw a similar signature as to what we had seen before, but not quite as bad. And the urine processing assembly was able to get through that two-hour mark and we saw the signatures level off to something a little more normal. But unfortunately, about 53 minutes after that, or about two hours and 53 minutes into the run, it failed again with exactly the same signatures we had seen in the previous two failures."

When the distillation assembly vibration dampers were removed Sunday, six bolts were pulled out but only four were put back in. Today, the other two bolts will be re-inserted to tighten up the mounting even more.

"We came up with another maintenance procedure along the same lines as the first one," Smith said. "We're going back to the mounting scheme for the distillation assembly and instead of four bolts mounting it, we're going to add two more into holes that are pre-existing, we're going to take two bolts and we're going to drive those in there to hard mount the distillation assembly into the rack and further modify the vibration nature as the centrifuge spins. And then we'll run the urine processing assembly again and see if that helped."

Today's spacewalk will be the 118th EVA devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998, the 19th this year and the fourth and final excursion for Endeavour's crew. Going into today's excursion, the shuttle crew had logged 20 hours and 34 minutes of spacewalk time, pushing the station's total to 739 hours and 23 minutes.

For Kimbrough, today's spacewalk timeline is unchanged. But Bowen's timeline was modified to allow him to complete work on the station's starboard solar alpha rotary joint that was left unfinished after the crew's third spacewalk Saturday.

Servicing the right-side SARJ joint was a major objective of Endeavour's mission. The 10-foot-wide drive gear in the massive mechanism is designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like big paddle wheels to automatically track the sun as the station orbits the Earth. The port SARJ has been operating normally, but one of the three bearing races on the right-side drive gear has suffered extensive erosion because of a lubrication failure. The damaged race causes increased vibration levels and the joint can no longer be used in auto-track mode.

During the first three spacewalks the astronauts cleaned and lubricated 330 degrees of the drive gear's race rings and replaced 10 of 12 trundle bearing assemblies. One was replaced last June. During today's EVA, Bowen will install the final trundle bearing and finish cleaning the last 30-degree segment of the bearing races.

Kimbrough, meanwhile, will apply lubrication to the port-side SARJ as preventive maintenance. Smith provided a detailed description of the replanned spacewalk:

"A few things have been added on to this timeline Steve and Shane will be going out conducting this spacewalk," Smith said. "Steve's going to finish up the starboard SARJ activities. We left (thermal) covers 17 and 18 off after EVA-3 and we had removed trundle bearing No. 3. He's going to replace the trundle bearing after cleaning the area and then lubricating the remaining part of the race ring and then put the covers back on. That will complete all the starboard SARJ work we had planned for the mission.

"When that is complete, he's going to go off and do a new task that was added. This is the exposed facility berthing mechanism structural latch contingency activity. A few days ago, the Japanese control center had checked out the exposed facility berthing mechanism in preparation for (a shuttle mission next year to attach an external experiment shelf). And one of the structural latches deployed but did not retract and they need to get it retracted. They tried some on-orbit troubleshooting with the crew to get the computers to get that latch to retract. That was unsuccessful, so Steve will go out to that work site and he'll just drive a bolt that will then cause that latch to retract and that mechanism should be in the correct configuration for the 2J/A assembly mission. While he's there, he's going to put a cover over that mechanism. He took that off during EVA-1 to allow for this checkout to occur, so now it's time to put that back on, it's a thermal cover.

"And then he's going to install GPS antennas onto the Japanese module. This was originally part of EVA-4. These antennas are needed for the HTV mission, the Japanese transfer vehicle, that will launch in 2009.

"While Steve is doing that, Shane is going to be working on the port solar alpha rotary joint, the port SARJ," Smith said. "We're going to lubricate all 360 degrees of that race ring. He'll do 180 degrees, then he'll go off to a different work site and he'll install a new TV camera that will be mounted permanently outside. We have three of them on the space station right now and this will be a fourth one. This one is being added to provide views of the rendezvous and the berthing of HTV next year.

"When he's complete with that, he'll return to the port SARJ and finish lubricating the rest of the race ring," Smith said. "And all those tasks were originally in EVA-4 so Shane's timeline has remained unchanged."

Assuming Bowen gets done with the starboard SARJ today, flight controllers plan a two-orbit test early Tuesday to check the operation of the joint. The test is scheduled to begin around 5:30 a.m.

"The test is very simple to execute," Smith said. "We're just going to command the joint to go into what we call auto-track. And in that mode, it's just going to automatically track the sun and do two full revolutions. While it's doing that, we're going to have sensors programmed to record the vibrations on the space station. We're also going to have one of those external TV cameras trained on the joint as well as the truss segment. We have in the past noticed when that joint is moving, vibrations in the truss, it's very easy to see. We're going to be looking for a reduction of that, a reduction of vibrations and we're also going to be monitoring the current of the motor used to drive that joint. we're looking for the proper current signature, which would be a reduced amount of current from what we've seen in the past."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision I of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

08:55 AM...09...13...00...Crew wakeup
09:30 AM...09...13...35...EVA-4: 14.7 psi repress/hygiene break
10:15 AM...09...14...20...EVA-4: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
10:40 AM...09...14...45...EVA-4: Campout EVA preps
10:55 AM...09...15...00...ISS daily planning conference
12:10 PM...09...16...15...EVA-4: Spacesuit purge
12:15 PM...09...16...20...Cargo module transfers resume
12:25 PM...09...16...30...EVA-4: Spacesuit prebreathe
12:50 PM...09...16...55...UPA maintenance
01:15 PM...09...17...20...EVA-4: Crew lock depressurization
01:45 PM...09...17...50...EVA-4: Spacesuits to battery power
01:50 PM...09...17...55...EVA-4: Airlock egress
02:05 PM...09...18...10...EVA-4: Setup
02:30 PM...09...18...35...EVA-4: Port SARJ thermal cover removal
03:00 PM...09...19...05...EVA-4/EV3: Port SARJ first lubrication
03:05 PM...09...19...10...EVA-4/EV2: Stb SARJ servicing
03:35 PM...09...19...40...EVA-4/EV3: TV camera installation
04:50 PM...09...20...55...EVA-4/EV3: Port SARJ second lubrication
05:35 PM...09...21...40...EVA-4/EV2: Kibo capture launch retract
05:35 PM...09...21...40...EVA-4/EV3: Pt SARJ thermal cover install
06:05 PM...09...22...10...EVA-4/EV2: Kibo cover install
06:25 PM...09...22...30...EVA-4/EV2: Install Kibo GPS antenna
07:05 PM...09...23...10...EVA-4/EV3: Get ahead tasks
07:10 PM...09...23...15...EVA-4/EV2: Kibo robot arm clean up
07:45 PM...09...23...50...EVA-4: Cleanup and ingress
07:55 PM...10...00...00...Pettit GLA scavange
08:15 PM...10...00...20...EVA-4: Airlock repressurization
08:25 PM...10...00...30...Spacesuit servicing
09:20 PM...10...01...25...Configure MPLM racks
10:25 PM...10...02...30...Evening planning conference
10:00 PM...10...02...05...Mission status briefing on NASA TV

11/25/08
12:25 AM...10...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
12:55 AM...10...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
01:00 AM...10...05...05...Flight day 11 highlights
05:30 AM...10...09...35...Starboard SARJ auto-track test
07:30 AM...10...11...35...Flight director status report
08:30 AM...10...12...35...HD flight day 11 highlights
08:55 AM...10...13...00...Crew wakeup


07:30 PM, 11/23/08: Urine processor continues working beyond earlier failure point; engineers hopeful about fix (UPDATED at 8:30 p.m. with processor shutdown; troubleshooting continues

An improvised fix to overcome subtle vibration issues that triggered premature shutdowns of the space station's new urine processor assembly appeared to have paid off Sunday. Engineers said an initial test run continued past the point of earlier failures, raising hopes the critical system can be coaxed into normal operation. But less than an hour later, the processor shut itself down again after experiencing problems similar to those that interrupted test runs Friday and Saturday.

"Teams on the ground who have been watching the test of the urine processor over the last, almost, three hours now are reporting that, although it was initially running well and ran longer than the earlier tests of it, it has again shut down," said mission control commentator Brandi Dean. "They're looking at different possibilities of what could be causing that problem and will be troubleshooting it overnight."

The newly installed water recycling system aboard the space station is crucial for NASA's plans to boost the lab's crew size from three to six next May. NASA managers had hoped to collect test data on the urine recycling system for the next 90 days before a dress-rehearsal in February using the crew of the next shuttle mission to simulate the "load" the lab's life support system will experience when the station' crew size jumps to six.

As it is, time is running out for NASA managers to make a decision about how to proceed. Engineers still hope to figure out a solution that would permit normal, or near-normal, operations with the urine processor "as is." But if a solution is not found in fairly short order, the astronauts could be forced to ship the hardware back to Earth for repairs. While the distillation unit presumably could be repaired and relaunched in February, it wouldn't leave much time to complete testing before it would have to go on line to support six crew members.

"Clearly, we want to get the system running as soon as possible so we can start processing urine and verify that we do have good potable water coming out the other side," space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus told CBS News Sunday. "I know there are some plans when the (shuttle) arrives to pick me up in February to also have the toilet up and running and have the maximum loading of six to 10 people using the toilet, working through the urine processor, to get the system into a test run, if you will, for the six-person crew.

"So it's really important that we get this up and running and again, we want to do that to make sure it's set and ready to go when we send up our six-person crew next summer."

Endeavour currently is scheduled to undock from the space station Thanksgiving day. NASA managers could delay undocking at least one day if engineers determine the extra time could help in the troubleshooting effort. Shipping the distillation unit back to Earth would be a worst-case scenario, delaying tests and checkout until February and possibly disrupting NASA's plans to boost crew size in May. Engineers remain hopeful it won't come to that.

"We really want to be confident the system will run long term so that when we begin six-person crew operations in May, we know we've got essentially a stable platform in the life support systems operation," station Flight Director Courtenay McMillan said earlier today. "So the longer we can actually perform the checkouts prior to that, the better off we are.

"The reason we really targeted this flight for performing the analysis, we still have some margin in case something goes wrong and we need to do any replanning or fly up any additional equipment or consumables on the mission in February. So we do still have some room and some runway ahead of us in this case. If we wait until February, we may not get all the engineering requirements to be sure that all the systems are working as required in order to support six-person crew."

If the distillation assembly is shipped back to Earth aboard Endeavour, "we may still be able to make it in May in that case," McMillan said. "We would need to look at do we need the full checkout period and what type of evaluation we have to do of samples and so forth and what that does to the schedule as well. Those conversations haven't started yet, we're tying to get all we can out of this mission."

Initial urine processing runs Friday and Saturday ended after about two hours when telemetry indicated the centrifuge motor in the unit's vacuum distillation assembly began slowing down and drawing higher than normal currents. When programmed safety limits were exceeded, the unit shut itself down.

Today, the astronauts removed rubber vibration dampers from the distillation unit's rack mounting system in a bid to reduce, if not eliminate, physical interference between the spinning centrifuge and a speed sensor presumably caused by a subtle interplay between thermal expansion, vibration frequencies and the inertia of the liquid circulating in the system.

After two hours of operation this evening, engineers reported seeing a motor speed decrease and current drop similar to what was observed during test runs Friday and Saturday. But this time around, the processor did not shut itself down, indicating the removal of the vibration dampers may have helped improve performance.

"We saw the same signature that we saw yesterday and the day before," an engineer radioed the astronauts. "It was a small decrease in speed and a small increase in current that steadied itself back out. It did not fail off and it's still processing."

"That sounds dandy news," station commander Mike Fincke replied. "We've been watching it and actually have the PCS plot function up (on a computer display) for the first time in my life and we saw that yeah, we saw it's still going and the current is about one point four. ... So Megan, the big picture plan is to keep processing, and that means I'll probably need to do another fill in about another hour, hour and a half?"

"We're actually going to let it run through this (four-hour) process and then probably talk about it a little bit and I'm guessing we can do a fill tomorrow, maybe," she replied.

"OK, well we have quite a collection (of urine) up here," Fincke quipped. "So anytime you need a fill, we'll be happy to unload it as opposed to loading it up. So that's good news so far, we'll keep our fingers crossed."

But the optimism was premature.

"For the first more than two hours, that fix seemed to be working, although the motor was giving a similar signature to the one they'd seen in the past just before it shut down," Dean said. "However, just a few moments ago it shut down again. So they will be continuing troubleshooting of that problem tonight."


6:25 PM, 11/23/08: With dampers removed, urine processor re-started in critical test of recycling system

After work to remove rubber vibration dampers from a centrifuge assembly inside the space station's new urine recycling system, the astronauts and flight controllers began another test run Sunday evening to find out if the improvised fix will eliminate a vibration-related problem that triggered pre-mature shutdowns.

The urine processor facility is designed to run about four hours at a time converting urine in a standard Russian container into potable water. During test runs Friday and Saturday, the motor driving a centrifuge in the processor's vacuum distillation sub-system slowed down after about two hours, forcing shut downs.

Telemetry indicated the problem involves physical interference between the spinning centrifuge and a speed sensor, possibly caused by thermal effects and/or a frequency mode the device gets into after extended operation.

"It could be thermal expansion and then two pieces actually rubbing up against each other inside or the outside of the case rubbing up against something," station Flight Director Courtenay McMillan told reporters late today. "It could be the combination of fluid dynamics and the ability of the whole drum to move. In previous tests, we've had the drum essentially fixed so it can't move at all, the whole centrifuge drum was fixed."

Aboard the station, however, the centrifuge assembly is mounted inside a water recovery system (WRS) rack with bolts running through thick rubber washers to serve as vibration dampers. The idea was to reduce the noise produced by the spinning centrifuge.

"We think with the dampers, it allows for some slight amount of movement that might exacerbate the dynamics of the fluid that's moving inside the centrifuge in such a way that it could slow it down," McMillan said. "We're not a hundred percent sure by any means that this is the mechanism causing the problem. But it is one way it could try to slow the motor down, just the interaction of the inertia of the fluid with how the drum itself is behaving. So by taking out those dampers, you reduce the ability for it to move at the drum level. That will increase some of the noise the system makes overall, but we think if we can actually make this work, we can find another way to deal with that if we have to."

Station commander Mike Fincke and Endeavour astronaut Don Pettit removed the dampers this afternoon, bolting the centrifuge directly to its support tray. Late in the afternoon, another test run was started. After the unit was restarted, Fincke reported hearing an unusual noise in the centrifuge section of the processor.

"I can hear, I don't know what you'd call it, like a sound coming from the WRS rack No. 2, near the distillation unit and I don't know if that's the centrifuge misbehaving or the centrifuge behaving," Fincke radioed a few minutes after 6 p.m. "I just wanted to let you know I'm starting to hear some slight noises that weren't there before."

"Houston copies and we appreciate those words. From all the data we've got on the ground, it looks like WRS is working nominally," replied Mark Vande Hei from mission control.

"OK, then we'll pay no attention to that noise. But it did sound like it was something that was spinning and had a slight imbalance to it. But maybe it's just a normal noise. These are new racks ... so I'll pay no attention to it. However, if you see (a computer) caution pop up, let us know and maybe we can hear something or stop by and take a look and give you some other data besides the telemetry you've got."

A few minutes later, Vande Hei reconfirmed that no problems were showing up in telemtry from the centrifuge.

Earlier Sunday, FIncke praised engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for coming up with the damper-removal fix.

"We're not picking at straws here," Fincke told CBS News in a post-repair interview. "These guys (in Houston) did a great job in a very short period of time to come up with an analysis for some tricky problem. The centrifuge, it would spin around for two hours and then all of the sudden would get a little bit unbalanced and we think it's partly because maybe it had a little bit too much play in the mounts, because that helps reduce vibrations.

"In this case, by nailing it down a little bit, by bolting it down, we'll reduce the vibration. It may make things a little bit louder on the space station but maybe good enough to keep the centrifuge in balance while it processes the urine. So we're very hopeful for this and if not, we have a few other tricks up our sleeves. Ultimately, we could even take the distillation unit back with Endeavour. So right now it's a good time to test all these things out."

If the repair work does not resolve the problem, McMillan said engineers will consider other alternatives, including the possibility of shipping the centrifuge unit back to Earth aboard Endeavour for repairs and re-launch aboard the next shuttle bound for the space station in February.

But that would throw a wrench into NASA's plans to thoroughly test the new hardware before expanding the station's crew size from three to six.

"We really want to be confident the system will run long term and so that when we begin six person crew operations in May, we know we've got essentially a stable platform in the life support systems operation," McMillan said. "So the longer we can actually perform the checkouts prior to that, the better off we are. The reason we really targeted this flight for performing the analysis, we still have some margin in case something goes wrong and we need to do any replanning or fly up any additional equipment or consumables on the mission in February.

"So we do still have some room and some runway ahead of us in this case," she said. "If we wait until February, we may not get all the engineering requirements to be sure that all the systems are working as required in order to support six person crew."


3:30 PM, 11/23/08: Urine distillation unit maintenance procedure completed; crew stands by for test run

Space station commander Mike Fincke and Endeavour astronaut Don Pettit opened up one of the station's new water recycling racks today and removed rubber dampers from a distillation assembly in hopes of fixing a vibration problem with a critical centrifuge. By bolting the unit directly to its shelf in the recycling rack, engineers believe the centrifuge motor may operate normally, allowing the astronauts to convert urine into potable water.

Fincke, making a thumbs-up sign to mission control on downlinked video, praised station-veteran Pettit for helping out with the impromptu repair.

"Thanks to Dr. Don Pettit," Fincke said. "We double checked and checked and double checked our work. We're going to put the bracket back on the front and then we should be ready to try this out. Thank you."

"We do have some steps to do on the ground," astronaut Terry Virts radioed from Houston. "We'll start getting it running again and when we're ready, we'll let you know, and when we're ready to have it filled."

"OK, I understand these things have to be done in sequence and I won't do any filling work until you guys are ready."

"Sounds good," Virts said. "Now that (outgoing flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff) is leaving and we won't be playing chess any more, maybe we can get a game of Pictionary going."

"That's true, that's a little bit more my style," Fincke joked.

The urine processor assembly has experienced problems with its distillation centrifuge since the astronauts began attempting to start up the recycling system late last week. After about two hours of normal operation, the centrifuge motor slows down and the system shuts itself down.

Telemetry indicates a speed sensor in the centrifuge is coming in physical contact with the motor as the system warms up. By removing the rubber isolation dampers, engineers hope to prevent a frequency response condition that might be contributing to the problem.

See the 9:50 a.m. status report for additional details.


9:50 AM, 11/23/08: Repair work planned for stalled urine processor; Monday spacewalk replanned (UPDATED at 10:10 a.m.; deleting reference to possible new problem with water recycling system; NASA says Smith was referring to an older issue)

Space station commander Mike Fincke and Endeavour astronaut Don Pettit will attempt repairs today that may resolve on-going problems with the station's newly installed urine recycling equipment. The rest of the shuttle crew, meanwhile, will enjoy a half-day off this morning before making preparations for a fourth and final spacewalk Monday by astronauts Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough.

Fincke, shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson and pilot Eric Boe will participate in round-robin network interviews beginning at 4:05 p.m. followed by NASA's daily mission status briefing at 4:30 p.m.

One of the major goals of Endeavour's mission was to deliver, install and activate a new water recovery system designed to convert condensate and urine into potable water for drinking, meal preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation. The recycling system is required before NASA can boost station crew size from three to six next May, a long-awaited milestone in the lab's evolution.

The installation went smoothly, but engineers have been troubleshooting potentially serious problems with the urine processor assembly. After about two hours of operation, the motor powering a centrifuge in the UPA's vacuum distillation sub-assembly shuts down, apparently because of thermal expansion that causes a speed sensor to come in contact with the centrifuge.

The astronauts managed to coax a urine sample through the system Saturday by running it for about an hour and 45 minutes at a time. That sample, and a condensate sample, will be returned to Earth aboard Endeavour for a detailed chemical analysis.

It's a bit confusing as to what engineers believe is actually causing the UPA problem. Flight director Ginger Kerrick said late Saturday that telemetry indicates the problem occurs because of thermal expansion that causes a speed sensor to come in contact with the centrifuge after the system warms up. That causes the motor to work harder and draw more current, triggering a shut down.

One possible solution, she said, was to remove the vibration dampers the centrifuge is mounted on. By "hard mounting" the unit to its shelf in the water recovery system rack, engineers believe they can eliminate a frequency mode that contributes to the problem. How that relates to thermal expansion, however, is not clear.

In any case, Fincke and Pettit plan to remove the vibration dampers today starting around 12:55 p.m. Once the unit is locked down on its shelf, flight controllers then will carry out additional tests to determine if that resolved the problem.

"Yesterday, we successfully collected the first set of samples from the water recovery system, so that was a big milestone," Flight Director Brian Smith said early today. "That accomplishment is sometimes overshadowed by the attention being received to the urine processing assembly that we're still having some trouble with. So it should be noted we had a very successful run of the water processing assembly and we were able to collect our samples."

As for the UPA repair, Smith said the work to lock down the distillation sub-assembly is relatively straight forward.

"Mike is going to execute a maintenance procedure we developed that's essentially going to change the way the distillation assembly is mounted inside the rack," Smith said. "The distillation assembly slides in on a shelf. This shelf is mounted into the rack and the way it's mounted is where we focused our attention. It's current mounting scheme contains some dampers and we're going to remove some of those dampers and re-attach the shelf to the rack. We call that a hard mount, it'll be mounted in a much more rigid way than it was originally. The theory being that that will change the vibrations that occur while the centrifuge is running and if we can change the characterization of those vibrations, we may be able to prevent what we believe is some physical interference with that centrifuge as it spins."

Along with collecting testable samples of reprocessed urine and condensate from the water recovery system, the astronauts also plan to hook up, activate and collect samples from a new potable water dispenser. The water recovery system racks, a new toilet and the potable water dispenser are all connected to a common water bus in the Destiny lab module.

The astronauts plan to hook up the potable water dispenser after the final spacewalk Monday.

"We have met the original goal for this mission with the samples that we collected yesterday," Smith said. "But all along, we have been challenged to hook up the potable water dispenser and collect some samples associated with that. So we are still on track to do that. The crew's got some more work to do to continue hooking up the potable water dispenser and then we will do another run of the water processing assembly and be able to generate the samples. So we've got a plan that will accomplish that before the hatch is closed and that's what we spent some of tonight doing, figuring out where some of those activities are going to go.

"We talked to the crew for quite a while before they went to bed last night about what they experienced when they started the routing procedure for the hoses associated with the potable water dispenser and based on their feedback, we think the remaining routing that needs to be done is going to be a little more complicated and a little more intrusive to some systems we're going to need for EVA-4. So we made the decision to postpone the continuation of that routing work for the potable water dispenser until after EVA-4 is done. Even with that postponement, we still have time to get it hooked up, run some water through it, collect our samples and we've got margin in case we experience a problem."

Bowen and Kimbrough plan to spend six-and-a-half hours outside the station Monday to complete the cleaning and lubrication of the lab's damaged right-side solar array rotary joint; to prepare the Japanese Kibo module for attachment of an external experiment platform next year; to install GPS antennas on the module; and to lubricate the station's left-side rotary joint.

Work to finish up the starboard alpha rotary joint servicing includes installation of a final bearing assembly and the cleaning and lubrication of a 30-degree segment of bearing races on the 10-foot-wide drive gear. In one bit of added work, problems with the retraction of a berthing latch needed next year to lock down the Kibo experiment platform will be manually retracted by one of the astronauts.

"The fourth spacewalk has changed a little bit from what we envisioned it to be pre flight," Smith said. "The first thing we need to get taken care of is the remaining work on the starboard solar alpha rotary joint. This is the work that wasn't completed on EVA-3. We left covers 17 and 18 off on the starboard SARJ. We had pulled trundle bearing three out. So on EVA-4, we need to go back to that location, clean the area, install a new trundle bearing assembly number three and then lubricate, reinstall the covers and then we'll be complete with the starboard SARJ work.

"Also added onto EVA-4 is a new task," he said. "The other day, our colleagues in the Japanese control center were checking out the exposed facility berthing mechanism (on the Kibo lab module). One of the structural latches deployed as planned but did not retract and that's an issue on assembly mission 2J/A. The exposed facility is going to be brought up by the shuttle and it's going to be berthed using this mechanism. That latch needs to be retracted before the start of that operation. So we have added in a new task to have the crew member, who was already going to be in that vicinity installing a cover over that mechanism, use his pistol grip tool ... to drive a bolt that will retract that latch manually."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision I of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

08:55 AM...08...13...00...Crew wakeup
10:40 AM...08...14...45...ISS daily planning conference
11:05 AM...08...15...10...Flight director conference
12:05 PM...08...16...10...Crew off duty time begins
12:55 PM...08...17...00...Urine system maintenance (Fincke/Pettit)
04:05 PM...08...20...10...Crew meal
04:05 PM...08...20...10...CBS News/ABC News/NBC News interviews
04:30 PM...08...20...35...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
05:05 PM...08...21...10...Cargo transfers resume
05:20 PM...08...21...25...Spacesuit swap
05:25 PM...08...21...30...SAFER jet backpack checkout
06:05 PM...08...22...10...Equipment lock preps
06:50 PM...08...22...55...Tools configured
08:50 PM...09...00...55...EVA-4: Procedures review
09:50 PM...09...01...55...Evening planning conference
11:20 PM...09...03...25...EVA-4: Nitrogen purge protocol

11/24/08
12:05 AM...09...04...10...EVA-4: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
12:25 AM...09...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
12:55 AM...09...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
01:00 AM...09...05...05...Flight day 10 highlights
07:30 AM...09...11...35...Flight director update
08:30 AM...09...12...35...HD flight day 10 highlights
08:55 AM...09...13...00...Crew wakeup


11:00 PM, 11/22/08: Urine processor repair attempt on tap; water samples collected; extra day not envisioned

Engineers troubleshooting problems with a centrifuge in the distillation assembly of hardware designed to convert urine into potable water aboard the international space station believe a relatively simple fix might resolve the trouble. Station commander Mike Fincke will attempt a repair job Sunday, removing vibration dampers from the centrifuge and locking the unit in place. In so doing, engineers believe, thermal expansion after the unit runs and warms up will no longer cause a specific sensor to interfere with the spinning centrifuge.

"The experts on the ground have been meeting throughout the day," lead Flight Director Ginger Kerrick told reporters late Saturday. "They believe we have isolated the source of the problem to the way the centrifuge is mounted in the distillation assembly. It is on isolators and they believe that that is a contributer to the signals that they're seeing that caused the UPA to shut down.

"Their proposal is to remove those isolators and hard mount the distillation assembly. So folks are working on that procedure right now, it'll be scheduled on Mike Fincke tomorrow and we think it's going to be about two hours long. And after that, we will send some commands to it, they're working on that procedure as well, and we'll see if that solves the problem."

The urine processing assembly is a critical component in hardware delivered by the shuttle Endeavour that is designed to convert urine and condensate into potable water. The recycling system is required for NASA to boost station crew size from three to six next May.

The part of the system that processes condensate has been working relatively well, but the UPA has suffered a string of start-up glitches, the most significant being the shut down of the centrifuge in the vacuum distillation assembly after running for about two hours.

Analysis of telemetry led engineers to suspect a thermally induced interference between a speed sensor and the centrifuge that causes the motor to slow down and draw more current than expected.

The centrifuge is mounted on dampers to reduce vibrations and sound as it rotates. Engineers believe the dampers are "possibly allowing the (distillation assembly) to set itself up at a frequency that ultimately causes it to shift around, allowing one of the centrifuge speed sensors to come in contact with the spinning centrifuge," Kerrick said later.

That, in turn, causes the motor to work harder and draw more current, triggering a shut down.

"There is a thermally induced physical interference that seems to be occurring at the exact same time in the processing," Kerrick said at the briefing. "It's also aggravated by the fact that this system is on the isolators. They think that hard mounting this device will resolve the issue."

Even with the on-again, off-again behavior of the UPA, the astronauts successfully collected the first samples of processed water today for return to Earth aboard Endeavour. The objective was a sample comprised of 30 percent processed urine and 70 percent processed condensate. What they got was 90 percent condensate and 10 percent processed urine. But Kerrick said that was sufficient for engineers on the ground to evaluate the system's performance.

With samples in hand, and with work to install a potable water dispenser on track, Kerrck said it does not appear the Endeavour astronauts will need an additional docked day at the station.

But she confirmed there are no spare centrifuge units on the ground and the hardware aboard the station must be coaxed into normal, or near normal, operation to permit the planned boost to six full-time crew members next May. She said engineers are studying options for supporting an expanded crew if Sunday's repair attempt fails and the processor can only be operated for short periods between cool downs.

"There is a second way we can run the urine processor," Kerrick sad. "Right now, it fails after about two hours of running. We may be able to run it for about an hour and 45 minutes and process urine that way, that's how we got the initial 10 percent versus 90 percent distribution of urine to condensate we have right now. So that is an option. It requires a different set of procedures for cooling down and starting up and folks are working on those as well. So if this hardware fix doesn't work, there is a potential for us to process more urine during the mission using that technique."

As for supporting six crew members with that technique, "those numbers have not been crunched yet," she said.

"We did ask that today, because if this is as good as it's going to get, we do need to be able to answer that question. Fortunately, we have at least until (the next shuttle visit in February) to answer that question. Folks will definitely be going off and studying that."

NASA requires 90 days of testing and analysis before the new system can be declared operational. What impact a lengthy startup delay might have on plans to boost station crew size next spring is not yet known.

While the astronauts inside the space station spent the day Saturday working with the water processing gear and moving equipment to and from the shuttle, astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen were carrying out a spacewalk to wrap up servicing of the station's right-side solar array rotary joint.

Over the course of three spacewalks this week, the astronauts have been methodically cleaning and lubricating the joint's 10-foot-wide drive gear and replacing trundle bearings to reduce friction and vibration. One of the three bearing races on the gear has suffered extensive erosion because of a lubrication breakdown. By cleaning off metallic debris, installing new bearings and lubricating the races, engineers hope to be able to resume occasional sun-tracking to improve power generation.

Going into Saturday's spacewalk six trundle bearing assemblies remained to be installed. Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen managed to replace five of them and left the drive gear with 330 degrees of its bearing races cleaned and lubricated. Lead spacewalk officer John Ray said the remaining 30 degrees, and installation of the final trundle bearing assembly, will be shoehorned into a fourth and final spacewalk Monday.

"I would say the crew executed as perfect and EVA as I've ever seen," Ray sad. "I mean everything went really well, they were right on top of their game right out the door and they just stayed at a very steady, even pace and they got everything we had planned on for the EVA and a little bit more.

"They were getting very close at the end to getting to the point they could finish up the starboard SARJ, but they weren't quite going to make it. We could see that coming and the day was getting pretty long. So although the suits were doing really well and the crew was doing really well, we decided to go ahead and call it a day. We've got plenty of time on EVA-4 to go out and finish up the starboard SARJ."


8:00 PM, 11/22/08: Spacewalk ends

Astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen closed out a grueling six-hour 57-minute spacewalk at 7:58 p.m. today, repressurizing the space station's Quest airlock module. Five of six bearing assemblies wee replaced on the station's right-side solar array rotary joint and the sixth will be installed during a final EVA Monday.

This was the 117th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began in 1998 and the third of four for the shuttle Endeavour's crew. Total station assembly spacewalk time now stands at 739 hours and 23 minutes while the Endeavour crew's total climbs to 20 hours and 34 minutes.

This was the third EVA in a row for Stefanyshyn-Piper and the fifth in her career. With today's excursion, her personal EVA total stands at 33 hours and 42 minutes, moving her up to No. 25 on the list of most experienced spacewalkers.

"Let me just congratulate both of you," shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson radioed from the other side of the airlock hatch. "For what could possibly be Heide's last EVA, I knew Steve was going to have to push her in the airlock but I didn't know it was going to happen until you both got in! So welcome back both of you, great job."


7:25 PM, 11/22/08: Astronauts told to wrap up spacewalk; one trundle bearing left for EVA-4

Spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen are in the final stages of a grueling spacewalk to clean and lubricate the space station's right-side solar array rotary joint. They had hoped to install six trundle bearings today to complete a three-spacewalk overhaul. But with the spacewalk closing in on the seven-hour mark, flight controllers told the astronauts to defer installation of the final bearing assembly and re-attachment of a final few thermal covers to a fourth spacewalk Monday.

"We don't think we're going to be able to complete this starboard SARJ activity and get in before seven (hours and) 30 (minutes)," mission control radioed around 7 p.m. "It's not worth going past seven-thirty to try to press that. We've got time available on EVA-4, we've got a good (grease) gun sharing plan to complete the SARJ work on EVA-4 and if we get Heide to start packing her bag now, we estimate that she'll have (an elapsed time) of seven hours. So that's what we would like to do. Next step for her would be to start packing bags."

"OK, no problem, Houston," spacewalk coordinator Robert "Shane" Kimbrough replied from the shuttle Endeavour.

"And we really appreciate how hard you all are working. I know it's painful to call it quits like that, but we think it's the right thing to do."

Stefanyshyn-Piper had removed the final trundle bearing assembly when mission control told the crew to start cleaning up. The final bearing assembly will be installed Monday. A two-orbit "auto-track" test to rotate the right-side solar alpha rotary joint and measure vibration levels and drive motor currents will be rescheduled. The test had been planned for early Sunday, but it now likely will move to early Tuesday. Engineers do not want to rotate the massive joint until the lubrication and bearing replacement work is complete.

Inside the space station, meanwhile, flight engineer Sandra Magnus reported collecting initial water samples from the lab's new recycling equipment, presumably from processed condensate. Engineers are continuing to assess problems with a centrifuge motor in the system's urine processing system.

Specialists now suspect a sensor in a distillation unit is physically interfering with the centrifuge motor when extended operation causes thermal expansion. It is not yet clear what can be done to fix the problem or whether it might be possible to obtain water samples by operating the unit for shorter periods and then allowing cool down.


05:00 PM, 11/22/08: Two trundle bearings installed; astronauts ahead of schedule at halfway point

Halfway through a planned seven-hour spacewalk, astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen are still running about a half hour ahead of schedule cleaning and lubricating the space station's right-side solar array rotary joint. Two of six new trundle bearing assemblies have been installed, Bowen is working to install a third and Stefanyshyn-Piper is cleaning a different section of the joint's 10-foot-wide drive gear before installing a fourth.

At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, meanwhile, engineers are still studying data on the performance of newly installed urine recycling system hardware. The centrifuge motor in the processor's vacuum distillation unit has been re-started twice today, but it currently is off line pending additional troubleshooting to understand what is causing the motor to slow down and draw more current than expected.


2:30 PM, 11/22/08: Clean goes smoothly in initial stages of spacewalk

An hour and a half into a planned seven-hour spacewalk, astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen are running about a half hour ahead of schedule cleaning and lubricating the space station's right-side solar array rotary joint.

Stefanyshyn-Piper has installed the first of six bearing assemblies slated for replacement today while Bowen is cleaning a different section of the joint's 10-foot-wide drive gear. Because of lost grease guns, the astronauts are sharing tools and Bowen is using grease-impregnated wipes to put a coating of lubricant on the gear to collect metallic debris as he scrapes it off damaged bearing race.

"Steve, it looks like you're still scraping over there?" astronaut Robert "Shane Kimbrough called from inside the shuttle Endeavour.

"Yes, I am," Bowen replied. "I like this technique a little bit better because you can see more clearly where the (debris) pancakes are that you're chipping off. ... I feel like this really is the better method."


1:05 PM, 11/22/08: Spacewalk begins

Floating in the space station's Quest airlock module, astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen switched their spacesuits to internal battery power at 1:01 p.m., 44 minutes ahead of schedule, to officially kick off a planned seven-hour spacewalk.

The goal of today's excursion, the third of four planned for the shuttle Endeavour's mission, is to finish cleaning and lubricating the station's stalled right-side solar array rotary joint. The astronauts also plan to replace six of the joint's 12 trundle bearing assemblies, or TBAs, which grip the main drive gear on three surfaces with pressure-loaded rollers. One TBA was replaced during a shuttle flight last June, four others were replaced during spacewalks Tuesday and Thursday and a sixth was removed and re-installed after cleaning.

This is the 117th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began 10 years ago this week and the 18th so far this year. It is the second spacewalk for Bowen and the fifth overall for Stefanyshyn-Piper, who participated in two EVAs during a 2006 station assembly mission. Going into today's spacewalk, station EVA assembly time stood at 732 hours and 25 minutes. The total for Endeavour's crew through two spacewalks was 13 hours and 37 minutes.

Back at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, meanwhile, engineers are continuing efforts to figure out what's causing problems with a vacuum distillation unit in the space station's newly installed water recycling system.

The distillation unit, a critical component in a system designed to convert urine into potable water, was restarted earlier today to collect additional data and insight into what might have caused a centrifuge motor slowdown and high current draw Friday. A similar "signature" was seen again today and again, the urine processor shut itself down. Troubleshooting continues.


9:30 AM, 11/22/08: Crew gears up for third spacewalk amid ongoing urine processor troubleshooting

Astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen are gearing up for a grueling seven-hour spacewalk today to finish cleaning and lubricating the international space station's damaged right side solar array rotary joint. Engineers in Houston, meanwhile, are continuing tests to troubleshoot problems with the station's new urine recycling system.

Today's spacewalk, the 117th devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction and the third of four planned by Endeavour's crew, is scheduled to begin around 1:45 p.m.

While the work outside is going on, managers, engineers and flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will be assessing test results and plans for coaxing the station's urine processor into normal operation. An operational water recycling system is crucial to NASA's plans for increasing station crew size from three to six next May.

The shuttle Endeavour's mission could be extended one day to give engineers more time to resolve the problem and collect samples of processed urine for return to Earth. As of this writing, however, it's not yet clear whether an additional day would be sufficient to resolve the problem with the urine processor's centrifuge motor.

Flight controllers activated the processor Friday after troubleshooting an alarm that halted operations the day before. The UPA ran normally for two hours, but then shut down. The motor in the centrifuge of the UPA's vacuum distillation system began slowing down while drawing more power. Telemetry indicated a hardware problem as opposed to a software glitch.

The processor was re-activated late Friday and briefly operated to collect additional data. It was re-started again this morning, around 9:15 a.m.

The astronauts do not have a spare distillation unit on board. If a replacement is required, NASA's plan to increase crew size from three to six next May would have to be put on hold until a new unit could be launched and installed. The next shuttle mission is scheduled for launch in February, but it's not known if a new distillation unit could be ready by then.

Even if a new unit could be ready by then, three months of testing and water analysis would still be required before any astronauts would be allowed to sample recycled water.

But a centrifuge replacement is a worst-case scenario and engineers remain hopeful they can get the water recycling system up and running.

"The two main units we've been working on, the water processing assembly and the urine processing assembly, are in different states," station flight director Brian Smith said early today. "The water processing assembly is doing well and it's currently running right now and processing condensate. The urine processing assembly's had a couple of hiccups since we tried to activate it a couple of days ago. It's currently not running.

"There was a problem yesterday that caused it to shut down. The problem, we believe, is in a sub unit called the distillation assembly. The centrifuge is in that assembly and we saw an unusual signature related to the speed of the motor of that centrifuge as well as the current driving it. We saw the speed go down and the current go up. That sometimes is indicative of some kind of blockage of the spinning motor.

"But we really haven't nailed down the exact root cause yet," Smith said. "We did conduct a test overnight where we brought the unit back up and we ran it again and collected some more data and that data is currently being reviewed by the engineers. We won't do anything else until that data is reviewed and we get better understanding of what's going on.

"As far as how that impacts our goals for the water recovery system, of course we wanted to take samples and bring those back home and we are still on track to do that. The original plan was for the water recovery system to process both urine and condensate, collect that together and run it through the water processing assembly to produce water that we could then sample. We're not going to get the contribution from the urine processing assembly that we had planned for by this flight day. But we've been able to come up with a plan to make up for that by generating extra condensate."

NASA's Mission Management Team will meet later today to discuss the schedule and, presumably, whether to extend Endeavour's mission.

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen, meanwhile, are preparing for a seven-hour spacewalk to complete the cleaning and lubrication of the station's right-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ. The station is equipped with two SARJ joints to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to track the sun as the lab complex orbits the Earth.

The starboard SARJ has suffered extensive damage and degradation due to a lubrication breakdown. The joint's 10-foot-wide drive gear is held in place by 12 trundle bearing assemblies featuring pressure-loaded rollers that grip the toothed gear on three faces, or bearing races. Two of those, known as the datum-A surface and the inner canted surface, are in good shape. But the surface of the third race ring, the outer canted surface, has been ground up by excessive friction, producing extensive metallic debris.

To reduce rolling friction and minimize additional damage to the outer canted surface, the Endeavour astronauts are replacing 11 of the joint's 12 trundle bearings - one was replaced on an earlier mission - cleaning the race ring with scrapers and grease-impregnated wipes to capture debris and, in the process, applying a fresh layer of lubrication.

During today's spacewalk, Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen will attempt to remove and replace six trundle bearing assemblies, or TBAs, to complete the bearing swap outs.

"It's going to be challenging," Stefanyshyn-Piper said Friday. "We have a lot of work to do, still a lot of trundle bearing assemblies to change out and a lot of the race ring to clean. ... Steve and I will be very, very busy out there."

During the first spacewalk Tuesday, Stefanyshyn-Piper lost a $100,000 tool bag overboard. Two of the crew's grease guns were lost, forcing the astronauts to improvise. The original plan called for the spacewalkers to remove a TBA and then lay a bead of lubricant down on the outer canted surface with a grease gun. The grease was intended to capture debris as the astronauts chipped away ground-on fragments with a scraper tool.

Because of the lost grease guns, Stefanyshyn-Piper used a different technique in her second spacewalk Thursday, using grease-impregnated wipes to provide the lubrication needed to capture scraped-off debris. Mission managers later approved the use of a heat-shield repair grease gun if necessary, but Stefanyshyn-Piper said she preferred to press ahead with the wipes instead.

"I think at this point, having looked at both the NOAX (heat-shield repair) gun and also having two EVAs under my belt so far, I think the greased wipes seems to be the most practicable way to go," she said. "The wipes do lay down quite a bit of grease on the surface and it's sufficient grease to scrape up the debris that's there. It requires a little bit more meticulous work because you don't have quite as much grease there, but it is sufficient and you can get by. That's the way we're going to press going into EVA-3. Definitely, having two EVAs, I've learned a lot of things, I've changed my techniques ... so I'm ready to go into EVA-3 and get going."

If the spacewalkers get all the bearings changed out, flight controllers will conduct a test overnight, putting the starboard SARJ in "auto-track" mode for two full orbits. Sensors will measure vibration levels and motor drive currents to determine if the cleaning and lubrication reduced stress on the joint. The test is planned for 3:40 a.m. Sunday,.

The test is designed "to see if the cleaning and lubrication had any noticeable effect and we'll have sensors programmed to record vibrations during the time of the rotation and we'll also have a video camera trained on the joint itself," Smith said.

"In the past, we have been able to notice vibrations as the joint is moving so we'll look for that in the video and we'll also be looking at the current in the telemetry to see what the signatures there look like. Now, if we don't get everything done today on EVA-3, then we'll have to readjust whether it makes sense to perform that test overnight. You certainly don't want to rotate that solar alpha rotary joint if you haven't gotten all the cleaning done. ... So whether or not we do that test tonight depends on the results from the spacewalk today."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision H of the NASA television schedule):

EDT........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

08:55 AM...07...13...00...Crew wakeup
09:30 AM...07...13...35...EVA-3: 14.7 psi repress/hygiene break
10:15 AM...07...14...20...EVA-3: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
10:40 AM...07...14...45...EVA-3: Campout EVA preps
11:50 AM...07...15...55...MPLM transfers resume
12:10 PM...07...16...15...EVA-3: Spacesuit purge
12:25 PM...07...16...30...EVA-3: Spacesuit prebreathe
01:15 PM...07...17...20...EVA-3: Crew lock depressurization
01:45 PM...07...17...50...EVA-3: Spacesuits to battery power
01:50 PM...07...17...55...EVA-3: Airlock egress
02:05 PM...07...18...10...SDRM transfer
02:05 PM...07...18...10...EVA-3: Setup
02:15 PM...07...18...20...EVA-3: SARJ cleaning and TBA R&R
04:15 PM...07...20...20...ISS: Crew meal
05:15 PM...07...21...20...ISS: Potable water dispenser work
08:15 PM...08...00...20...EVA-3: Cleanup and ingress
08:45 PM...08...00...50...EVA-3: Airlock repressurization
08:55 PM...08...01...00...Spacesuit servicing
10:10 PM...08...02...15...Evening planning conference
10:30 PM...08...02...35...Mission status briering on NASA TV

11/23/08
12:25 AM...08...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
12:55 AM...08...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
01:00 AM...08...05...05...Flight day 9 highlights
03:40 AM...08...07...45...Starboard SARJ auto-track test
07:30 AM...08...11...35...Flight director update
08:30 AM...08...12...35...HD flight day 9 highlights
08:55 AM...08...13...00...Crew wakeup


5:10 PM, 11/21/08: Engineers troubleshoot apparent problem with motor in urine processor

Engineers now believe the problem with the space station's new urine processor assembly, a key component in the water recycling system needed to boost the space station's crew size from three to six, involves trouble with a motor or associated sensors in a centrifuge that helps separate pure water from urine in a vacuum distillation system.

The motor ran normally for two hours earlier today before shutting down when sensors indicated the motor in question began slowing down and drawing more current than normal. Station flight director Courtenay McMillan said engineers do not yet understand the nature of the problem or what might be needed to fix it. The astronauts do not have spare parts for major components in the system, but engineers may be able to come up with a work around.

"What we saw earlier today when we brought the UPA back on line, it looks like there is a problem on the motor on the centrifuge in the distillation assembly of that system," McMillan said. "Right now, folks are still looking at the data, we got some conflicting information from a couple of different sensors so we're really still trying to understand the signature. It doesn't match anything specifically that we saw, it doesn't identically match something we've seen in ground testing. So they're really still investigating and determining forward steps. They may be able to mask it if it is a sensor, but we don't know that for sure yet."

One of the primary goals of the shuttle Endeavour's on-going mission was to install the new water recycling system, activate it and begin initial urine processing runs. Engineers want the astronauts to bring fully processed samples back to Earth aboard Endeavour for detailed chemical analysis of water quality and to help calibrate an on-board analyzer.

The plan called for a 90-day checkout in orbit and analysis of additional samples after a February shuttle flight before the system would be deemed operational, clearing the way for the station's crew to increase to six next May.

Going into Endeavour's mission, NASA managers held open the option of adding a docked day to the shuttle flight to give the crews time to get the equipment installed and operating. The astronauts were running well ahead of schedule and as of Thursday, it did not appear an additional day would be necessary. But as of this writing, it's not known whether the urine processor assembly can be re-activated in time to generate the needed samples or even whether an extra day would help.

If the hardware is, in fact broken or unable to operate properly, the station crew could be forced to wait for a spare distillation unit to be launched on the next shuttle flight in February, a delay that presumably would impact NASA's plans to boost the station crew to six next May.

But McMillan said that level of concern was premature.

"We were running for two hours with no issues prior to this so we know the system was running pretty well prior to this point," she said. "So we have some pretty good confidence there. But yeah, without this (motor), we can't get much further. So we do need to figure this out before we can proceed."

Station commander Mike Fincke took a philosophical view, telling reporters earlier today "as a flight test engineer, I fully expected things not to work perfectly."

"No matter how well we plan on the ground or test on the ground, you really need to test fly it," he said. "And that's what we're doing here. I think we found a sensor that's not working correctly, so we're going to look into it and see if we can bypass the sensor, replace the sensor. But so far, everything else is looking really clean and looking really good. So we're very hopeful we can still get the first round of samples through during this mission while the STS-126 (crew) and Endeavour are still here. So we're not worried so far. We've got the right team up here if we need any fixes."

The urine processor is in one of the two water recovery system racks delivered to the space station aboard Endeavour, along with a new toilet, a potable water dispenser, a new galley and two new crew sleep stations. The WRS racks were mounted in the floor of the Destiny laboratory module and connected to a potable water bus that eventually will feed urine from the toilet and route pure water to the galley and the potable water dispenser.

For readers unfamiliar with the intricacies of the station's new water recycling equipment, here's how Endeavour astronaut Don Pettit described its operation before launch:

"The key to the urine processing uses the age old practice of distillation," Pettit explained. "This is a vacuum distillation apparatus, which will put a partial vacuum on urine concentrate and it will allow the water to boil off at a lower temperature than if you just cooked it under the standard atmosphere of space station. And so the water that comes off from this distillation outfit is going to be pretty pure.

"But any distillation process has a little bit of carry over. It's kind of like the backwash when you drink in your water bottle. And so, to get rid of this little bit of backwash, we run it through a catalytic converter, which will oxidize any of the backwash. The catalytic converter actually has a supply of oxygen running into it to provide an oxidation material to go with the catalyst to convert the backwash, so to speak. And then from there, it goes into a series of ion exchange beds.

"At that point, it's almost like deionized water," Pettit said. "It also goes through a charcoal bed that gets rid of a few other impurities and then it finally gets analyzed by a couple of on-line boxes. One of them just checks the bulk resistivity and if that doesn't satisfy the box, it opens up a valve and sends that splash of water back to go again. It's kind of like a Monopoly game where you don't get to go by go and get $200. You just go straight back to the distillation unit.

"And then, from there it goes through this TOCA machine, this Total Organic Carbon Analyzer. Organic carbon is the kind of stuff you don't want. If the feed stock is urine and you're having potable water come out, you don't want organic carbon in there. So, the total Organic Carbon Analyzer lets you know whether any of that stuff has come through. And then from there, it can branch out into the oxygen generator or go to the galley. In the galley, they add some salts just to make the water taste a little bit better. if you drink distilled water, it doesn't taste as good as regular water and there's a few mineral salts in there that for some reason or another makes it more palatable to human beings.

"From there, we can use it to make our dinner or our coffee with," Pettit said. "I like to refer to this whole process as a coffee machine. Because it's going to take yesterday's coffee and make it into today's coffee."


HEIGHT="8">11:10 AM, 11/21/08: Urine processor shuts down again; troubleshooting continues

The new urine processor assembly aboard the international space station, a key component in a water recycling system needed to convert urine and condensate into drinking water, was re-activated early today after problems Thursday. The processor operated for about two hours and then shut itself down again. Engineers are troubleshooting error messages while the astronauts press on with other work.

"About two and a half hours ago, the urine processor assembly was reactivated so that additional data could be garnered from that device," mission control commentator Rob Navias said shortly after 10 a.m. "It ran until just a few minutes ago when it shut itself down once again after processing urine through that system. It is now under analysis as to why it shut itself down.

"But the good news is that it was activated and ran for about two hours. This is typical of a new piece of hardware, with all the software limits and various parameters of of the operation of the system that have to be fine tuned and tweaked in the early stages of its operation. The oxygen generation system in the U.S. segment of the international space station went through similar growing pains last year when it was first installed and activated. It is now up and running in good shape and the full expectation by engineers is that this is only a momentary hiccup that will be overcome through further data analysis by the ground engineers here at mission control."

In the crew's morning planning conference with mission control, Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke was briefed on the troubleshooting and problems experienced to date and told to hold off on a planned water system task.

"The urine processor was processing and delivering to the water processor and we recently got an error message about an hour ago. We're evaluating that right now," said astronaut Terry Virts in mission control. "OK, Terry, thanks for the update," Fincke replied. "Yeah, we saw that error message also. And you know, Terry, this is one of our highest mission priorities, so anything you guys can put in the daily summary and keep us informed during the day, we're, shall we say, a hundred percent interested in how this new water reclamation system's working for us. So thanks for the update. I understand you guys are troubleshooting and I may have to do this task later in the day, but flexibility is key, as they say."

"OK, yeah, thanks Mike, you're exactly right and we'll keep you a hundred percent informed," Virts said. "We have some more words about the UPA I can tell you."

"OK, go ahead."

"The UPA caution software, we learned some things about it last night in terms of some malfunctions that are paired up with messages that are different than we had thought originally. The UPA hazard message is one you got yesterday and it turns out that message is not critical and it's going to be suppressed on board. So you'll see it, but you won't hear it. So if you do see that, there's not going to be any actions for that."

"OK, Terry, we understand and this is just part of the normal flight test checkout process," Fincke replied. "That's why it's really good to keep us informed so we can be helpful. We also built additional time in the schedule, I think we're probably a day or two ahead of our original plan, just for such occasions to learn the nuances of the software. So thanks."

"Yeah, that's exactly right, Mike. There's another message, it's 'UPA electrical overheating safing initiated.' If you look in your event log, you'll see it down there a few hours back. But that message, we do need actions for you to do.In fact, you're going to treat it like an RPC trip and do the same thing that you did yesterday when you had that 'UPA hazard' message."

An RPC, or remote power controller, is a sort of circuit breaker and when a trip occurs, the astronauts must run tests to make sure nothing overheated or posed a fire hazard.

While troubleshooting proceeded on the ground, shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson and pilot Eric Boe geared up to fire Endeavour's maneuvering rockets to boost the station's altitude slightly. The reboost maneuver was expected at 12:10 p.m.


9:35 AM, 11/21/08: Urine processor checkout continues; crew news conference on tap

Flight controllers restarted the space station's new urine processor assembly overnight after troubleshooting an alarm that interrupted initial startup operations Thursday. Additional work with the water recycling system is on tap today, along with additional equipment transfers to the station and preparations for a third spacewalk Saturday.

"Our shift was very busy tonight, we were working replans for multiple items, first taking a look at tomorrow's spacewalk and figuring out, based on what we saw during EVA number two, what type of changes we'll need to consider for EVA three," station flight director Brian Smith said early today. "So we looked at that and we think we have a plan in place.

"We're also dealing with some issues we had with the regenerative ECLSS (environmental control and life support system) equipment that was recently installed on the space station. We're going through the activation and checkout period of that right now and ran into a couple of issues at the end of the shift that preceded mine. So my shift, we spent some time troubleshooting it, researching the problem and developing a plan to get us back on track and back on the timeline. And I think we've been able to accomplish that."

NASA officials said urine processing had resumed, but details about what caused the problem and what was done to resolve it were not immediately available.

Along with continued tests of the water recycling system, the astronauts also plan to check out berthing system hardware that will be installed on the Japanese Kibo module's far end during Saturday's spacewalk to prepare it for attachment of an exposed experiment platform next year. The crew also will assemble an external TV camera system for installation Saturday and continue moving equipment to and from the Leonardo cargo module that will return to Earth aboard Endeavour.

A joint crew news conference is on tap at 3:05 p.m., followed by a mission status briefing at 4 p.m. The astronauts will share a joint meal following their news conference and enjoy an hour of off-duty time before pressing ahead with spacewalk preparations.

Saturday's spacewalk will be carried out by Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen. Both astronauts will spend the night in the station's Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help purge nitrogen from their blood streams before working in NASA's 5-psi spacesuits. Crew sleep begins at 12:25 a.m. Saturday.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision G of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

08:55 AM...06...13...00...Crew wakeup
10:25 AM...06...14...30...ISS daily planning conference
11:10 AM...06...15...15...Kibo exposed facility checkout
12:00 PM...06...16...05...Cargo module transfers
12:10 PM...06...16...15...ISS reboost
01:00 PM...06...17...05...Water analyzer (TOCA) installation
01:20 PM...06...17...25...External camera group assembly
02:15 PM...06...18...20...Spacesuit component swap
03:05 PM...06...19...10...Crew conference
03:45 PM...06...19...50...Crew photo
04:00 PM...06...20...05...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
04:05 PM...06...20...10...Joint crew meal
05:05 PM...06...21...10...Crew off duty period begins
06:05 PM...06...22...10...Equipment lock preps
06:50 PM...06...22...55...Tool configuration
08:50 PM...07...00...55...EVA-3: Procedures review
09:50 PM...07...01...55...Evening planning conference
11:20 PM...07...03...25...EVA-3: Mask pre-breathe
				
11/22/08
12:05 AM...07...04...10...EVA-3: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
12:25 AM...07...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
12:55 AM...07...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
01:00 AM...07...05...05...Flight day 8 highlights on NASA TV
07:30 AM...07...11...35...Flight director update on NASA TV
08:30 AM...07...12...35...HD highlights on NASA TV
08:55 AM...07...13...00...Crew wakeup


11:30 PM, 11/20/08: Engineers run into glitch starting urine processor; spacewalk deemed successful despite tool shortage

Despite a tool shortage, a spacesuit carbon dioxide buildup late in the day and communications problems, spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough accomplished the primary goals of a six-hour 45-minute spacewalk, officials said today, moving two equipment carts, servicing the space station's robot arm and continuing work to clean and lubricate a jammed solar array rotary joint. Inside the lab complex, meanwhile, other astronauts ran into start-up glitches with the lab's new urine processor.

"These are the growing pains we expect to see," space station Flight Director Ginger Kerrick told reporters late today. "We have had similar experience when we first activated the oxygen generation system, it took us quite a while to work out the kinks. These are very complicated pieces of equipment with a very complicated software system to control them and this is the first time they are all being put together in space, so it takes a while to learn lessons from that.

"Does this set us back from what we hope to accomplish? Right now, we can incorporate about a 24-hour delay in the tasks we had planned in the timeline and still be able, assuming everything else goes nominally, to accomplish our sampling objectives ,... without requesting (an extra) day. We think this is just a small setback, we'll take some time and figure out what exactly caused the situation that we saw today and we have hopes that we can still accomplish everything."

A major goal of the current assembly mission is to install complex water recycling gear in the space station that can convert urine and condensate into pure water for drinking, meal preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation. Water recycling is required for NASA to expand station crew size from three to six next year.

Two water recovery system racks were installed in the Destiny lab module earlier this week and the astronauts spent much of the day today hooking the equipment up to begin initial shakedown runs. The goal is to produce samples of potable water from processed urine before Endeavour departs. Those samples will be returned to Earth for a detailed chemical analysis to confirm water quality and to help calibrate an on-board analyzer. The astronauts were beginning initial tests with stored urine as today's spacewalk was winding down.

Toward the end of the excursion, Kimbrough's spacesuit showed a buildup of carbon dioxide that exceeded NASA's safety limits. While he was in no immediate danger, flight controllers told him to terminate his portion of the spacewalk and return to the station's Quest airlock module as a precaution. The call came as he was winding up work anyway.

On the way back to the airlock, however, he ran into problems hearing his crewmates and flight controllers in Houston, apparently because his headset volume knob had been bumped and accidentally turned down earlier. At around the same time, an alarm sounded that got Stefanyshyn-Piper's attention.

"The EVA trip back into the airlock was a little eventful," Kerrick said. "We had some comm issues, we also had a crew member who was having elevated CO2. But all those are under investigation and it was no problem getting the crew member back in the airlock and Shane if fine.

"While that was going on, on the inside, we had a caution alarm ring and the EVA crew heard that in their headsets. That caution was associated with some commanding that we were doing for the urine processor assembly. We have downlinked some date, we think we understand what the problem is and the teams will be off assessing that tonight to determine how much of the commanding that was planned for this evening can still be performed."

The alarm sounded as commands were being sent to the urine processor.

"We ran into a snag, I guess it was last night, with the amount of cooling we were providing to the WRS rack, the water recovery system, rack," Kerrick, said. "Folks met this morning and we got comfortable with that so we started on with our procedures. The point to where we got to tonight, we were getting ready to command the urine processor to actually process the urine. And one of the commands we sent annunciated the caution alarm.

"The standard response for that particular caution is to remove power to the unit and have the crew member take (a reading) looking for signs that there were combustion products. That's our typical response for an RPC trip. This particular time, we were suspicious of the response because we knew the commands we were sending at that time should not have initiated that response. When the crew members confirmed that they had no concerns, no smell of smoke or no odor, especially when they told us the combustion products were all reading zero, we began to think it was a false indication. That was indeed the case."

But the urine processor assembly was halted and engineers ordered a data downlink to find out exactly what happened.

"We think we have a handle on what caused the caution to annunciate, but we're going to have to think about it some more and talk with our engineering counterparts before we get comfortable sending any commands to the UPA again tonight," Kerrick said. "We are still going to continue with our water processing activities for this evening. Even if the UPA does not process the urine, there is a possibility to take condensate, run that through the water processor and still get a sampling out of the water processor assembly and later on, the potable water bus and the potable water dispenser."

Going into Endeavour's mission, managers were holding open the option of extended the docked portion of the flight by one day to give the astronauts extra time to install and test the potable water dispenser. The astronauts were running well ahead of schedule installing the water recycling gear and mission managers were optimistic the extra day would not be needed. Whether that will change if the current glitch cannot be quickly resolved remains to be seen.


7:50 PM, 11/20/08: Spacewalk ends

Astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough wrapped up a six-hour 45-minute spacewalk today and began repressurizing the space station's Quest airlock module at 7:43 p.m. All major objectives of today's excursion were accomplished, including the relocation of two equipment carts on the station's solar array truss; lubrication of snares on the end of the lab's robot arm; and continued cleaning and lubrication of the station's right-side solar-array rotary joint.

"Shane and Heide, it was great working with you today," Endeavour pilot Eric Boe called from inside the shuttle-station complex. "Outstanding work getting the job done."

"Welcome back, outstanding job," commander Christopher Ferguson added a moment later.

This was the 116th space station spacewalk in the past 10 years, the 17th this year and the second of four planned by shuttle Endeavour's crew. Total spacewalk assembly time now stands at 732 hours and 25 minutes with Endeavour's total increasing to 13 hours and 37 minutes. Stefanyshyn-Piper, veteran of two previous spacewalks during a 2006 mission, now has 26 hours and 45 minutes of EVA time through four spacewalks.

Toward the end of today's spacewalk, Stefanyshyn-Piper, who lost a $100,000 tool kit during a spacewalk Tuesday, took extra care to make sure she had her tools and bags properly tethered before heading back to the airlock.

"Hopefully, I won't lose anything on the way," she quipped. "I think everything's tethered, so it's just a matter of what's going to stay in the bag."


4:20 PM, 11/20/08: Stefanyshyn-Piper reports modified SARJ cleaning technique works well

Working around lost tools, astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper said an alternative approach, using grease-impregnated wipes to apply a coating of lubricant to a damaged solar array drive gear, works just as well as lubricant from a grease gun to contain debris freed up by a scraper tool.

The success of the alternative cleaning method might make it possible to complete solar array rotary joint cleaning without having to improvise additional tools to take the place of two grease guns that were lost overboard during a spacewalk Tuesday.

"I think both methods are comparable," Stefanyshyn-Piper reported. "I think you get a larger area of grease coverage when you go over with a wet wipe and tamp all over the place. And then for the scraping, you just have to be very careful because you don't have as much grease on the surface to hold things together and so you just have to wipe the scraper tool more often than you did before, because before there was a lot of grease holding debris. But both Steve (Bowen) and I did notice yesterday (Tuesday during spacewalk No. 1) that even as you were scraping there were particles that were coming up and sometimes even a little blob of grease would fly away."

"But you think they both give the same effect in the end?" shuttle pilot Eric Boe asked.

"Yeah. I think this one, like I said, with the blob of grease you get better coverage right underneath where the grease is," said Stefanyshyn-Piper. "But this way, I really made sure I took the grease wipe and really coated the entire outer canted surface and so I got more coverage. Because I noticed something when I was scraping, is that it would be really good right where I laid the bead of grease but you could tell, as I drew the scraper tool over, you could tell exactly where the bead of grease was laid." "Houston copies and based on what you just said, you're go to use the wet wipe method for the remainder of the EVA," mission control called.


3:00 PM, 11/20/08: SARJ cleaning resumes

Astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough have completed moving two equipment carts on the front side of the space station's solar power truss. Stefanyshyn-Piper now is positioned on the right side of the power truss, resuming work to clean and lubricate the starboard solar array rotary joint. Kimbrough is located toward the center of the truss, working to lubricate the capture snares on the station's robot arm. Once he is done, he will join Stefanyshyn-Piper at the starboard SARJ to help clean, lubricate and install new bearings.


01:00 PM, 11/20/08: Spacewalk begins

Running about 45 minutes ahead of schedule, astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough, floating in the space station's Quest airlock module, switched their spacesuits to internal battery power at 12:58 p.m. to officially begin a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk.

The goals of today's excursion are to relocate two equipment carts on the front side of the station's solar power truss; to lubricate the capture snares in one end of the lab's robot arm; and to continue cleaning and lubricating the station's right-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ.

This is the 116th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began 10 years ago today. It is the 17th station spacewalk so far this year and the second of four planned for Endeavour's mission. Going into today's EVA, more than 80 astronauts and cosmonauts had logged 725 hours and 40 minutes of spacewalk construction time.


10:50 AM, 11/20/08: Astronauts prepare for second spacewalk; 10th anniversary of space station construction

Marking the international space station's 10th anniversary, the Endeavour astronauts are gearing up for a second spacewalk today, a planned six-and-a-half-hour excursion to service the station's robot arm, to continue cleaning and lubricating a damaged solar array rotary joint and to make preparations for the next shuttle assembly flight in February.

Astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough spent the night in the station's Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help purge nitrogen from their bloodstreams and prevent the bends after a day working in NASA's 5-psi spacesuits. If all goes well, they will switch their suits to internal battery power at 1:45 p.m. to officially kick off the 116th spacewalk since station assembly began 10 years ago today.

The spacewalkers have modified the plan for today's excursion in the wake of a lost $100,000 tool kit that slipped away from Stefanyshyn-Piper during a spacewalk Tuesday. Spacewalker Stephen Bowen did not notice the bag was untethered inside a larger container before the spacewalk began and Stefanyshyn-Piper, struggling to clean up a grease leak in the bag, inadvertently let it slip away.

Two grease guns, a scraper tool, a caddy to clean grease off the scraper and contain debris and a large trash bag were lost. As a result, Stefanyshyn-Piper and Kimbrough will share a single set of tools cleaning and lubricating the right-side solar alpha rotary joint during today's spacewalk.

Because one of the remaining grease guns is needed to lubricate snares on the station's robot arm, Stefanyshyn-Piper plans to use a different technique to contain debris scraped off the rotary joint's 10-foot-wide drive gear. Instead of laying down a bead of grease to contain the scraped-off debris, she will use grease-impregnated wipes to accomplish the same purpose.

"EVA number two is going to consist of some more cleaning and maintenance on the starboard solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ," said flight controller Brian Smith. "They did some of that work on EVA-1, they'll do more of it again on EVA-3. In addition to the EVA, of course, we're going to have some more work (inside the station) associated with the regenerative ECLSS (environmental control and life support) system and we're also going to get the total organic carbon assembly installed. The TOCA, as this is referred to, is used to sample the water that comes out of the regenerative ECLSS system. ... The TOCA is a box that will independently verify the quality of that water."

The regenerative ECLSS hardware Smith was referring to is designed to turn urine into potable water, a requirement for NASA's plan to boost station crew size from three to six next year. The astronauts installed the equipment Wednesday and if all goes well, the first tests will begin later today. The goal is to generate samples from two parts of the system for return to Earth aboard Endeavour. At least three months of testing are planned before any astronauts will actually sample the recycled water.

While water system activation is in work inside the station today, the spacewalk will be going on outside.

The space station is equipped with two SARJ mechanisms designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels to stay face-on to the sun as the lab complex orbits the Earth. The port-side SARJ is operating normally, but the starboard joint has suffered extensive damage to drive gear because of a lubrication failure.

The surface layer of one of the gear's three bearing surfaces, the so-called outer canted surface, has suffered significant erosion, generating widespread clumps of metallic filings. The debris and the roughness of the bearing surface cause life-limiting vibration and higher-than-usual motor currents when the joint is used to track the sun.

The goal of the Endeavour spacewalks is to clean off ground-up debris, to lubricate the big gear's bearing surfaces and to replace 11 of the 12 trundle bearings that grip the gear on three faces with pressure-loaded rollers.

"The race ring's going to be cleaner and it's going to have some new bearings in place," Smith said. "Now what that means operationally, we'll see. On flight day nine (urday, after a third spacewalk), we're going to conduct a test to see how the maintenance worked and if the cleaning had any effect.

"We're going to put the starboard solar alpha rotary joint into what we call an auto-track mode, where we're going to let it constantly rotate and track the sun. Right now, we do not do that, we pick one position and we leave it there. But for this test, for two orbits, we're going to let it fully rotate and we're going to monitor the vibrations seen on the space station. We've got sensors to do that as well as an external camera that we'll be using. We're also going to measure the current draw on the motor that's driving that joint."

If the test shows reduced vibration and current draw, flight controllers will be cleared to put the starboard SARJ in auto-track mode from time to time as required to improve solar array power output. But because of the damage to the outer canted surface that has already occurred, full-time auto-track operations will not be permitted.

Today's spacewalk comes on the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Russian-built, NASA-financed Zarya module that marked the beginning of station assembly. Zarya was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Proton rocket at 1:40 a.m. EST on Nov. 20, 1998.

Since then, the station has grown to 10 pressurized modules - three Russian, four U.S., one European and two Japanese - with a habitable volume of 12,626 cubic feet and a mass of 661,857 pounds. Including Endeavour's mission, 27 space shuttle assembly flights have been launched, two Proton heavy-lift rockets, 17 Soyuz crew ferry craft, one Soyuz assembly flight, 30 unmanned Progress supply ships and one European Space Agency automated transfer vehicle.

"Even from 40 miles away, you can tell the beauty and the grandeur and the enormity of this vehicle," Endeavour commander Christopher Ferguson said in a pre-taped anniversary message downlinked from the lab. "As you get closer, it only gets larger. Post-docking, when we were able to come inside and explore the expanse of the vehicle, it's overwhelming, the size and the enormity of this ship in space.

"This crew, this fine crew, and its cargo will enable the space station to plus up to a crew of six people living full time, international partners working hand in hand for years on end. After 10 years, we wish the international space station a happy birthday and we hope to see many, many more."

Going into the Endeavour crew's second spacewalk today, 115 station assembly and maintenance EVAs had been carried out totaling 725 hours and 40 minutes by more than 80 astronauts and cosmonauts representing the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Sweden.

The station has traveled some 57,000 orbits, or roughly 1.5 billion miles, over the past 10 years, enough for 3,000 round trips to the moon or a one-way flight just shy of Uranus. Some 167 U.S. and partner country astronauts and cosmonauts have visited the lab complex over the past decade and some 19,000 meals have been served.

"Today is a special day aboard the space station, we're celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first launch of the first module of the international space station," said Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke. "Since then, our space station has gotten larger and larger. ... And along the way, we've learned how to live in space for a long time and we've learned how to act and work together as international partners. I know myself and my crew are really proud to be here on this special date."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision E of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/20/08
01:40 AM...05...05...45...10th anniversary of ISS first launch

Flight Day 7 (Updated 11/20/08)

08:55 AM...05...13...00...Crew wakeup
09:30 AM...05...13...35...EVA-2: 14.7 psi repress/hygiene break
10:15 AM...05...14...20...EVA-2: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
10:25 AM...05...14...30...Russian PAO event
10:40 AM...05...14...45...EVA-2: Campout EVA preps
10:55 AM...05...15...00...ISS daily planning conference
11:35 AM...05...15...40...TOCA assembly
11:50 AM...05...15...55...MPLM transfers resume
12:10 PM...05...16...15...EVA-2: Spacesuit purge
12:25 PM...05...16...30...EVA-2: Spacesuit prebreathe
01:15 PM...05...17...20...EVA-2: Crew lock depressurization
01:45 PM...05...17...50...EVA-2: Spacesuits to battery power
01:50 PM...05...17...55...EVA-2: Airlock egress
02:05 PM...05...18...10...EVA-2: Setup
02:15 PM...05...18...20...EVA-2: CETA cart relocation
04:00 PM...05...20...05...EVA-2/EV1: SARJ cleaning and TBA R&R
04:00 PM...05...20...05...EVA-2/EV3: Robot arm lubrication
05:00 PM...05...21...05...EVA-2/EV3: SARJ cleaning and TBA R&R
07:45 PM...05...23...50...EVA-2: Cleanup and ingress
07:55 PM...06...00...00...GPS antenna assembly
08:15 PM...06...00...20...EVA-2: Airlock repressurization
08:25 PM...06...00...30...Spacesuit servicing
10:00 PM...06...02...05...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
10:10 PM...06...02...15...Evening planning conference

11/21/08
12:25 AM...06...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
12:55 AM...06...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
01:00 AM...06...05...05...Flight day 7 highlights
06:00 AM...06...10...05...HD flight day 7 highlights
07:30 AM...06...11...35...Flight director update
08:55 AM...06...13...00...Crew wakeup
Going into the flight, the SARJ repair plan was to use grease-impregnated wipes to dab up loose debris on the races of the rotary joint's drive gear. Then, after laying down a bead of grease with a grease gun, the spacewalkers, working on opposite sides of the joint, would use a scraper to chip off debris that had been crushed onto the damaged bearing race by the rollers that hold the big gear in place. Then, after using dry wipes to clean up any remaining debris, additional lubrication would be applied to reduce rolling friction in the mechanism.

Two types of grease gun are required. One with a straight nozzle to lubricate the outer canted surface and the so-called datum-A bearing race, and a second gun with a curved "J-hook" nozzle to reach the inner canted surface.

During the first spacewalk Tuesday, Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen used up about a quarter of a cartridge in each of the two remaining grease guns. Flight director Ginger Kerrick said the crew still has six full cartridges of Braycote vacuum grease available, which should be more than enough to complete the servicing.

During today's spacewalk, Stefanyshyn-Piper will use the grease-impregnated wipes to collect and contain debris on the damaged outer canted surface of the rotary joint while Kimbrough uses the lone straight-nozzle grease gun to lubricate the capture snares on one end of the station's robot arm. Then, working together, they'll share tools again.

"We only have one set of SARJ guns," said station flight director Ginger Kerrick. "We wanted to try to minimize the amount of sharing that's required. When you're cleaning the the ring, to scrape off the debris, requires you to lay down a line of lube before you use the scraper to scrape off the debris. In talking to Heide after (the first EVA) she thought it might be just as useful to take a wet wipe, which has been pre-lubricated with that same lubricant, and dab that on the ring and that would apply just enough grease to contain the items we're scraping off the ring.

"So we're going to give that a try on EVA-2. The reason we're trying this, Shane needs the lube gun with the straight nozzle to perform the (robot arm) lubrication. And Heide will be at the SARJ worksite already, so she would not have that gun in her possession. So we're going to try this technique. If this technique works, we do anticipate being able to complete not only the planned activities on EVA-2, but also the timelined activities on EVA-3."

Today's spacewalk was scheduled to begin around 1:45 p.m. from the Quest airlock. The first item on the agenda is to move two carts on the front side of the station's solar power truss to the other side of the mobile transporter that moves the lab's robot arm from one worksite to another. The carts need to be moved so the arm can be positioned on the starboard end of the truss for attachment of a final set of solar arrays in February.

Kimbrough will ride on the end of the robot arm, carrying each cart to the other side of the transporter where Stefanyshyn-Piper will help lock them back down on their rails.

At this point in the spacewalk, Kimbrough and Stefanyshyn-Piper will split up. Kimbrough will use a straight-nozzle grease gun to lubricate the snares in the end of the robot arm to help them retract more smoothly. Stefanyshyn-Piper, meanwhile, will head to the starboard SARJ to begin a second round of cleaning and lubricating, using the grease-immpregnated wipes instead of a grease gun.

Overnight, the SARJ was rotated from 105 degrees to 60 degrees to expose more of the drive gear's contaminated races. Kimbrough will join her after he's done servicing the robot arm.


6:00 PM, 11/19/08: Stefanyshyn-Piper expresses remorse for lost tool bag; mission managers optimistic about completing spacewalk chores despite mission tools; water recycling system activation on tap

Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper told reporters today the loss of a $100,000 tool bag during an otherwise successful spacewalk Tuesday was "disheartening" and that it was difficult to face her crewmates when she returned to the shuttle-space station complex. Fellow spacewalker Stephen Bowen, responsible for making a final tether check of the bag before the EVA began, said he was equally to blame for the mishap.

"During the spacewalk, during that time it was easy to put it aside because I know that, you know, we still had five hours of spacewalk work to do and the work needed to get done and you can't dwell on a mistake," Stefanyshyn-Piper told The Associated Press in a brief interview today. "It was hardest when I got back in and having to face everybody else. That's when the hardest part of it, you know, knowing that I'd made a mistake.

"But we still have three more spacewalks to go and we still have a lot of work to do," she said. "You have to learn from your mistakes, we're definitely not going to do it again, you're not going to see us lose another bag, we're going to double and triple check everything from here on out."

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough are scheduled for a second spacewalk Thursday to service the station's robot arm and to continue cleaning and lubricating the lab's damaged right-side solar array rotary mechanism.

Preparing to begin that work Tuesday, Stefanyshyin-Piper carried a tool kit containing two grease guns, wet and dry wipes, a scraper tool and a large trash bag inside a larger soft-sided equipment bag. When she got to the worksite, she discovered one or both grease guns had discharged a considerable amount of grease inside the bag. While struggling to clean up the mess, the smaller tool bag, containing the grease guns and other equipment, floated away.

Asked how much the tool kit cost, Stefanyshyn-Piper said "I probably don't want to know at this point." NASA officials said later the bag and the custom-built tools inside cost roughly $100,000.

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen completed the first spacewalk sharing the two remaining grease guns, completing all of their objectives. Since then, flight controllers have been studying options for working around the loss of two grease guns during three more spacewalks Thursday, urday and next Monday.

Going into the flight, the plan was to use grease-impregnated wipes to dab up loose debris on the rotary joint's 10-foot-wide drive gear. Then, after laying down a bead of grease with a grease gun, the spacewalkers, working on opposite sides of the joint, would use a scraper to chip off debris that had been crushed onto the bearing race by the rollers that hold the big gear in place. Then, after using dry wipes to clean up any remaining debris, additional lubrication would be applied to reduce rolling friction in the mechanism.

During the first spacewalk, the astronauts used up about a quarter of a cartridge in each of the two remaining grease guns. Flight director Ginger Kerrick said today the crew still has six full cartridges of Braycote vacuum grease available, which should be more than enough to complete the servicing.

During Thursday's spacewalk, Stefanyshyn-Piper will use the grease-impregnated wipes to collect and contain debris in the rotary joint while Kimbrough uses a grease gun to lubricated capture snares on the station's robot arm. Then, working together, they'll share the tools again. But this time around, Stefanyshyn-Piper will attempt to use the grease wipes to supply the containment needed for scraped-off debris.

In a round of media interviews today, Stefanyshyn-Piper was repeatedly asked about the lost bag and she clearly was chagrined.

"It was definitely not the high point of the EVA," she said. "It was somewhat disheartening to open up the bag and to realize that there was grease everywhere. Well, not everywhere... but everywhere. It's interesting in space with things like a grease gun, I don't know if 'exploded' is the right word to use but it kind of seeped out, it was just a continuous ooze and unlike something on the ground where you'd find a big blob of grease, or a big pile of grease, it doesn't happen that way in space.

"In space, it just comes out in a small stream and then it, you know, breaks off, a half-an-inch piece, an inch piece, and then it floats off and then there's another piece someplace else. So you get a lot of little pieces of grease everywhere. And it seemed like every time I put my hand in the bag to try to clean one piece, I found more areas that had grease. And in the process of doing that cleaning is when the bag came loose and floated away. And that was very disheartening to see that float away."

For a split second, when she realized the bag was untethered and floating away, she thought about making a grab for it. And then, "I thought no, that would probably just make things worse and the best thing to do would be to just let it go."

Returning to the space station later, she said the "psychological thing" of knowing "we had made a mistake" was difficult. But Bowen, a first-time flier, said "it's just as much my mistake as anyone else's."

"I closed out the bag as a final (inspection) and I didn't go back and triple check everything so I'm just as guilty of this as Heide is," he said. "No matter how much anybody says something, trying to make you feel better, you know, you kind of know you have to move on, you keep moving on trying to figure out how to best accomplish the job."

While spacewalk preparations were underway today, the rest of the combined shuttle-station crew was busy hooking up the station's new water recycling gear and installing new sleep stations. The water processing equipment, designed to convert urine into potable water, is a critical element in NASA's plans to increase station crew size from three to six next year.

Running well ahead of schedule, the astronauts planned to begin initial activation later today and process the first samples of stored urine, collected by the station crew before Endeavour arrived, on Thursday.

"This evening, we will perform the initial checkout of the water processor assembly," Kerrick said. "Then tomorrow on the timeline, we will do some urine processing. There will be some crew actions at the very beginning of the day and then the urine processor will run all day long. Once it's finished with the urine processing, and I think that duration is about eight to nine hours, we have some actions to perform on the water system to vent it and then we can process in the water processor assembly.

"So overall, about two days from when we do the initialization we are about ready to produce that first sample out of the water processor assembly. Right now, we're replanning everything as the crew gets ahead so I can't tell you exactly when that sample, that moment of sampling, is going to occur."

NASA managers hope to get samples from the water recycling racks and a water dispenser before Endeavour departs. Those samples will be analyzed on the ground to help calibrate an analyzer aboard the station. But no one will actually drink any recycled water until next year, after additional samples are brought down following the next shuttle visit in February.


9:10 AM, 11/19/08: Crew awake; water recycling gear setup on tap

The Endeavour astronauts and their space station crewmates are gearing up for a busy day inside the international lab complex, hooking up water recycling gear in the Destiny module and installing new sleep stations in the Unity connecting node. Astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough also will check out their spacesuits and review procedures for a second spacewalk Thursday, the 10th anniversary of the start of station construction.

The astronauts were awakened at 8:55 a.m. by a recording of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" beamed up from mission control for shuttle pilot Eric Boe.

"Good morning, Endeavour," called astronaut Shannon Lucid in her standard greeting from Houston. "And a special good morning to you today, Eric."

"Good morning to you, Shannon, and the rest of the team that supports us and the international space station around the world," replied Boe. "I'd like to thank my family for the song and we're ready to continue making extreme home improvements."

The two 1,700-pound water recycling racks were moved from the Leonardo cargo transfer module on Tuesday - a day ahead of schedule - and the astronauts will spend much of today hooking up the equipment in preparation for activation. If all goes well, the first samples of stored urine, collected in Russian containers by the space station crew before Endeavour arrived, will be fed into the system Thursday to begin tests and checkout.

The water processing racks, a new galley and toilet will eventually be tied into a common potable water bus in the Destiny module. Urine collected in the new toilet will be routed to the water racks, processed and converted into pure water for drinking, food preparation, crew hygiene and oxygen generation. Water recyling is required to boost the station's crew size from three to six next year.

The new toilet will be activated after Endeavour departs. The near-term goal is to activate the water system, treat stored urine and collect processed water samples for return to Earth aboard the shuttle. No one will actually drink the water until additional samples are processed following the next shuttle visit in February.

"The upcoming day has changed. This is going to be a theme, probably, for the next few days in the mission," space station flight director Brian Smith said early today. "It's changed because the crew was really able to get ahead and perform more rack transfers that were originally slated for flight day six (today). So we're going to pull some activities from some other flight days, pull them up earlier to flight day six. Specifically, the crew's going to transfer crew quarters, two of those, they're also going to start working on the WRS racks that were installed the other day."

Before Endeavour's launch, today's flight plan included a block of time set aside for a so-called focused inspection of the shuttle's heat shield in case any problems were spotted that warranted extra scrutiny. But Endeavour's heat shield is in good shape - the shuttle was cleared for entry as is Tuesday night - and the focused inspection is not needed.

That block of time, along with time saved earlier in the mission by the astronauts, should be enough to complete activation of a potable water dispenser during the normal course of the mission to permit Endeavour's crew to bring processed water samples back to Earth for detailed chemical analysis.

Mission managers were holding open the option of extending the flight one day to give the crew extra time to complete the water system activation, but that no longer appears necessary.

"We believe that we are so far ahead that we will be able to accomplish that within the context of our planned mission," station flight director Ginger Kerrick said late Tuesday. "So we expect to get the water samples from the water processor assembly that was originally planned, we get those on flight day 11 (Monday) and we expect to have the potable water bus and the potable water dispenser all set up to be able to take samples from those on either flight day 12 (Tuesday) or flight day 13 (Wednesday). So it's been great going inside."

Spacewalk planners, meanwhile, have been assessing options for working around the loss of two grease guns needed for servicing a damaged solar array rotary joint on the right side of the station. During a spacewalk Tuesday, Stefanyshyn-Piper lost a tool bag overboard while struggling to clean up grease that leaked from a gun before the servicing work began. She and spacewalker Stephen Bowen shared tools for the remainder of the spacewalk and accomplished all of their objectives.

The crew has spares for some of the lost equipment, but not the two grease guns.

"As far as impacts to other EVAs, for EVA-2 we don't expect it to be an impact," Smith said today. "So we currently are leaving EVA-2 exactly as it was planned. For EVA-3, EVA-3's completely dedicated to starboard solar alpha rotary joint maintenance and cleaning. We're still assessing what the impacts to that may be. There are some options to work around any of the impacts but we'll know more in the coming days."

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; NASA's TV schedule is being revised and was not available at the time of this posting):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

08:55 AM...04...13...00...Crew wakeup
10:25 AM...04...14...30...ISS daily planning conference
11:10 AM...04...15...15...Port crew quarters installation
11:50 AM...04...15...55...Water rack equipment transfer
12:10 PM...04...16...15...Node 2 RSR to cargo module
12:10 PM...04...16...15...Middeck transfers
12:15 PM...04...16...20...Water rack setup
12:55 PM...04...17...00...SAFER jet pack checkout
01:10 PM...04...17...15...Starboard crew quarters installation
01:10 PM...04...17...15...Russian PAO event
01:55 PM...04...18...00...MPLM transfers
02:40 PM...04...18...45...Port crew quarters installation
02:50 PM...04...18...55...Spacesuit swap
03:50 PM...04...19...55...Media interviews
04:00 PM...04...20...05...Crew meals begin
04:30 PM...04...20...35...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
05:00 PM...04...21...05...Water rack kit 3 install
05:40 PM...04...21...45...Equipment airlock preps
06:25 PM...04...22...30...Tool configuration
08:50 PM...05...00...55...EVA-2: Procedures review
09:50 PM...05...01...55...Evening planning conference
11:20 PM...05...03...25...EVA-2: Mask pre-breathe

11/20/08
12:05 AM...05...04...10...EVA-2: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
12:25 AM...05...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
12:55 AM...05...05...00...STS crew sleep begins


11:50 PM, 11/18/08: Shuttle heat shield in good shape; officially cleared for entry

The space shuttle Endeavour's heat shield was given a clean bill of health late today and officially cleared for entry as is. While there are a handful of minor blemishes, engineers studying launch and on-orbit imagery say none of them poses any problems for re-entry.

"Hey, Fergie, we didn't want to interrupt the EVA earlier on to give you this information, but we just wanted to let you know that all the assessments have been completed and as expected, the TPS (thermal protection system) has been cleared for entry," mission control radioed.

"Hey, that is absolutely fantastic news, thanks so much," shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson replied. "It kind of weighs on all of us a little bit until the final word comes, but that is very welcome news. I think we'll all rest a little bit easier tonight."


11:00 PM, 11/18/08: Mission managers pleased with spacewalk; lost tool bag not considered a threat to station

NASA planners are studying options for replacing, or doing without, two grease guns lost overboard from the international space station today when spacewalker Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, struggling to clean up after an unexpected grease gun leak, somehow let a 30-pound tool bag get away.

The incident occurred as Stefanyshyn-Piper and fellow spacewalker Stephen Bowen were preparing to begin work cleaning and lubricating a damaged solar array rotary joint on the right side of the station. Video from Stefanyshyn-Piper's helmet cam showed her struggling to clean up after the leak. Apparently thinking the bag was still tethered, she moved it to one side and briefly turned away. The bag immediately began floating away. She made an attempt to catch it, but the bag was beyond her reach.

It was one of the most significant tool losses in recent memory and Stefanyshyn-Piper's chagrined "oh no" as the bag eluded her grasp and floated away summed up her feelings.

"We were running well ahead of time going into the beginning of the SARJ (solar alpha rotary joint) work," said spacewalk officer John Ray. "That was where things got kind of interesting. When Heide got out there and opened up the bag with the tools and spare bearings and things that we had packed to go out to the SARJ, we found that one of the grease guns had, the word Heide used was, 'exploded.'

"What it appeared on the downlink video was that one of the guns had leaked a fairly significant amount of grease out into the inside of the bag. We could see that there was grease on a lot of the tools inside the bag. Then as Heide was trying to clean that up, we could see some of that grease getting onto her gloves and she was cleaning it off her gloves as she went."

In the process, "one of our crew lock bags, which contains one set of tools that we were using to clean the SARJ with, that became untethered and separated from the bag and was lost," Ray said. "So we had to perform our SARJ cleaning with one set of tools, just sharing those between Steve and Heide. It turned out, with the additional time we had going into the EVA, they were able to work together very effectively, we still got all of our objectives done for the SARJ. Everything went really well with the SARJ cleaning."

Three more spacewalks are planned Thursday, urday and next Monday and all three involve more SARJ clean and lubrication.

"We've got spares of everything we can replace for the other EVAs except for the grease guns," Ray said. "But we've got some options we're looking into and some folks are working on that right now."

One option would be to use or modify one of two similar grease guns on the shuttle Endeavour as part of a wing leading edge repair kit. A heat-resistant material known as NOAX is on board to repair small cracks or blemishes in the leading edge panels and Ray said the applicators are roughly similar to one of the lost grease guns.

"We're also looking to see if we can just replan these EVAs to do them with one set of guns and just sharing them," he added. "That went fairly well on today's EVA."

Praising Stefanyshyn-Piper's work today, Ray said "all it takes is one small mistake for a tether just not to be hooked up quite correctly or to slip off where it's supposed to be engaged. And that's what happened here."

"Heide did a great job for the rest of the EVA and she showed real character and great discipline in recovering and doing a great job for the rest of the EVA," he said.

An analysis of the lost bag's departure trajectory indicates it poses no threat to the space station. An hour after the spacewalk ended, the bag was roughly 2.5 miles ahead and 650 feet below the station, moving steadily away.

While the spacewalk was going on outside the station, the rest of the combined station-shuttle crew was busy moving racks and other equipment from a storage module carried up aboard Endeavour and attached to the lab complex Monday.

"We had a great day today, both inside and outside the space station," said lead flight director Ginger Kerrick. "We had a lot of rack transfers scheduled for today. The crew has completed all of them and is a quarter of the way through the rack transfers for tomorrow. So we've been having a hard time keeping up with them."

After getting ahead of schedule Monday, the astronauts moved two 1,700-pound water recycling racks into the Destiny lab module. They also transferred combustion research gear and other rack-mounted experiment hardware, a new toilet and crew sleep stations intended to give station astronauts a bit of privacy.

The water recycling gear, which will convert condensate and urine into pure water for drinking food preparation, hygiene and oxygen generation, is crucial for NASA's plans to boost the station's crew size to six next year. Kerrick said the astronauts hoped to hook up the two water processing racks Wednesday and to begin pumping stored urine into the system Thursday.

Water samples will be returned to Earth aboard Endeavour for detailed chemical analysis. A full three months of testing is planned in orbit, with additional ground tests after the next shuttle visit in February, before any astronauts are allowed to sample the recycled water.

Going into Endeavour's mission, flight controllers were holding open the option of extending the flight one day to give the crew enough time to set up and activate a potable water dispenser. The goal is to collect samples of water from the processing racks and from the dispenser, which is tied into a common potable water bus.

The crew's fast work Monday and today "puts us in an excellent position to obtain the additional PWD, potable water dispenser, samples we had intended to go after only if we had the plus-one day added to the mission," Kerrick said.

"But now, we believe that we are so far ahead that we will be able to accomplish that within the context of our planned mission. So we expect to get the water samples from the water processor assembly that was originally planned, we get those on flight day 11 (Monday) and we expect to have the potable water bus and the potable water dispenser all set up to be able to take samples from those on either flight day 12 (Tuesday) or flight day 13 (Wednesday). So it's been great going inside."


8:05 PM, 11/18/08: Spacewalk No. 1 ends

Astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen wrapped up a six-hour 52-minute spacewalk today, installing a spare coolant system component on the international space station, moving a depleted nitrogen tank to the shuttle Endeavour for return to Earth and cleaning a damaged solar array rotary joint.

All of the primary goals of the spacewalk, the first of four planned for Endeavour's mission, were accomplished, but the excursion was marred somewhat by a grease gun malfunction that released lubricant inside a tool bag. While Stefanyshyn-Piper struggled to clean up the mess, the untethered bag, carrying two grease guns, a scraper tool and other gear, floated away. Stefanyshyn-Piper tried to grab it, but it was too late.

But sharing Bowen's tools, the spacewalkers still managed to clean and lubricate the starboard solar alpha rotary joint as required.

"You did a great job today, awesome EVA, welcome back," radioed Robert "Shane" Kimbrough from inside the shuttle as the spacewalk came to a close.
"Thanks," Stefanyshyn-Piper replied. "In spite of our little hiccup there, or major hiccup, I think we did a good job out there."

"You really did, got all the tasks done."

"You all were champs," mission control chimed in. "You rolled with the punches and made it all happen ahead of the timeline. It's much appreciated and we had a great time watching you."

Today's spacewalk began at 1:09 p.m. and ended at 8:01 p.m. This was the 115th EVA devoted to space station assembly and maintenance since construction began 10 years ago this week. Total EVA assembly time now stands at 725 hours and 40 minutes.


6:20 PM, 11/18/08: Spacewalkers make progress cleaning, lubricating starboard SARJ

Despite losing a tool bag overboard while struggling to clean up a grease gun eruption, astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and fellow spacewalker Stephen Bowen made good progress cleaning and lubricating a damaged solar array rotary joint on the international space station.

Five hours into a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalker, the astronauts, sharing Bowen's tools, have made up lost time and presumably will complete the work originally planned for today's excursion, if not more.

Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center, meanwhile, are assessing the impact of the lost tools, which included two grease guns, a scraper tool, a debris bag and a large trash bag.

The grease guns are being used to lay down beads of lubrication on the 10-foot-wide drive gear of the station's starboard alpha rotary joint after the bearing races have been cleaned. Bowen and Stefanyshyn-Piper, working on opposite sides of the drive gear, have had no major problems removing trundle bearings, cleaning and lubricating the bearing races.


4:00 PM, 11/18/08: Stafanyshyn-Piper loses tool bag overboard as she struggles to clean up lubricant from "exploded" grease gun

Spacewalker Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, arranging tools and work bags before beginning work to clean and lubricate a space station solar array rotary joint, lost a tool kit overboard and along with it two grease guns, a scraper, a debris container and a large trash bag.

When the tool kit floated away, she was struggling to clean up grease inside the bag that somehow leaked out. Flight controllers told her to use tools in fellow spacewalker Steve Bowen's toolkit to replace those that were lost. They may slow the astronauts down a bit - they will be working on opposite sides of the 10-foot-wide solar array drive gear - but they presumably can still accomplish their major objectives.

"I think we had a grease gun explode in the large bag," she reported around 3:33 p.m. "Because there's grease in the bag."

"Ah, it must have been the pressure changes," Bowen observed.

"OK, copy that," Robert "Shane" Kimbrough called from inside the shuttle-station complex. "We're looking at your WVS (helmet television camera) now."

"Yeah, it's on the (still) camera, I got a little bit on my glove," Stefanyshyn-Piper said. "Endeavour, Houston, for EVA. On the big loop," Mark Vande Hei called from mission control. "We monitored about the grease for Heide, getting deployed in the bag. We recommend using a dry wipe to clean up the camera."

"OK, copy. Heide, did you copy that?" Kimbrough asked.

"I'm cleaning my glove first," she said. A few minutes later, she added: "It's kind of all over the inside of the bag. Not sure what it's coming out of. Oh, one of the J-hooks..."

"Maybe we can get it out and temp stow it on the outside or something," Kimbrough said.

"Well... no, it didn't come off of that one," she said. "It might have come off one of the guns on Steve's bag."

A few moments later, she lost the tool bag.

"Oh, great. We have a lost tool, uh, I guess one of my crew (air)lock bags was not transferred and it's loose."

"OK, Heide, crew lock bag?"

"Yeah," she said. "See it?"

"Yeah, we see it," Kimbrough replied. Television shots from the station showed the soft-sided bag floating away against the backdrop of Earth.

"And I'm still cleaning up grease," she said a moment later.

"Endeavour, Houston, on the big loop for EVA," Vande Hei called. "Concerning the crew lock bag that's floating away, could we get a general direction for which direction it's floating away in?"

"It is floating station aft and starboard," Stefanyshyn-Piper reported.

A few minutes later, she reported that "everything else in this bag is tethered."

"OK, good deal. Looks like you're cleaning up everything, that's great, just keep it nice and slow, no big deal," Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough later told Vande Hei the lost crew lock back included "two grease guns, a wipe caddy, the scraper debris container, the scraper and a large trash bag. We think Steve's got all that stuff as well, so Heide can get working with Steve's equipment if you agree with that and then we'll just share when he gets over here."

Stefanyshyn-Piper then began work cleaning the starboard solar alpha rotary joint, removing a trundle bearing assembly to reach the contaminated bearing surfaces.


3:30 PM, 11/18/08: Depleted nitrogen tank moved to shuttle; coolant system component mounted on space station

Running almost an hour ahead of schedule, spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen have moved a depleted nitrogen tank from the space station to the shuttle Endeavour and transferred a spare coolant system component from the shuttle to the lab complex.

Bowen currently is focused on removing thermal covers from fittings on the Japanese Kibo research module that will be used next year to attach an external experiment platform. Stefanyshyn-Piper, meanwhile, will spend the rest of today's excursion cleaning and lubricating the station's right-side solar alpha rotary joint, a critical mechanism needed to turn outboard solar arrays to keep them face-on to the sun. Bowen will join her there when his work at the Kibo module is complete.

The port SARJ is operating normally, but the starboard rotary joint has suffered extensive degradation due to a presumed loss of lubrication. Cleaning metallic contamination, lubricating the three surfaces of the 10-foot-wide SARJ drive gear and replacing 11 of 12 bearing assemblies will take the rest of today, a full spacewalk Thursday and most of a third on urday.

See the 9:40 a.m. status report for a detailed overview of the SARJ joint and the cleaning required to return it to near-normal operation.


01:20 PM, 11/18/08: Spacewalk begins

Running 36 minutes ahead of schedule, astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen, floating in the international space station's Quest airlock module, switched their spacesuits to battery power at 1:09 p.m., officially beginning a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk.

The goals of the excursion are to move a depleted nitrogen tank from the station to the shuttle Endeavour's cargo bay for return to Earth; to move a spare coolant system component from the shuttle to the station; and to begin servicing a damaged solar array rotary joint.

This is the 115th spacewalk in the 10 years since station assembly began, the sixteenth so far this year, the first of four for Endeavour's crew, the third overall for Stefanyshyn-Piper and the first for Bowen. Going into today's excursion, more than 80 astronauts and cosmonauts representing the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Sweden had logged 718 hours and 48 minutes of spacewalk asssembly time.

It will take Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen about two hours to move the depleted nitrogen tank assembly, or NTA, to the shuttle and to mount the coolant system flexible hose rotary coupler on the station.


9:40 AM, 11/18/08: Astronauts prepare for first spacewalk; installation of water racks (UPDATED at 12:03 p.m. with CORRECTION of EVA duties: Bowen, not Stefanyshyn-Piper, does Kibo outfitting)

Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen are gearing up for a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk today to clean and lubricate a damaged 10-foot-wide solar array drive gear on the international space station. They also plan to begin replacing 11 of 12 bearings on the massive gear in a bid to restore the rotary mechanism to near normal service and improve electrical output from the lab's right-side solar arrays. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin around 1:45 p.m.

While the spacewalk is going on, shuttle and station crew members inside the lab complex will begin moving critical water recycling gear from a cargo module brought up by Endeavour and attached to the station Monday. The water recycling racks are designed to convert condensate and urine into pure water for drinking, food preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation, critical elements in NASA's plan to boost the station's crew size from three to six next year.

The water racks originally were scheduled for installation Wednesday, but the astronauts ran well ahead of schedule attaching and opening the multi-purpose logistics module Monday. Saving time on another front, mission managers decided Monday that no additional "focused" inspection of the shuttle's heat shield will be required, freeing up about 10-and-a-half hours of crew time Wednesday.

Going into Endeavour's mission, shuttle and station managers were holding open the option of extending the flight one day to complete installation of the water racks and a potable water dispenser. The goal is to activate the hardware and process the first water samples for return to Earth aboard Endeavour. Given the time saved so far, the astronauts might be able to get the gear hooked up and operating without needing the extra day.

"Yesterday, they got about eight hours ahead of schedule by being very efficient," station flight director Brian Smith said early today. "Now that trend probably won't continue because as we get further along into the mission, there's less and less opportunities for the crew to accelerate the transfer operations. They got us off to an excellent start, though."

Four spacewalks are planned for Endeavour's mission the first and third by Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen, the second by Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough and the fourth by Bowen and Kimbrough.

The bulk of the first three excursions is devoted to servicing the starboard solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ. During the fourth spacewalk, Kimbrough will lubricate the port SARJ as preventative maintenance.

The station is equipped with two massive SARJ joints designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels, keeping them face-on to the sun as the lab complex orbits the Earth. Each SARJ features a 10-foot-wide toothed drive gear with a roughly triangular cross section with three faces, or bearing races: an inner canted race, a so-called "datum-A" surface and an outer canted race. Twelve trundle bearing assemblies, positioned around the drive gear grip the three bearing surfaces with rollers pushing against the gear with 1,000 pounds of pressure. A powerful motor called a drive lock assembly engages the drive gear to actually turn the outboard arrays.

The left-side SARJ is operating normally, but the drive gear on the right side has suffered serious erosion and degradation to its outer canted surface, subjecting the mechanism to high vibration and generating extensive metallic debris as it turns in the grip of the trundle bearings.

To avoid excessive stress and fatigue that might eventually lead to failure, the joint is no longer allowed to "auto-track" the sun and is only repositioned occasionally to improve electrical output. Based on analysis of collected debris and a trundle bearing removed earlier, engineers believe the problem was caused by a lubrication failure.

"We have concluded the most likely cause of this anomaly is due to high friction, which was caused by the loss of lubrication in the joint when it flew," said station Program Manager Mike Suffredini. "The way we lubricate that joint is we put a gold plating on the (trundle bearing) rollers. This is a very soft material and over time, it kind of wears off the roller and finds its way onto the race and fills in the very small microscopic holes and provides basically a lubricant that will wear over time. But it was intended to wear very slowly over time.

"We have found through a bit of research in the paperwork that was put together before we flew and some of the information we gained from the trundle bearing we returned home that we believe the gold prematurely came off these rollers, either because of a condition pre-flight or because of the process used to install the gold just wasn't adequate for the conditions that it saw, that we wore it off prematurely on the starboard side. We have proven through testing that once you take the lubrication off this joint, it will damage the race very, very quickly."

During Endeavour's mission, Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough, working in two-person teams, plan to replace the remaining 11 trundle bearing assemblies, or TBAs, on the right side SARJ. Using grease-impregnated wipes, the spacewalkers will attempt to blot up the metallic shavings contaminating the race. Dry wipes will be used to finish the job and grease guns will be used to lay down beads of lubricant on all three bearing surfaces. The drive gear will be turned between spacewalks to let the bearing rollers distribute the grease across all three bearing surfaces and position fresh sections for cleaning.

A major challenge will be to keep the grease under control and prevent debris from floating away, contaminating the crew's spacesuits or possibly working its way into other delicate mechanisms.

"We want to make sure we get the grease where it's supposed to go and that's on the race rings to help lubricate the SARJ," Stefanyshyn-Piper said. "When you go out there to do this work, even though it's not a fine, delicate task, it is a fine, delicate task in the sense that you don't want to get grease all over yourself and everywhere else. And so you've just got to work slowly and very deliberately on what you're doing."

If the cleaning and lubrication go smoothly, engineers hope to be able to use the starboard SARJ in a manual mode and, when power requirements are high, to auto track for short periods. While both SARJ mechanisms include a backup drive gear for redundancy, NASA managers want to operate the starboard SARJ on its primary gear as long as possible.

"Once we get this all cleaned up, we'll look at the vibrations," Suffredini said. "We're assuming the vibration levels will be very low and that will allow us, if there come times when we need short intervals of auto track in order to get the power we need for utilization, then we'll do that.

Today's spacewalk will begin when Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen, floating in the station's Quest airlock module, switch their spacesuits to battery power. Stefanyshyn-Piper, call sign EV-1, will be wearing a suit with red leg stripes. Bowen, EV-2, will be wearing a suit with no stripes.

This will be the 115th spacewalk devoted to station assembly and maintenance since construction began 10 years ago Thursday and the 16th so far this year. Going into today's outing, total spacewalk time stood at 718 hours and 48 minutes by astronauts representing the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Sweden.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision C of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/18/08
08:55 AM...03...13...00...Crew wakeup
09:30 AM...03...13...35...EVA-1: 14.7 psi airlock repress/hygiene break
10:20 AM...03...14...25...EVA-1: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
10:40 AM...03...14...45...EVA-1: Campout EVA preps
10:50 AM...03...14...55...ISS daily planning conference
12:10 PM...03...16...15...EVA-1: Spacesuit purge
12:10 PM...03...16...15...Cargo module (MPLM) transfers resume
12:25 PM...03...16...30...EVA-1: Spacesuit pre-breathe
01:15 PM...03...17...20...EVA-1: Crew airlock depressurization
01:45 PM...03...17...50...EVA-1: Spacesuits to battery power
01:50 PM...03...17...55...EVA-1: Airlock egress/setup
02:15 PM...03...18...20...EVA-1: Nitrogen tank assembly removal
03:10 PM...03...19...15...EVA-1: NTA install in shuttle cargo bay
03:40 PM...03...19...45...EVA-1/EV2: FHRC removal
03:40 PM...03...19...45...EVA-1/EV1: SARJ preps
04:00 PM...03...20...05...EVA-1/EV1: FHRC installation/SSRMS cleanup
04:05 PM...03...20...10...EVA-1/EV2: FHRC installation/SSRMS cleanup
04:25 PM...03...20...30...EVA-1/EV1: Remove Kibo berthing covers
04:40 PM...03...20...45...EVA-1/EV2: SARJ cleaning, TBA R&R
05:10 PM...03...21...15...EVA-1/EV1: SARJ cleaning, TBA R&R
07:40 PM...03...23...45...EVA-1: Cleanup and ingress
07:55 PM...04...00...00...ZSR installation
08:15 PM...04...00...20...EVA-1: Airlock pressurization
08:25 PM...04...00...30...Spacesuit servicing
10:00 PM...04...02...05...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
10:10 PM...04...02...15...Evening planning conference

11/19/08
12:25 AM...04...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
12:55 AM...04...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
01:00 AM...04...05...05...Flight day 5 video highlights
07:30 AM...04...11...35...Flight director update on NASA TV
08:55 AM...04...13...00...Crew wakeup

Before beginning the SARJ servicing, the spacewalkers will spend about two hours installing a spare coolant system component, called a flexible hose rotary coupler, on an external stowage platform located on the station's main power truss. They also will remove a now-depleted nitrogen tank assembly, or NTA, used to help pressurize the coolant system. The nitrogen tank will be returned to Earth aboard Endeavour.

Exiting the airlock, Stefanyshyn-Piper will hook up 85-foot-long tethers connected to the front face of the S0 solar array truss segment and collect a robot arm foot restraint stowed outside. She will make her way to external stowage platform No. 3 on the solar array truss and provide guidance cues for Don Pettit and Sandra Magnus, operating the station's robot arm, as they maneuver the space crane into position. Once the end of the arm is positioned, Stefanyshyn-Piper will attach the foot restraint to its latching end effector.

Assisted by Bowen, Stefanyshyn-Piper then will clip her boots into the foot restraint. At this point, the 1,100-pound nitrogen tank assembly will be pulled out of its mounting and the station arm will move Stefanyshyn-Piper and the NTA down to the back end of the shuttle Endeavour's cargo bay. While she's in transit, Bowen will make his way down, pausing to close a flap over a berthing mechanism on the Unity module. Then he will join his crewmate in the cargo bay.

Working together, the NTA will be mounted on a cargo carrier for return to Earth. The flexible hose rotary coupler then will be removed from the carrier and carried by Stefanyshyn-Piper back up to ESP-3. Bowen will meet her there and the two will stow the FHRC on the external stowage platform to serve as a critical spare. Rotary couplers allow the station's big ammonia coolant radiators to turn away from the sun, maximizing heat rejection.

At this point, Stefanyshyn-Piper will get off the arm and fold the foot restraint, leaving it in place for use during spacewalk No. 4. She will tnen move out to the starboard end of the station's power truss to begin the long-awaited servicing of the right-side solar alpha rotary joint.

Bowen, meanwhile, will move along the top of the Destiny module to the forward end of the station and the Japanese Kibo lab module attached to the Harmony module's left port. Making his way to the outboard end of the Kibo module, Bowen will remove four small covers from a berthing mechanism that will be used next year to attach an external experiment platform. He also will temporarily remove a larger cover from the aft end cone that will be reinstalled later in the mission. Once he's done, he will make his way to the starboard SARJ.

Going into the spacewalk, the SARJ drive gear, protected by 22 thermal covers, was parked at an angle of 105 degrees. Working on the top side of the mechanism, Stefanyshyn-Piper will remove cover No. 7. Cover No. 8 was removed during an earlier mission to provide a viewing port for a robot arm camera.

Reaching inside, Stefanyshyn-Piper will remove a trundle bearing assembly and stow it in a bag for return to the airlock. Using a terry cloth glove impregnated with Braycote vacuum grease, she will attempt to collect metallic shavings from the drive gears bearing races. She'll then use a scraper tool to remove debris that has been crushed down on the outer canted race.

Switching to dry wipe, Stefanyshyn-Piper will clean up any remaining grease and debris, cleaning all three races as best she can - the undamaged inner canted race and the datum A surface and the damaged outer canted race. She then will begin lubricating all three races, using a grease gun to lay down beads of lubrication. A J-hook nozzle will be ued to reach the inner race of the drive gear.

The starboard SARJ will be rotated later to evenly distribute the grease.

With the first section under covers 7 and 8 now cleaned and lubricated, Stefanyshyn-Piper will install a new trundle bearing assembly. Bowen, meanwhile, will be doing the same thing on the other side of the SARJ, working on the races under covers 1 and 22. He will remove and replace TBA No. 6. After covers are reinstalled, the spacewalkers will make their way back to Quest and call it a day.

If time is available, Stefanyshyn-Piper may be able to clean and lube under covers 9 and 10 where TBA No. 11 resides, and possibly under cover 11. Between the first two spacewalks, the SARJ will be rotated from 105 degrees to 60 degrees. This will position the SARJ drive motors and adjacent areas of the gear for the second spacewalk.


8:25 PM, 11/17/08: Gravitationally challenge spiders

Gravitationally challenged orb-weaving spiders aboard the international space station have not lost their ability to spin webs in weightlesness, but they seem to have lost their sense of symmetry.

An experiment designed for school kids, devoted to exploring the life cycle of the painted lady butterfly and the webs of orb-weaving spiders, was inspected today, prompting this exchange between the station and ground controllers in Huntsville, Ala.:

"When the spider hab was removed from the CTV, Mike (Fincke) had made the comment that it was 'beautiful.' Does that mean that it was an organized-looking web, or just something really neat to see?" a controller asked.

"Yeah, the web was more or less three dimensional and it looks like it was all over the inside of the spider hab," station flight engineer Sandra Magnus replied. "We took a couple of pictures of it so hopefully they'll turn out."

"OK, so it was more of a tangled, disorganized-looking web than a standard, like Charlotte's web kind of web?"

"Exactly," Magnus agreed. "There was no symmetry that was noticeable in it."


07:25 PM, 11/17/08: MMT finds no need for 'focussed' heat shield inspection; spacewalk on tap Tuesday

Initial analyses of laser scans urday and photos taken from the international space station as the shuttle Endeavour closed in Sunday indicate the orbiter's heat shield is in good shape, with no major problems that would require a so-called focused inspection later this week, officials said today.

While the analysis is not yet complete - and the shuttle is not yet cleared for re-entry - Endeavour's crew was told the time set aside for a focused inspection would now be used to speed up assembly and testing of water recycling gear needed to boost the station's crew size from three to six next year.

Assuming the crew gets the work done in time - and assuming no major hiccups along the way - pre-launch plans to add a day to Endeavour's mission might not be needed.

"We have cleared all issues with the reinforced carbon carbon wing leading edge system, so that system is in really good shape," said LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team. "The tile, as you know we get a lot of imagery from the rendezvous pitch maneuver and the teams have been poring over that data for the last 24, 36 hours here. And they have determined we don't need any kind of focused inspection on any of the TPS, that is, on the tile or on the RCC.

"So that's really good news for us. We have a little bit more work to do in the next 12 or 18 hours here before we can clear the entire system for deorbit and entry, but we have seen enough to be able to ascertain that we don't need any kind of focused inspection. That was an important milestone for us as it always is."

Overall, Cain said, "Endeavour is doing extremely well. I anticipate by this time tomorrow we will, in fact, be able to completely clear the thermal protection system for deorbit and entry."

The astronauts, meanwhile, used the station's robot arm to pull the 27,000-pound Leonardo cargo module out of Endeavour's cargo bay earlier today and attach it to a downward-facing port on the space station's Harmony module. Motorized bolts locked the module in place and the astronauts spent the afternoon making preparations for opening the hatch. That milestone was accomplished at 6:43 p.m.

The module is loaded with more than seven tons of equipment and supplies, including two 1,700-pound water recycling racks that will be mounted in the station's Destiny laboratory module. The water racks will be tied into the module's potable water bus, along with a new toilet and galley. The astronauts, running ahead of schedule, plan to start unloading the equipment early Tuesday.

Converting condensate and urine into potable water is a requirement for NASA to boost station crew size from three to six next year as planned. Going into Endeavour's mission, flight planners held open the possibility of extending the shuttle mission one day to give the crew time to complete initial water system activation and to collect the first samples from a potable water dispenser, or PWD.

Engineers want to get samples on the ground as soon as possible for detailed laboratory analysis, both to confirm the system's overall operation and to provide calibration data for a less-capable analyzer that will be used in orbit. The station crew, meanhile, will test the water continuously for three months, sending additional samples back to Earth on the next shuttle mission in February. No one will be allowed to actually drink the recycled water until that analysis is complete.

With focused inspection now ruled out for Endeavour's mission, flight controllers hope to accelerate water system installation and initial activation.

"There is no focused inspection required," station flight director Ginger Kerrick radioed the crew from Houston earlier today. "That will open up about 10-and-a-half hours on flight day six (Wednesday). What we're looking to do is potentially pull activities from future flight days into that time slot with the overall goal of trying to add in the PWD (potable water dispenser) sampling. ... I know pre-flight, we had discussed the only way we could do it was with a plus-one day.

"Now that is all contingent on the fact that everything goes nominal," Kerrick said. "Of course, we're not going to know that by flight day six, but we wanted to position ourselves so if it all does go nominal, somewhere around flight day nine, we can make the determination as to whether or not we recommend we add the plus one (day) for the PWD."

Cain said it's too early to know if the crew will be successful getting samples without the need for an extra day and Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center, said earlier he fully expects problems as the astronauts work to hook up and activate the new hardware.

"It's all been designed and tested in a one-G environment," he said. "And so there are things that operate differently in space when you don't have gravity, you don't have convection from a heat flow standpoint. So, that's why you'll most likely see some difficulties. We kind of compare it back to the oxygen generation system initiation. It took us about a week to get that working. I'm optimistic it won't take us that long to get the water racks up and running, but the same kinds of things will be present."

The goal is to collect water samples from various points along the processing chain.

"We want to bring a sample home from several pieces of the system," said station flight director Holly Ridings. "We've got the urine processing system, we've got the water processing system and we're hoping to also get a sample from our potable water device that we'd like to hook up on this mission as well. ... It's a system that has to work together and we've got a process for systematically configuring that and integrating it into our space station, taking samples from each of the components, bringing them home on the shuttle, analyzing them on the ground and then making sure it's safe for our astronauts and cosmonauts on orbit to use that system."

The shuttle is plugged into the space station's solar power grid and mission managers don't anticipate any problems extending one day if necessary.

Installing the new water recycling gear is only one of the shuttle mission's major objectives. Another is attempting to clean and lubricate the station's right-side solar array rotation system, which has suffered extensive degradation since launch because of an unexpected loss of lubrication.

Astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, a former Navy diver, and Stephen Bowen, a former submariner, plan to stage the first of four spacewalks Tuesday to continue outfitting the station and to begin servicing the starboard solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ. Both astronauts planned to spend the night in the station's Quest airlock module at a reduced air pressure to purge nitrogen from their blood and help prevent the bends after working in NASA's 5-psi spacesuits. The spacewalk is scheduled to get underway around 1:45 p.m.


1:30 PM, 11/17/08: Cargo module attached to space station

Astronauts Don Pettit and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough, operating the space station's robot arm, carefully pulled a 27,000-pound cargo module out of the shuttle Endeavour's cargo bay today and attached it to the downward facing port of the lab's Harmony module to accomplish one of the major objectives of their mission.

The Italian-built Leonardo module, loaded with seven tons of equipment and supplies - including urine recycling gear, a new toilet, a second galley and crew sleep stations - was pulled from its perch at the back of Endeavour's cargo bay around 12:09 p.m. One hour later, the module was locked in place by motor-driven latches operated by newly arrived station flight engineer Sandra Magnus.

After pressurizing the vestibule between Leonardo's hatch and Harmony's, the astronauts plan to enter the equipment-packed storage locker around 8:35 p.m. this evening. Pettit and Magnus will oversee unloading the module and repacking it with trash and equipment bound for Earth. Transfer operations are scheduled to begin around 12:10 p.m. Tuesday.


9:45 AM, 11/17/08: Astronauts gear up for cargo module transfer to station

The combined crews of the shuttle Endeavour and the international space station are gearing up for a busy day in space, moving a 27,000-pound cargo module loaded with critical equipment and supplies from the shuttle to a docking port on the lab's Harmony module. The astronauts also will also make final preparations for the mission's first spacewalk Tuesday.

The morning wakup call from mission control came at 9:35 a.m., with a recording of "London Calling" for astronaut Stephen Bowen.

"I guess my family really wanted to wake me up this morning," Bowen called down. "And we're all up and ready to go today."

Overnight, shuttle astronaut Sandra Magnus officially joined the Expedition 18 crew of the space station, replacing Gregory Chamitoff, who was launched to the outpost on May 31. The transfer was completed at 9:50 p.m. Sunday when Magnus' custom-fitted Soyuz seat liner was installed in the station's Soyuz lifeboat.

"The Soyuz now becomes Sandy's vehicle in case of an emergency," station flight director Brian Smith said early today. "The seat liners are custom fit to each astronaut and cosmonaut. So Sandy carried hers up with her on the shuttle and very shortly after docking, she took that and installed it in the Soyuz. Greg's came out of the Soyuz and was put in the shuttle for return home. So that marked the official transfer. Sandy is now an ISS crew member, Greg is now a member of STS-126 crew."

Also overnight, engineers completed a quick assessment of heat shield components on the extreme outer regions of Endeavour's right wing. That area of the wing could not be easily inspected after the cargo module is mounted on the station if problems were discovered later.

"If we needed to do any inspection in that area, we'd have to modify some of the planning," Smith said. "With the MPLM (multi-purpose logistics module) installed on node 2 (the Harmony module), we would not be able to access that area for inspection. So we were anxiously awaiting those results. The meeting was held overnight and the debris assessment team came back and said the wing looks great and no further inspection required and we were able to leave the plans (for today's cargo module transfer) in place."

Engineers are continuing to evaluate photos and other data to determine the overall health of the shuttle's thermal protection system. There have been no obvious signs of trouble, but analysis of digital photos shot during Endeavour's final approach to the station Sunday is not yet complete.

The Italian-built MPLM is loaded with a record amount of cargo, more than 14,000 pounds, including two complex racks of gear designed to convert urine into potable water, a new galley, a second toilet and two crew sleep stations. The equipment is needed to boost the station's crew size from three to six next year.

Carried into orbit at the back of Endeavour's cargo bay, the cylindrical cargo module will be picked up by the station's robot arm starting around 11:25 a.m. and attached to the Harmony module's downward-facing, or nadir, port. This will be the first time a cargo module has been attached to Harmony, which was launched to the station last year.

"This is one of the heaviest MPLMs to fly to the ISS," Smith said. "We've got Don Pettit and Sandy Magnus as the folks assigned to unload the MPLM and then load it back up with the cargo that's going to come back home. And of course, those two are veterans. Sandy's been to the ISS once before, on STS-112 back in 2002, and of course, Don was on ISS as an expedition crew member on Expedition 6. So the veterans are going to do an excellent job and I've got no concerns about all the transfers being completed."

While the cargo module is being secured to the station, spacewalkers Bowen, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough will move equipment needed for upcoming spacewalks into the lab complex. The first spacewalk, by Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen, is scheduled to get underway at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday. To prevent the bends after working in their low-pressure suits, both astronauts will spend the night inside the station's Quest airlock at a reduced air pressure.

Spacewalk preparations today "will consist of some tool configurations and some equipment transfers, equipment and tools that were flown up with the shuttle will be transferred over to the ISS," Smith said. "The remaining tools required and equipment for this EVA were already on ISS and configured by the ISS crew ahead of time.

"So the crew is also going to prepare the grease gun that they're going to use on the solar array rotary joint on the starboard side of the ISS during EVA-1. They're going to also take a last-minute review of the procedures and make sure there are no more questions. Then they'll go into the physiological preparations for EVA-1. And that consists of getting set up in the airlock and going on a breathing protocol and then sleeping in the airlock overnight."

Today's mission status briefing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and the first in a series of media crew interviews is planned for 5:25 p.m. Mission Management Team Chairman LeRoy Cain will update reporters in a 6 p.m. briefing.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes revision B of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

09:35 AM...02...13...30...Crew wakeup
11:25 AM...02...15...30...ISS daily planning conference
11:25 AM...02...15...30...Station arm (SSRMS) grapples cargo module
11:55 AM...02...16...00...SSRMS unberths MPLM
12:55 PM...02...17...00...Post-docking spacewalk transfers
01:15 PM...02...17...20...MPLM installation
01:15 PM...02...17...20...Middeck transfers
01:45 PM...02...17...50...First stage bolts tightened
01:55 PM...02...18...00...Crew meals begin
02:05 PM...02...18...10...Second stage bolts tightened
02:35 PM...02...18...40...REBA checkout
02:50 PM...02...18...55...EVA-1: Tools configured
02:50 PM...02...18...55...Soyuz pressure suit drying
02:55 PM...02...19...00...SSRMS ungrapples MPLM
03:30 PM...02...19...05...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
03:35 PM...02...19...40...MPLM vestibule pressurization
04:50 PM...02...20...55...MPLM vestibule ingress and configuration
04:50 PM...02...20...55...Grease gun preps for spacewalk
05:25 PM...02...21...30...WXIA-TV, WAGA-TV, WHDH-TV crew interviews
06:00 PM...02...22...05...Post-MMT briefing on NASA TV
06:20 PM...02...22...25...MPLM activation (part 1)
07:55 PM...03...00...00...Equipment airlock preps
08:15 PM...03...00...20...MPLM activation (part 2)
08:35 PM...03...00...40...MPLM ingress
08:50 PM...03...00...55...EVA-1: Procedures review
11:20 PM...03...03...25...EVA-1: Mask pre-breathe

11/18/08
12:05 AM...03...04...10...EVA-1: Airlock depress to 10.2 psi
12:25 AM...03...04...30...ISS crew sleep begins
12:55 AM...03...05...00...STS crew sleep begins
01:00 AM...03...05...05...Flight day 4 highlights reel on NASA TV
07:30 AM...03...11...35...Flight director update on NASA TV
08:55 AM...03...13...00...Crew wakeup


10:40 PM, 11/16/08: Magnus officially joins ISS-18 crew

Astronaut Sandra Magnus officially joined the Expedition 18 crew aboard the international space station today, replacing flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, who was launched to the outpost May 31.

The official exchange occurred at 9:50 p.m. when Magnus' custom-fitted Soyuz seatliner was transferred from the shuttle Endeavour to the space station. From this point forward, Chamitoff will be considered a member of Endeavour's crew while Magnus will take his place aboard the station, joining ISS-18 commander Mike Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov.

A few minutes after the exchange, the Endeavour astronauts downlinked a short videotape of the shuttle's appraoch to the space station earlier today in a test of high definition video from space. The HD video showed the station as the shuttle performed a flip maneuver 600 feet directly below the outpost. The clip was accompanied by a downlinked recording of "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss, an obvious tribute to Stanley Kubrick's movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" and its famous space station approach footage.

"Good morning, Dave. This is HAL," astronaut James Dutton joked from mission control in Houston. "That looked pretty good."


5:20 PM, 11/16/08: Shuttle Endeavour docks with space station (UPDATED at 8:15 p.m. with hatch opening; welcome aboard!)

The space shuttle Endeavour, piloted by commander Chris Ferguson from the aft flight deck, glided to a picture-perfect docking with the international space station today as the two spacecraft sailed 212 miles above northeastern India at five miles per second.

"On the big loop, capture confirmed," an astronaut called at 5:01 p.m. as the docking mechanisms engaged to begin the process of locking the two vehicles together.

About two hours and 15 minutes later, after waiting for residual motion to damp out, correcting a minor misalignment, completing leak checks and setting up communications links, hatches were opened at 7:16 p.m. and Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke, Yury Lonchakov and Gregory Chamitoff welcomed the seven shuttle fliers aboard.

Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, station-veteran Don Pettit, incoming space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus and spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough floated into the Harmony module a few moments later to hugs, smiles and handshakes.

"Endeavour arriving," Chamitoff said, ringing the ship's bell.

"Sandy, welcome to your new home," Fincke said as Magnus floated into the Harmony module.

"I'm happy to be here!" she replied. Fincke then formally welcomed the shuttle crew aboard.

"Welcome Endeavour. You guys look awesome, It was a beautiful approach, beautiful docking, we're really glad you're here," he said. "We understand that this house is in need of an extreme makeover and that you're the crew to do it. We think we've got everything ready for you. We're really glad to see you. Welcome. Welcome everybody. Welcome to space.

"Hey, we figured we'd go for a 10-year anniversary party for the space station, so that's what we showed up for," Ferguson joked, referring to the Nov. 20, 1998, start of station construction. "We're looking forward to working on your house and making it look a little bit better when we're done. You guys are awesome. It's great to see you."

The primary goals of Endeavour's mission are to deliver urine recycling equipment, a new galley, a second toilet and two sleep stations, part of a long-range plan to boost crew size from three to six next year. Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough also plan to clean and lubricate a degraded solar array rotary joint on the right side of the lab's main power truss, prepare the Japanese Kibo module for additional outfitting next year and stow a spare coolant system component on the station's exterior.

"OK, let's transfer!" Magnus exclaimed when FIncke finished his welcome.

"On to work!" Fincke agreed. "Man, this place just got smaller."

The first item on the agenda today, after a safety briefing from Fincke, was to transfer a custom Soyuz seat liner fitted for Magnus from the shuttle to the station. Magnus is replacing Chamitoff, launched to the station last June, as a member of the Expedition 18 crew and the seat liner allows her to use the station's Russian Soyuz lifeboat in an emergency,.

The astronauts also planned to activate the station-to-shuttle power transfer system, or SSPTS, which routes electrical power from the station's solar arrays to the shuttle. FInally, the astronauts planned to use the station's robot arm to pull the shuttle's heat shield inspection boom from its perch on the right side of the ship's cargo bay. The boom then will be handed off to the shuttle's robot arm for the remainder of the docked mission.

Later this evening, around 10:20 p.m., the astronauts are scheduled to downlink high definition video of today's docking as part of an HD video test.

"Everyone on board Endeavour and the international space station is doing great," said lead flight director Mike Sarafin. "Everyone's in great spirits. We did get all of the rendezvous pitch maneuver imagery of Endeavour and all of that imagery has been downlinked. The debris assessment team is in the process of looking at that and we will let them work through their standard process and allow the team to review any data and we'll make a decision if a focused inspection is required after that point."

Said LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team: ""Now that we are safely docked with the international space station, the crew is ready, with teams on the ground, to embark on what is going to be a really exciting and complex mission."

Docking capped a textbook rendezvous that began with launch Friday evening from the Kennedy Space Center. Ferguson and Boe began the terminal phase of the procedure at 2:27 p.m., trailing the station by about 9 statute miles. By 4 p.m., Endeavour was positioned directly below the lab complex for a now-routine post-Columbia pitch-around maneuver intended to expose the shuttle's heat-shield tiles to digital cameras aboard the station.

While Ferguson carried out a 360-degree flip, Fincke and Chamitoff photographed the shuttle's belly with 400-mm and 800-mm telephoto lenses to help engineers assess the overall health of Endeavour's heat shield. While it will take several more days to complete that assessment, Fincke said the heat shield looked good through the camera.

"These kind of lenses are in essence big telescopes and Greg and I, with our professionally trained eyes, could not see anything obvious on the shuttle," Fincke radioed. "It looked like it was clean and dry, as we say. It looked really good."

"That's great to hear," Mark Vande Hei replied from the space station control center.

With the rendezvous pitch maneuver complete, Ferguson flew Endeavour up to a point directly ahead of the space station with its cargo bay facing the lab and its nose aimed at deep space. From there, he carefully guided the shuttle in to a docking at a pressurized mating adapter on the front of the Harmony module.

"Endeavour, Houston, on the big loop," astronaut Steve Robinson called from the shuttle control center a few minutes later. "The team down here on planet Earth wanted to compliment you on a well-done, very nicely done rendezvous and docking. It's great to see Endeavour docked with the international space station. And we can also pass that on for all the family ops going on in the viewing room behind us."

"On behalf of Heide and I, it's great to be back," Ferguson replied. He and Stefanyshyn-Piper visited the station together on their first flight in 2006. "I don't think there's anybody more happy to be back than Don, though, and I know Shane and Eric and Steve are happy to be visiting for the first time. And I know Sandy's happy to be at her new home."

"Roger that, and there just might be some smiles on the other side of that hatch going on, too," Robinson said.

"I bet there are."

Fincke then chimed in, saying "I don't know who's smiling more, Greg, myself or Yury. Can't wait to open the hatch, guys, and welcome you aboard. And very smooth, very beautiful docking. And you looked clean and dry on the RPM."

Going into the terminal rendezvous sequence, engineers were unsure whether Endeavour's KU-band antenna would function properly in radar mode to provide long-range navigational data to the ship's flight computers. The crew was trained to use the shuttle's star trackers as a backup, but the KU antenna operated normally in radar mode and there were no problems of any significance.

Cain said this evening that Endeavour is in good shape. One of two heater "strings" in the shuttle's aft orbital maneuvering system has failed, but the redundant string is operating normally and even if a second failure occurs, a thermal analysis shows no problems will result.

As for ascent debris, Cain said only one event remains under discussion. At roughly 28 seconds into flight, an object of some sort could be seen passing below the shuttle's aft left rocket pod. Engineers initially suspected a small strip of insulation had pulled off, but a video inspection by the crew showed the insulation is intact. The debris may have been ice, Cain said, but video analysis shows it never struck the orbiter.

Engineers are rushing to complete an assessment of the thermal protection system on the far end of Endeaovur's right wing. Once a cargo module mounted in the shuttle's payload bay is attached to the space station Monday, the ship's robot arm will not be able to reach the outboard regions of the right wing if any close-up inspections are required.

Sarafin said if any additional inspections are, in fact, required - and there are no signs of any problems as of this writing - attachment of the cargo module would be delayed to Tuesday.


2:35 PM, 11/16/08: Rocket firing begins terminal phase of shuttle-station rendezvous

Trailing the international space station by about nine statute miles, Endeavour commander Chris Ferguson and pilot Eric Boe fired one of the shuttle's big maneuvering rockets at 2:27 p.m. to begin the terminal phase of today's rendezvous procedure, setting up a docking around 5:04 p.m. Video from the space station showed Endeavour as a brilliant "star" in the same frame as the waning moon moments before the burn.

There are no technical problems of any significance and the shuttle's KU-band antenna is operating normally in radar mode to assist in navigation, despite earlier problems maintaining auto-lock on NASA's tracking and data relay satellites.

The next major milestone occurs around 4 p.m., when Endeavour reaches a point about 600 feet directly below the station. Ferguson will guide the orbiter through a 360-degree flip to let the station crew photograph heat shield tiles on the belly of the shuttle. From there, Ferguson plans to guide Endeavour up to a point a few hundred feet directly in front of the lab complex before moving in for a docking on the forward port of the station's Harmony module.


9:40 AM, 11/16/08: Shuttle Endeavour closes in on space station

The shuttle Endeavour is closing in on the international space station today, on track for a docking at 5:04 p.m. The shuttle astronauts were awakened at 9:25 a.m. by a recording of the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" transmitted from mission control in Houston.

"Good morning, Endeavour. And a special good morning to you today, Sandy," astronaut Shannon Lucid called from the control center.

"And good morning, Shannon," space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus replied from the shuttle. "I want to thank my family for that music and I'm looking forward to moving into my new home today."

Magnus will remain behind aboard the station when Endeavour undocks Thanksgiving or the day after, replacing outgoing flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, who was launched to the outpost last June. Chamitoff will return to Earth in Magnus' place aboard Endeavour.

Today's terminal rendezvous sequence begins at 2:26 p.m. Trailing the station by about 9.2 miles, commander Chris Ferguson will fire the shuttle's maneuvering rockets to begin a slow approach, moving into position about 600 feet directly below the lab complex by around 4 p.m. At that point, he plans to guide Endeavour through a slow back flip, exposing the shuttle's belly to the station for a heat shield photo survey by the lab's crew. Those pictures, taken with 400-mm and 800-mm telephoto lenses, will be downlinked to Houston to help engineers assess the health of the shuttle's thermal protection system.

Because of on-going problems, the shuttle's KU-band antenna system may not work in radar mode today. If not, Ferguson and his crewmates will use Endeavour's star trackers to supply long-range navigation data, a backup procedure that has been used in at least one previous station rendezvous. Ferguson and his crewmates are trained in the procedure and flight controllers do not expect any difficulty if the radar does, in fact, fail to operate properly.

After the rendezvous (or rotational) pitch maneuver, or RPM, is complete, Ferguson will guide Endeavour up to a point about 300 feet directly in front of the station. From there, with the shuttle's nose pointed toward deep space and its open payload bay facing the station, Ferguson will manually guide the orbiter to a docking at a port on the front of the Harmony module around 5:04 p.m.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; supersedes rev. A of NASA's TV schedule; rendezvous times approximate):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/16/08
09:25 AM...01...13...30...STS/ISS crew wakeup (begin FD-3)
11:15 AM...01...15...20...Group B computer powerup
11:25 AM...01...15...30...ISS daily planning conference
11:30 AM...01...15...35...Rendezvous timeline begins
12:10 PM...01...16...15...NH rendezvous rocket firing
12:30 PM...01...16...35...Spacesuits removed from airlock
12:52 PM...01...16...57...NC-4 rendezvous rocket firing
02:04 PM...01...18...09...ISS in docking orientation

02:26 PM...01...18...31...TI burn
03:02 PM...01...19...07...Sunset
03:19 PM...01...19...24...U.S. solar arrays feathered
03:24 PM...01...19...29...Range: 10,000 feet
03:33 PM...01...19...38...Range: 5,000 feet
03:36 PM...01...19...41...Sunrise
03:38 PM...01...19...43...Range: 3,000 feet
03:43 PM...01...19...48...MC-4 rendezvous burn
03:47 PM...01...19...52...Range: 1,500 feet
03:49 PM...01...19...54...RPM start window open
03:52 PM...01...19...57...Range: 1,000 feet
03:55 PM...01...20...00...KU antenna to low power
03:56 PM...01...20...01...+R bar arrival directly below ISS
04:01 PM...01...20...06...Range: 600 feet
04:03 PM...01...20...08...Start pitch maneuver
04:05 PM...01...20...10...Noon
04:11 PM...01...20...16...End pitch maneuver
04:12 PM...01...20...17...RPM full photo window close
04:13 PM...01...20...18...Initiate pitch up maneuver (575 ft)
04:21 PM...01...20...26...RPM start window close
04:25 PM...01...20...30...+V bar arrival; range: 310 feet
04:26 PM...01...20...31...Range: 300 feet
04:30 PM...01...20...35...Range: 250 feet
04:33 PM...01...20...38...Sunset
04:34 PM...01...20...39...Range: 200 feet
04:36 PM...01...20...41...Range: 170 feet
04:38 PM...01...20...43...Range: 150 feet
04:42 PM...01...20...47...Range: 100 feet
04:43 PM...01...20...48...Russian ground station AOS
04:45 PM...01...20...50...Range: 75 feet
04:49 PM...01...20...54...Range: 50 feet
04:53 PM...01...20...58...Range: 30 feet; start stationkeeping
04:58 PM...01...21...03...End stationkeeping; push to dock
05:02 PM...01...21...07...Range: 10 feet

05:04 PM...01...21...09...DOCKING

05:08 PM...01...21...13...Sunrise
05:25 PM...01...21...30...Leak checks
05:30 PM...01...21...35...Post docking laptop reconfig
05:55 PM...01...22...00...Orbiter docking system prepped for ingress
06:00 PM...01...22...05...Group B computer powerdown
06:15 PM...01...22...20...Hatch open
06:45 PM...01...22...50...Welcome aboard!
06:55 PM...01...23...00...Safety briefing
07:25 PM...01...23...25...SSPTS activation
07:30 PM...01...23...35...Soyuz seatliner transfer/installation
07:30 PM...01...23...35...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
07:30 PM...01...23...35...SSRMS grapples OBSS
08:00 PM...02...00...05...SSRMS unberths OBSS
09:00 PM...02...01...05...SRMS grapples OBSS
09:30 PM...02...01...35...SSRMS ungrapples OBSS
09:45 PM...02...01...50...SOKOL suit leak check
10:20 PM...02...02...25...Docking video playback

11/17/08
Mon 12:55 AM...02...05...00...ISS crew sleep begins
Mon 01:25 AM...02...05...30...STS crew sleep begins


6:30 PM, 11/15/08: Lost insulation blanket not considered serious threat; engineers implement work-arounds for KU antenna glitches (UPDATED at 8:20 p.m. with mission status briefing; presumed lost insulation blanket still in place)

The shuttle Endeavour is in good shape after its climb to space Friday and engineers are only working a handful of relatively minor problems, most noticeably glitches with the shuttle's KU-band antenna, the chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team said today. Based on an evening video inspection, a presumably lost strip of flexible insulation from the shuttle's left aft fuselage apparently is still in place.

"The mission is going extremely well," said MMT Chairman LeRoy Cain. "The crew is in good shape as is Endeavour. ... There are a few very minor things that we have in work that the team is looking at but nothing of overall great significance. The space station program reported to us that the station is in good shape and the crew on board the station is ready for Endeavour and her crew to show up tomorrow."

Cain said an analysis of imagery from Endeavour's night launch Friday is not yet complete, but poor lighting means a detailed assessment will have to wait until on-orbit inspections are completed later in the mission. The crew was told of two possible debris events late Friday, but Cain said today as far as he's concerned, only one event is currently under discussion.

At roughly 28 seconds after launch, just before the shuttle's three main engines throttled back to 72 percent thrust to ease aerodynamic loads on the vehicle, a piece of debris of some sort, possibly a small strip of flexible reusable surface insulation, or FRSI, appeared in close-up tracking camera footage in the area right above the shuttle's left-side aft umbilical connection plate just below the left orbital maneuvering system rocket pod.

"We have one area that we're looking at from a debris standpoint," Cain said. "Just underneath the left OMS pod, in the area right above the T-0 umbilical plate, there is what we think is a narrow strip of the blanket insulation material that came loose and flew away there. ... This is not an area that is of great concern to us in terms of losing a blanket. As I said, the umbilical plate itself is an aluminum surface that is unprotected by any thermal protection system."

Just after 6 p.m. today, the astronauts took a moment to aim a camera on the shuttle's heat shield inspection boom to photograph the area. To the untrained eye, no obvious damage was apparent and at an 8 p.m. mission status briefing, lead flight director Mike Sarafin said the insulation in that area appeared to be intact and "there's no apparent damage there."

"To me, I saw the launch imagery at 28 seconds, it looked like something was clearly there, it wasn't there in a previous frame or two of the ascent imagery," Sarafin said. "What the root cause of that is, I'll wait until we get all the imagery data on the ground."

FRSI insulation is used in areas of the shuttle where re-entry heating does not exceed 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Engineers are continuing to study what the debris might have been.

Cain mentioned two problems with the shuttle's KU-band antenna, a steerable dish antenna mounted near the front right side of the ship's payload bay that automatically finds, locks onto and tracks NASA's data relay satellites. The antenna sends and receives data, voice communications and television signals and can operate in radar mode during rendezvous operations.

In one problem, the antenna fails to maintain lock on a target satellite after getting initial pointing instructions from the shuttle's computers. Cain said flight controllers can work around the glitch by operating in what is known as GPC designate mode, in which pointing instructions are continuously sent to the antenna system. While this mode requires additional work by ground controllers, it is transparent to the shuttle's crew.

The second problem involves trouble with automatic handover between KU- and S-band communications. Again, ground controllers will manually oversee such handovers as required with no impact on the mission.

It's not yet clear what is causing the problems. If the loss-of-lock condition is located in the antenna electronics, Cain said, the KU system may not be able to operate in radar mode during Endeavour's rendezvous with the international space station Sunday. In that case, the crew will switch to a backup procedure and use the shuttle's star trackers to provide navigation data during the final stages of the rendezvous.

Cain said all shuttle crews are trained to carry out star tracker rendezvous procedures in case of radar failures.

"In my recollection, we've done at least one (star tracker rendezvous) in the space station assembly sequence, it was on STS-92 (in 2000)," Cain said. "We did exercise a radar-fail rendezvous on that mission."


2:20 PM, 11/15/08: Heat shield inspection underway; flight controllers ask astronauts to photograph area of possible insulation loss

Flight controllers today asked the Endeavour astronauts to pause during an already planned heat-shield inspection and photograph an area near the shuttle's left-side orbital maneuvering system rocket pod where a small strip of flexible insulation might have pulled away during launch.

The heat shield inspection, using instruments on the end of a 50-foot-long boom attached to Endeavour's robot arm, began around 2:15 p.m.

"Right where the left OMS meets the body of the orbiter, we think we may have lost, during ascent, a small strip of FRSI (flexible reuseable surface insulation)," astronaut Steve Robinson radioed earlier from mission control. "Today's a great time to image that area during the port (heat shield) survey. We're putting together a little delta to the robot arm procedures. At one of the pause points, we won't change the trajectory of the arm at all, one of the pause points is just perfect and we'll just take a minute there to ... take a look at that area."

"OK, and that was where the left OMS meets the, did you say the vertical tail?" commander Chris Ferguson asked. "And we did send some pictures down yesterday of something that we saw. We weren't sure if it was ice or not, but I'm assuming you looked at those."

"Yep, those images are being analyzed now," Robinson said. "It's right where the left OMS pod meets, you know, where the big T-0 umbilical goes into the orbiter? There's kind of a strip right at the interface between those two planes."

"OK. I've got an idea where it is. Thanks."

FRSI blankets are used on the upper surfaces of the shuttle where temperatures do not exeed 700 degrees Fahrenheit during re-entry. NASA has had a few minor problems with pulled up blankets on recent missions.


11:15 AM, 11/15/08: Endeavour astronauts gear up for heat shield inspection; rendezvous burns

The Endeavour astronauts were awakened at 10:55 a.m. urday with a recording of "Shelter" by Xavier Rudd beamed up from mission control to kick off their first full day in space.

"Good morning, Endeavour, and a special good morning to you today, Fergie," astronaut Shannon Lucid called from Houston.

"Hey, good morning, Houston," shuttle commander Chris Ferguson replied. "It's always a great day to be in space. I'd like to thank my brother for that song."

Working through a routine-but-busy day in orbit, the astronauts plan to inspect the shuttle's nose cap and wing leading edge panels to make sure no impact damage occurred during launch Friday. They also will check out the spacesuits that will be used later to carry out maintenance on the international space station and set up rendezvous tools for use during final approach to the space station Sunday afternoon.

Two rendezvous rocket firings are planned to fine-tune Endeavour's approach to the lab complex, part of a carefully choreographed sequence of "burns" setting up a docking at 5:04 p.m. Sunday.

"Flight day two, we wake up and we immediately go into a rendezvous burn and at the end of the day, we also have another rendezvous burn and that'll set up docking on flight day three," flight director Mike Sarafin said before launch. "We also check out the docking system and some of the rendezvous tools that are necessary for docking and then we get into the grapple of the (heat shield inspection) boom and perform the flight-day-two inspection on the wing leading edge surfaces and nose cap."

Using Endeavour's 50-foot-long robot arm, pilot Eric Boe and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough will lock onto the 50-foot orbiter boom sensor system, or OBSS, and work through a complex sequences of movements to inspect the right wing leading edge panels, the nose cap and then the left wing using a laser scanner and camera system. The inspection is scheduled to begin shortly after 2 p.m.

The reinforced carbon carbon leading edge panels and nose cap experience the most extreme heating during re-entry and data collected today will help engineers assess the health of the critical systems. During launch Friday, flight controllers told the crew that two debris events were noticed, but there were no obvious signs of trouble.

Here is an updated timeline of today's activity (in EST and mission elapsed time; includes the initial release of the NASA television schedule):

EST........DD...HH...MM...EVENT

11/15/08
10:55 AM...00...15...00...Crew wakeup (begin flight day 2)
12:50 PM...00...16...55...NC-2 rendezvous rocket firing
01:00 PM...00...17...05...Shuttle robot arm (SRMS) unberths OBSS
01:45 PM...00...17...50...Ergometer setup
02:15 PM...00...18...20...Spacesuit checkout preps
02:15 PM...00...18...20...OBSS starboard wing survey
02:45 PM...00...18...50...Spacesuit checkout
04:00 PM...00...20...05...Crew meals begin
05:00 PM...00...21...05...OBSS nose cap survey
05:00 PM...00...21...05...Post-MMT briefing on NASA TV
05:50 PM...00...21...55...OBSS port wing survey
06:50 PM...00...22...55...Spacesuit prepped for transfer to station
07:15 PM...00...23...20...Spacesuit prepped for transfer to station
08:00 PM...00...00...05...Mission status briefing on NASA TV
08:05 PM...01...00...10...SRMS berths OBSS
08:45 PM...01...00...50...OMS rocket pod survey
08:50 PM...01...00...55...Laser inspection data downlink
09:05 PM...01...01...10...Centerline camera setup
09:35 PM...01...01...40...Orbiter docking system ring extension
09:44 PM...01...01...49...NC-3 rendezvous rocket firing
10:05 PM...01...02...10...Rendezvous tools checkout

11/16/08
01:25 AM...01...05...30...Crew sleep begins
02:00 AM...01...06...05...Daily video highlights reel on NASA TV
09:25 AM...01...13...30...Crew wakeup


8:08 PM, 11/14/08: Shuttle Endeavour thunders into orbit

The space shuttle Endeavour, carrying urine recycling gear, a new toilet, a galley and private crew quarters needed for a space station "home improvement" makeover, flashed to life and thundered into space today, lighting up the night sky for hundreds of miles around as it rocketed away.

With commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe and flight engineer Stephen Bowen at the controls, the shuttle's three hydrogen-fueled engines ignited at 120-millisecond intervals, creating a billowing cloud of steam as near-transparent exhaust hit torrents of cooling water. Seven seconds later, after computers verified the engines were spooled up and running smoothly, the shuttle's two solid-fuel boosters ignited with a ground-shaking roar at 7:55:39 p.m., instantly pushing the 4.5-million-pound "stack" skyward.

Trailing 5,000-degree jets of sky-lighting flame, Endeavour majestically vaulted away, rolled about its vertical axis to put the crew in a heads-down position and accelerated downrange, burning up nearly 1.5 million pounds of propellant in the first minute of flight.

Television views from a camera mounted on the side of the shuttle's external tank showed the pad dropping away and, two minutes later, the separation of the spent boosters. Given the lighting of a night launch, there were no obvious signs of foam debris falling away from the huge tank as the ship continued to race toward space on the power of its three main engines.

Eight-and-a-half minutes after launch, Endeavour's engines shut down as planned and 10 seconds after that, latches disengaged and the shuttle separated from the nearly empty external tank. Launch was timed for roughly the moment Earth's rotation carried pad 39A into the plane of the space station's orbit, the first step in a complex rendezvous. At liftoff, the lab complex was passing 225 miles over the Pacific Ocean southeast of New Zealand.

Over the next two days, Ferguson and Boe will fire Endeavour's maneuvering rockets in a carefully choreographed sequence to fine-tune the shuttle's approach to the station, setting up a docking around 5:13 p.m. Sunday.

Joining Ferguson, Boe and Bowen aboard Endeavour were space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus, Donald Pettit, Robert "Shane" Kimbrough and Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper. Ferguson, station-veteran Pettit, Magnus and Stefanyshyn-Piper each have one previous flight to their credit while the rest are shuttle rookies.

"OK, Fergie, the vehicle's in good shape, the weather's beautiful and so on behalf of the entire shuttle launch team, good luck, Godspeed, and have a happy Thanksgiving on orbit," Launch Director Mike Leinbach radioed the crew a few minutes before launch.

"Mike, it's our turn to take home improvement to a new level after 10 years of international space station construction," Ferguson replied. "Endeavour's ready to go."

The primary goal of the 124th shuttle mission is delivery and installation of a new toilet and complex water processing gear designed to convert urine into ultra-pure water for drinking, food preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation.

The astronauts also plan to install a new galley and two cabin-like sleep stations that will provide privacy and radiation protection, all part of a long-range plan to boost the station's full-time crew from three to six next year. The expansion requires on-board recycling because rockets servicing the station cannot deliver enough fresh water to support six full-time astronauts.

Magnus, who will replace outgoing station flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, said building and perfecting a closed-loop life support system is a critical first step toward eventual flights to the moon and Mars.

"When you go to the moon, when you go to Mars, you have to be able to survive more or less on your own resources," she said. "You can't build a system, build a colony, build a life style that's dependent on deliveries from afar. And so you do need to have a system like this, which allows you to be self-sufficient. This is a first step towards that."

But in the near term, she said, the focus is getting the station's system up and running. The fact that the goal is to convert urine to drinking water is purely secondary.

"Yeah, that's part of what we have to adapt to in our new lifestyle," she said. "This is water, OK, yeah, it used to be urine, forget about that part. it's water, it's important, it'll be clean and that's fine. Yeah, there is a certain amount of, I guess you'd call it a yuck factor to it. On top of that, of course, is the fact that (bathroom) ops in space are intensely interesting to everybody on the planet, it's the most popular topic. So there's a lot of interest in this."

In a later interview, she said interest in the water recycling gear is "funny, too, because our planet itself is a closed life support system. And you ARE re-drinking your urine every day, you are re-drinking water that's been recycled, reclaimed and cleansed. But the system is so large and the process, the time cycle for the system, is so long, that people don't realize it. So we're sort of distilling, if you will, the process down into a couple of days or a week that we experience here on the planet naturally. People don't think about it, so the yuck factor is that much more apparent."

Endeavour's launching came five-and-a-half months after the most recent station assembly mission. NASA worked through the summer and early fall preparing to launch the shuttle Atlantis in mid-October on a mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Endeavour was processed in parallel to serve as an emergency rescue vehicle for the Hubble crew in case of problems with Atlantis that might prevent a safe re-entry.

But Hubble Servicing Mission No. 4 was put on hold when an electronic component aboard the observatory failed Sept. 27. Testing a spare unit on the ground and preparing it for flight is expected to delay the Hubble flight to May at the earliest. After assessing a variety of options, NASA managers opted to press ahead with the next two station flights as planned - Endeavour this month and Discovery in February.

Unlike recent station missions that added modules, solar arrays or truss segments to the station, Endeavour's flight is devoted to delivering some 14,400 pounds of equipment and supplies inside a logistics module that will be temporarily attached to the station's central Unity module. The shuttle also will deliver a spare rotary connector that lets huge folding radiators turn to efficiently dissipate heat and bring a depleted coolant system pressurization tank back to Earth.

NASA managers are expected to extend the docked phase of Endeavour's mission by one day to give the combined crews more time to complete the water system installation and activation. In that case, the shuttle crew would undock the day after Thanksgiving and land back at the Kennedy Space Center the afternoon of Nov. 30.

While work is going on inside the station's Destiny laboratory module to install two water recycling system racks, the toilet and the galley, Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough plan to stage four spacewalks to mount the rotary coupler on the station's exterior, to continue outfitting the recently added Japanese Kibo module and to service the lab's degraded right-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ.

The station is equipped with two massive SARJ joints designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels, keeping them face-on to the sun as the lab orbits the Earth. The left-side SARJ is operating normally, but the 10-foot-wide drive gear on the right side has suffered serious erosion and degradation on at least one of its three bearing surfaces, subjecting the mechanism to high vibration and generating extensive metallic debris.

To avoid excessive stress and fatigue that might eventually lead to failure, the joint is no longer allowed to "auto-track" the sun and is only repositioned occasionally to improve electrical output.

Based on analysis of collected debris and a trundle bearing removed earlier, engineers believe the problem was caused by a lubrication failure. While the damage is too extensive to fully repair, engineers believe a thorough cleaning, lubrication and replacement of 11 bearings will reduce friction to the point where the joint can be used in a manual mode to improve electrical generation.

"Today, we know we have enough power to do everything we need to do on orbit and protect the payloads with continuous power," said Mike Suffredini, the space station program manager. "But we do know there are periods when we won't be able to do much additional research during those times. And that's where, if we clean it up and it looks really good and the vibrations are low, that will give us that advantage, to be able to auto track sometimes when you need the additional power to keep doing utilization."


5:30 PM, 11/14/08: Shuttle crew on board; weather appears favorable

The shuttle Endeavour's crew strapped in for launch today as a smooth-running countdown moved into its final stages. Technicians are assisting the astronauts with final seat and suit checks before closing the hatch, securing the "white room" and leaving the area. The shuttle is fully fueled, there are no technical problems of any significance and forecasters say the weather appears to be cooperating. The closest showers of any significance are more than 100 miles away and while it appears a bit windy at the press site, forecasters do not expect any flight rule violations. Launch remains targeted for 7:55:39 p.m., roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries pad 39A into the plane of the international space station's orbit.


2:30 PM, 11/14/08: Shuttle fueling complete

The shuttle Endeavour was loaded with liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel today as the countdown continues ticking smoothly toward launch this evening on a space station assembly mission. There are no technical problems of any significance and forecasters are continuing to predict a 70 percent chance of good weather. Liftoff is targeted for 7:55:39 p.m. EST, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries the launch pad into the plane of the space station's orbit. The astronauts are scheduled to begin strapping in shortly after 4:30 p.m.


11:20 AM, 11/14/08: Shuttle fueling begins; updated launch time; weather 70 percent 'go'

Working by remote control, engineers began pumping a half-million gallons of super-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel into the shuttle Endeavour's external tank today at 10:40 a.m., setting the stage for launch this evening on a space station assembly mission. The three-hour fueling procedure began about 10 minutes late because of time needed to complete fuel cell calibrations.

Based on updated tracking of the space station, Endeavour's launch time has moved five seconds later to 7:55:39 p.m. EST. There are no technical problems of any significance at pad 39A and forecasters are continuing to predict a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather.

The primary concerns are possible thick clouds over the pad and isolated showers within 20 nautical miles of the shuttle's emergency runway in advance of a cold front expected to move through central Florida urday afternoon. The forecast for urday is 70 percent no-go, improving to 80 percent favorable on Sunday.

Endeavour's seven-member crew - commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, Don Pettit, space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus and spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough - will suit up and head for the launch pad to strap in at 4:05 p.m.

The goals of the year's fourth and final shuttle mission are to deliver a spare coolant system component; two water recycling racks designed to convert urine into potable water; a second toilet; a refrigerator/freezer; and two sleep stations. The equipment is needed to expand the station's crew from three to six next year.

In addition, Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough plan to carry out four spacewalks to clean and lubricate a 10-foot-wide drive gear on the right side of the station's main power truss that has experienced high friction and extensive degradation to one of three bearing races. The spacewalks also plan to replace 11 of the drive gear's 12 bearing assemblies and to lubricate the right-side rotary joint as a precaution.

Finally, Magnus will join Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov. Flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, launched to the lab complex last June, will return to Earth aboard the shuttle in Magnus' place.

Here is a timeline of the remainder of today's countdown (in EST; reflects 10-minute delay to start of fueling):

EST...........EVENT

10:40 AM......LO2, LH2 transfer line chilldown
10:50 AM......Main propulsion system chill down
10:50 AM......LH2 slow fill
11:20 AM......LO2 slow fill
11:25 AM......Hydrogen ECO sensors go wet
11:30 AM......LO2 fast fill
11:30 AM......Crew breakfast
11:40 AM......LH2 fast fill
01:35 PM......LH2 topping
01:40 PM......LH2 replenish
01:40 PM......LO2 replenish

01:40 PM......Begin 2-hour 30-minute built-in hold (T-minus 3 hours)
01:40 PM......Closeout crew to white room
01:40 PM......External tank in stable replenish mode
01:55 PM......Astronaut support personnel comm checks
02:25 PM......Pre-ingress switch reconfig
02:30 PM......NASA TV coverage begins
02:33 PM......Crew breakfast/photo op (recorded)
03:25 PM......Final crew weather briefing
03:35 PM......Crew suit up begins
04:00 PM......Resume countdown (T-minus 3 hours)

04:05 PM......Crew departs O&C building
04:35 PM......Crew ingress
05:25 PM......Astronaut comm checks
05:40 PM......Hatch closure
06:20 PM......White room closeout

06:40 PM......Begin 10-minute built-in hold (T-minus 20m)
06:50 PM......NASA test director countdown briefing
06:50 PM......Resume countdown (T-minus 20m)

06:51 PM......Backup flight computer to OPS 1
06:55 PM......KSC area clear to launch

07:01 PM......Begin final built-in hold (T-minus 9m)
07:31 PM......NTD launch status verification
07:46:39 PM...Resume countdown (T-minus 9m)

07:48:09 PM...Orbiter access arm retraction
07:50:39 PM...Hydraulic power system (APU) start
07:50:44 PM...Terminate LO2 replenish
07:51:39 PM...Purge sequence 4 hydraulic test
07:51:39 PM...Inertial measurement units to inertial
07:51:44 PM...Aerosurface profile
07:52:09 PM...Main engine steering test
07:52:44 PM...LO2 tank pressurization
07:53:04 PM...Fuel cells to internal reactants
07:53:09 PM...Clear caution-and-warning memory
07:53:39 PM...Crew closes visors
07:53:42 PM...LH2 tank pressurization
07:54:49 PM...SRB joint heater deactivation
07:55:08 PM...Shuttle GPCs take control of countdown
07:55:18 PM...SRB steering test
07:55:32 PM...Main engine start (T-6.6 seconds)
07:55:39 PM...SRB ignition (LAUNCH)


04:20 PM, 11/13/08: Endeavour poised for launch on ambitious 'home improvement' flight (mission preview)

The shuttle Endeavour is poised for blastoff Friday on a space station "home improvement" mission with a "yuck factor" twist: Delivery and installation of a new toilet and complex water processing gear designed to convert urine into ultra-pure water for drinking, food preparation, personal hygiene and oxygen generation.

The astronauts also plan to install a new galley and two cabin-like sleep stations that will provide privacy and radiation protection, all part of a long-range plan to boost the station's full-time crew from three to six next year. The expansion requires on-board recycling because rockets servicing the station cannot deliver enough fresh water to support six full-time astronauts.

"Recycling is a must," said space station flight director Ron Spencer. "We can't be delivering water all the time for six crew. So the highest priority is to install and activate the water treatment hardware first. And we want to have this operate for 90 days before we give a go for six-crew operations on board station. We want to start this 90-day clock as soon as possible. We're actually going to try to activate this hardware, the initial activation of it, during (Endeavour's mission) so that we can get the first processed water sample returned home on that shuttle mission to verify acceptable water quality."

Sandra Magnus, a space station flight engineer hitching a ride to the lab aboard Endeavour, said building and perfecting a closed-loop life support system is a critical first step toward eventual flights to the moon and Mars.

"When you go to the moon, when you go to Mars, you have to be able to survive more or less on your own resources," she said. "You can't build a system, build a colony, build a life style that's dependent on deliveries from afar. And so you do need to have a system like this, which allows you to be self-sufficient. This is a first step towards that."

But in the near term, she said, "there's definitely a yuck factor because it's just, maybe a nightmare people have, you know, that they'll have to do this."

"It's funny, because we're not really drinking our own urine, we're drinking water that's been reclaimed from a process that urine was an input for," she said in an interview. "And it's something that when you think about humans moving off of the planet, we need to create these closed life support systems.

"It's funny, too, because our planet itself is a closed life support system. And you ARE redrinking your urine every day, you are redrinking water that's been recycled, reclaimed and cleansed. But the system is so large and the process, the time cycle for the system, is so long, that people don't realize it. So we're sort of distilling, if you will, the process down into a couple of days or a week that we experience here on the planet naturally. People don't think about it, so the yuck factor is that much more apparent."

Joining Magnus aboard Endeavour will be commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, Don Pettit, and spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough. Boe, Bowen and Kimbrough are making their first flight while Ferguson, Magnus, station-veteran Pettit and Stefanyshyn-Piper are making their second.

Magnus will remain behind aboard the station with Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov when Endeavour departs, replacing outgoing flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff. Launched to the station last June, Chamitoff will return to Earth aboard Endeavour in Magnus' place.

Endeavour's launching at 7:55:34 p.m. Friday comes five-and-a-half months after the most recent station assembly mission. NASA worked through the summer and early fall preparing to launch the shuttle Atlantis in mid-October on a mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Endeavour was processed in parallel to serve as an emergency rescue vehicle for the Hubble crew in case of problems with Atlantis that might prevent a safe re-entry.

But Hubble Servicing Mission No. 4 was put on hold when an electronic component aboard the observatory failed Sept. 27. Testing a spare unit on the ground and preparing it for flight is expected to delay the Hubble flight to May at the earliest. After assessing a variety of options, NASA managers opted to press ahead with the next two station flights as planned - Endeavour this month and Discovery in February.

Unlike recent station missions that added modules, solar arrays or truss segments to the station, Endeavour's flight is devoted to delivering some 14,400 pounds of equipment and supplies inside a logistics module that will be temporarily attached to the station's central Unity module. The shuttle also will deliver a spare rotary connector that lets huge folding radiators turn to efficiently dissipate heat and bring a depleted coolant system pressurization tank back to Earth.

Assuming an on-time launch, NASA managers are expected to extend the docked phase of Endeavour's mission by one day to give the combined crews more time to complete the water system installation and activation. In that case, the shuttle crew would undock the day after Thanksgiving and land back at the Kennedy Space Center the afternoon of Nov. 30.

Getting the water recycling system up and running is a critical milestone in the life of the station, enabling the outpost to support an expanded crew starting next May. Up to this point, water has been delivered by Russian Progress supply ships and by the space shuttle, whose fuel cells produce water as a by product. But NASA plans to shut down shuttle operations in 2010 and Russian, European and Japanese cargo ships cannot provide enough water to support full-time station operations.

"We will not go to six people unless the water recovery system is working," Fincke said in an interview. "And the reason is resupply. With the Columbia disaster, we went from three people to two people and the biggest thing that made us do that was resupply and the resupply of water. And it's going to be hard enough to resupply water for six people without recycling more water than we have right now. And that really is urine reprocessing. We call it water, but it's really urine reprocessing.

"By reprocessing urine and getting the fresh water out of it, we'll be able to make up our margins, especially because we can see the shuttle isn't going to be flying a few years from now. So this is a pretty critical time for us and the water racks, all the environmental and life support systems that we're putting up, the crew quarters and the galley, people have been working really hard and it's been a stressful time for them.

"Sandy and I as well as Greg Chamitoff and the other shuttle crew guys, we're going to work really hard so we don't mess it up."

While work is going on inside the station's Destiny laboratory module to install two water recycling system racks, the toilet and the galley, Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough plan to stage four spacewalks to mount the rotary coupler on the station's exterior, to continue outfitting the recently added Japanese Kibo module and to service the lab's degraded right-side solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ.

"This mission is all about home improvement, home improvement both inside and outside the international space station," Ferguson said. "On the inside of the space station, the walls are largely up. We've had some large modules delivered in the last year. Well, it's moving day, it's time to fill them up. And on the outside, on the outside we have some never-before-attempted repair work. That repair work will be to, hopefully, improve the performance of a faulty solar alpha joint rotation mechanism with grease. We've never tried anything like this. So on our first EVA out there on flight day number five, Heide and Steve will hit the bricks with grease guns, scrapers and new trundle bearings in an attempt to bring new life back to the solar alpha joint."

The station is equipped with two massive SARJ joints designed to rotate outboard solar arrays like giant paddle wheels, keeping them face-on to the sun as the lab complex orbits the Earth. The left-side SARJ is operating normally, but the 10-foot-wide drive gear on the right side has suffered serious erosion and degradation on at least one of its three bearing surfaces, subjecting the mechanism to high vibration and generating extensive metallic debris.

To avoid excessive stress and fatigue that might eventually lead to failure, the joint is no longer allowed to "auto-track" the sun and is only repositioned occasionally to improve electrical output.

Based on analysis of collected debris and a trundle bearing removed earlier, engineers believe the problem was caused by a lubrication failure.

"We have concluded the most likely cause of this anomaly is due to high friction, which was caused by the loss of lubrication in the joint when it flew," said station Program Manager Mike Suffredini. "The way we lubricate that joint is we put a gold plating on the (trundle bearing) rollers. This is a very soft material and over time, it kind of wears off the roller and finds its way onto the race and fills in the very small microscopic holes and provides basically a lubricant that will wear over time. But it was intended to wear very slowly over time.

"We have found through a bit of research in the paperwork that was put together before we flew and some of the information we gained from the trundle bearing we returned home that we believe the gold prematurely came off these rollers, either because of a condition pre-flight or because of the process used to install the gold just wasn't adequate for the conditions that it saw, that we wore it off prematurely on the starboard side. We have proven through testing that once you take the lubrication off this joint, it will damage the race very, very quickly."

During Endeavour's mission, Stefanyshyn-Piper, Bowen and Kimbrough, working in two-person teams, plan to replace the remaining 11 trundle bearing assemblies, or TBAs, on the right side SARJ. Using grease-impregnated wipes, the spacewalkers will attempt to blot up the metallic shavings contaminating the race. Dry wipes will be used to finish the job and grease guns will be used to lay down beads of lubricant. The drive gear will be turned between spacewalks to let the bearing rollers distribute the grease across all three bearing surfaces.

A similar lube job is planned for the lab's healthy left-side rotary joint as preventive maintenance. In both cases, the major challenge will be to keep the grease under control and prevent debris from floating away, contaminating the crew's spacesuits or possibly working its way into other delicate mechanisms.

"We want to make sure we get the grease where it's supposed to go and that's on the race rings to help lubricate the SARJ," Stefanyshyn-Piper said. "When you go out there to do this work, even though it's not a fine, delicate task, it is a fine, delicate task in the sense that you don't want to get grease all over yourself and everywhere else. And so you've just got to work slowly and very deliberately on what you're doing."

If the cleaning and lubrication go smoothly, engineers hope to be able to use the starboard SARJ in a manual mode and, when power requirements are high, to auto track for short periods. While both SARJ mechanisms include a backup drive gear for redundancy, NASA managers want to operate the starboard SARJ on its primary gear as long as possible.

"Once we get this all cleaned up, we'll look at the vibrations," Suffredini said. "We're assuming the vibration levels will be very low and that will allow us, if there come times when we need short intervals of auto track in order to get the power we need for utilization, then we'll do that.

"Today, we know we have enough power to do everything we need to do on orbit and protect the payloads with continuous power. But we do know there are periods when we won't be able to do much additional research during those times. And that's where, if we clean it up and it looks really good and the vibrations are low, that will give us that advantage, to be able to auto track sometimes when you need the additional power to keep doing utilization."

INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS FOR UNEXPECTED PROBLEMS

The international space station currently consists of eight pressurized modules stretching some 167 feet. Its current mass is 555,244 pounds.

At the back end of the outpost is the Russian Zvezda command module featuring two solar arrays and an aft docking port that can accommodate Progress supply ships, European Automated Transfer Vehicles or manned Russian Soyuz capsules. An airlock/docking module called Pirs is attached to a downward-facing port on Zvezda's front end. The command module's forward port is attached to the Russian Zarya module, a supply and propulsion unit equipped with its own pair of no-longer-needed solar arrays. Zarya's front end features a downward-facing docking port used by Progress and Soyuz spacecraft.

Zarya's front end is bolted to a short U.S. tunnel segment called a pressurized mating adapter that, in turn, is attached to NASA's Unity module, a multi-hatch node with six ports. Its starboard, or right-side port, connects to the U.S. Quest airlock module while its upper zenith port accommodates the Z1 truss that houses the station's four stabilizing gyroscopes.

Unity's downward facing port provides a temporary mounting point for a pressurized mating adapter that will be used later.

Unity's left hatch is not currently occupied. Its forward port is attached to the U.S. Destiny laboratory, occasional home to the station's Canadarm 2 robot arm, a marvel of engineering that is capable of moving, end over end like an inchworm, from work site to work site on the station's solar array truss. Destiny also is the mounting point for a sophisticated multi-joint Canadian robot that can be attached to Canadarm 2 for robotic installation of standardized components.

On the forward end of Destiny is another connecting node called Harmony. Harmony's right-side port leads to the European Space Agency's Columbus research module while it's left-side port leads to Kibo, a roomy Japanese laboratory equipped with its own robot arm and an upper logistics module used to store spare parts and equipment.

During Endeavour's mission, the pressurized cargo module carrying the water recycling gear and other equipment bound for the station will be temporarily attached to Harmony's downward-facing port. Endeavour itself will be docked to a pressurized mating adapter on the front end of the Harmony module.

On top of the Destiny module is the station's main solar array truss, which is mounted at right angles to the long axis formed by the pressurized modules. When complete, the power truss will stretch some 356 feet across.

The S0 truss segment sits in the middle atop the lab, flanked by the S1 and P1 truss elements (there are no S2 or P2 components). S1, S0 and P1 house a variety of electrical components and the station's main ammonia cooling system, including huge articulating radiator panels. The cooling system features two independent ammonia loops - loop A and B - that feature large ammonia reservoirs, pumps, cold plates and the plumbing required to route the coolant through the big rotating radiators to dissipate heat.

The left side of the solar array truss is now complete and includes two sets of solar arrays: P4 and P6, separated by a short spacer known as P5. A massive solar alpha rotary joint, or SARJ, in the P3 segment rotates the outboard solar arrays to track the sun as the station orbits the Earth.

The right side of the solar power truss is not yet finished. It currently is made up of one set of arrays - S4 - and the spacer segment, S5. The final set of solar arrays, S6, is scheduled for launch on the next shuttle assembly mission in February 2009.

Unlike the port SARJ, the starboard rotary joint has suffered extensive degradation since it was activated in orbit and auto-track is no longer enabled.

The problem was first noticed in the summer of 2007 when telemetry indicated high currents and vibration in the mechanism. When spacewalking astronauts took a look inside last Fall, they discovered extensive contamination in the form of metallic shavings and degradation to one face of the drive gear bearing race.

The 10-foot-wide toothed drive gear at the heart of the joint is held in place by 12 trundle bearing assemblies, or TBAs, which distribute the load via roller bearings locked onto the gear's three faces, or races. A powerful motor drives the main gear and outboard arrays. One TBA was taken off the starboard SARJ in a subsequent spacewalk and returned to Earth for analysis. It was replaced with a pristine unit.

During Endeavour's mission, "we intend to go on the starboard side and remove the remainder," Suffredini said. "There are 12 trundle bearings, we've replaced one. We intend to remove and replace 11 other trundle bearings in order to bring those all home to help us with (confirmation of the) root cause.

"We will take that opportunity to clean up that race and then we'll also lubricate that race. What we're doing here is we're trying to modify the system just enough so that when we do have to rotate it, we minimize both the vibrations associated with the damage to the race and the contamination that's currently on the race, that helps us with structural life. In addition to that we want to reduce the amount of current required to drive this joint to make sure we never reach the maximum current the motor can drive to. So that's what these two steps do."

During the first three spacewalks, Stefanyshyn-Piper and Bowen will begin the process of removing and replacing the starboard trundle bearings, using grease-impregnated towels to wipe up and capture metal filings and other debris, a scraper to remove debris stuck to the race and a grease gun to apply fresh lubrication. The astronauts will work on opposite sides of the big drive gear, cleaning and lubricating relatively small sections at a time. Ground controllers will rotate the gear as required to bring fresh segments into reach. It will take most of three spacewalks to complete the starboard SARJ cleaning and lubrication.

"Some of the wipes are going to have grease, some of them are just going to be plain, regular wipes," said Stefanyshyn-Piper. "We're going to have a scraper tool, because some of the particles are fairly hard and they think we'll need to lay some grease to contain everything and it may require some scraping. And so we're going to have all these tools out there. We've thought long and hard about what are the best ways to go out and do this job. We came up with our plan, it's worked in the pool, but there's a lot of things you just can't do in the pool. ... The best we can do is, we know how things behave in space and we know what's the best way to contain your tools and we're just going to do the best that we can."

If all goes well, the starboard SARJ will be commanded to rotate in an auto-track test during crew sleep after the third spacewalk. Sensors will measure vibration levels and electrical loads to determine how successful the astronauts were in reducing friction. As a precaution, the astronauts also plan to lubricate the port-side SARJ during the fourth spacewalk.

The port-side SARJ has not experienced the same sort of friction, apparently because of a pre-launch vacuum test that caused a lubricant inside the trundle bearing rollers to leak out. As the port SARJ operated in orbit, the rollers smoothed the extruded lubricant across the bearing races, reducing friction and, apparently, helping the big gear resist the sort of stress that damaged the starboard SARJ. While both mechanisms have been operating in a vacuum in space, engineers with Boeing believe the way the pre-launch vacuum test was conducted created a different set of conditions more conducive to coaxing out the internal lubricant.

During Endeavour's mission Kimbrough will spend most of the fourth spacewalk adding additional lubrication to the port SARJ as preventive maintenance.

But the damage to the starboard SARJ is extensive and engineers do not believe they will be able to return to full-time auto-track operations. Instead, the gear will be repositioned as required throughout the year to improve solar energy generation. If the servicing goes as expected, the gear should remain operational for years to come.

Even so, continued operations on the damaged drive gear represents an interim fix at best. NASA managers would like to implement a long-term solution that would permit a resumption of auto-track to meet the electrical demands of the completed station while preserving redundancy.

Up to this point, the only long-range option appeared to be switching to a redundant outboard race ring. The SARJ mechanisms include two drive gears for just this eventuality and all that would be needed to switch from one to the other would be to reposition the trundle bearing assemblies and the redundant drive motors. But no one expected SARJ problems this early in the station's operational life and engineers do not want to switch to the backup drive gear - and accept a critical loss of redundancy for the rest of the station's life - unless absolutely necessary.

Instead, engineers have come up with an alternative approach, one that amounts to major surgery. During the final currently planned shuttle flight in 2010, spacewalking astronauts will begin the process of attaching a new drive gear to the damaged one.

"We intend to bring up another race and we will attach it to the race that's damaged and then roll on that race and save the outboard race for later in the life of the international space station," Suffredini said.

Installing a new race ring, or drive gear, will permit the station to continue operating with its current software and still preserve a backup drive gear in case of additional problems down the road.

"The downside to that is we have to basically separate the truss at a joint that wasn't made to separate on orbit," Suffredini said. "This is not the joint we put together on orbit, this is a joint that was assembled prior to flight and flew as an integrated truss. We referred to it at the time as S3/S4.

"We have a technique for doing that," he said. "We have to build the hardware, basically build some jack screws and we'll attach them to where we had some launch locks. And we'll basically separate this joint about 10 inches and we'll slip this new race ring in, install it and then pull it back together. To do all that, it won't happen tomorrow. It'll probably take us to late in 2010 before we have all this hardware ready to go and can get this race ring on orbit. But that is the current plan."

A detailed electrical analysis shows the station will have enough power for normal, or near-normal, operations until the new race can be installed.

THE 'YUCK FACTOR' REVISITED

Servicing the starboard SARJ mechanism is a major undertaking. So is installing, hooking up and testing the station's new water recycling gear, toilet and galley, complete with the crew's first refrigerator/freezer for food and drink. The goal is to equip the station with the necessary closed-loop recycling system to permit the lab's full-time crew to expand from three to six next May.

Endeavour's crew will deliver two 1,700-pound water recycling system racks designed to convert urine and condensate into potable water. The racks, packed with complex, interconnected hardware, will be installed in Destiny and connected to the lab's as yet unused potable water buss. The new toilet also will be installed in Destiny, fitting in place like a standard laboratory rack. Unlike a normal rack, however, a privacy enclosure with a folding door will extend out into the center of the lab.

The goal is to process urine right away and to produce water samples that can come back to Earth aboard Endeavour for detailed analysis and a quick-look indication of how the system is operating. To kick start the system, the station crew has stored urine in five Russian containers that will be connected to the recycling gear as soon as possible.

Assuming no major problems develop, the first water sample will be collected while the fourth spacewalk is underway.

"The key to the urine processing uses the age old practice of distillation," Pettit explained before launch. "This is a vacuum distillation apparatus, which will put a partial vacuum on urine concentrate and it will allow the water to boil off at a lower temperature than if you just cooked it under the standard atmosphere of space station. And so the water that comes off from this distillation outfit is going to be pretty pure.

"But any distillation process has a little bit of carry over. It's kind of like the backwash when you drink in your water bottle. And so, to get rid of this little bit of backwash, we run it through a catalytic converter, which will oxidize any of the backwash. The catalytic converter actually has a supply of oxygen running into it to provide an oxidation material to go with the catalyst to convert the backwash, so to speak. And then from there, it goes into a series of ion exchange beds.

"At that point, it's almost like deionized water," Pettit said. "It also goes through a charcoal bed that gets rid of a few other impurities and then it finally gets analyzed by a couple of on-line boxes. One of them just checks the bulk resistivity and if that doesn't satisfy the box, it opens up a valve and sends that splash of water back to go again. It's kind of like a Monopoly game where you don't get to go by go and get $200. You just go straight back to the distillation unit.

"And then, from there it goes through this TOCA machine, this Total Organic Carbon Analyzer. Organic carbon is the kind of stuff you don't want. If the feed stock is urine and you're having potable water come out, you don't want organic carbon in there. So, the total Organic Carbon Analyzer lets you know whether any of that stuff has come through. And then from there, it can branch out into the oxygen generator or go to the galley. In the galley, they add some salts just to make the water taste a little bit better. if you drink distilled water, it doesn't taste as good as regular water and there's a few mineral salts in there that for some reason or another makes it more palatable to human beings.

"From there, we can use it to make our dinner or our coffee with," Pettit said. "I like to refer to this whole process as a coffee machine. Because it's going to take yesterday's coffee and make it into today's coffee."

But no one will actually drink water from the new system until at least three months of testing and analysis. The Total Organic Carbon Analyzer will take samples periodically and additional samples will be returned to Earth during the next shuttle mission in February. Assuming everything checks out, NASA will press ahead with plans to boost the station's crew size to six with the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft next May 25.

"There's two water racks and the toilet rack," Magnus said. "All three of those are going to get put in the U.S. laboratory. There's some plumbing already in the laboratory that will accommodate some of these connections between the racks. Just between water rack No. 1 and water rack No. 2 ... there are several back-and-forth lines, if you will, where the water goes through different parts of the process. So all of that has to be hooked up and then that has to get connected to the water bus that goes to the toilet so the urine can come into the water rack and start the reclamation process.

"Of course, you test the stuff on the ground as much as you can and you hope that once you get to orbit it works the way you expected it to. But if it doesn't, (we'll) start working on ways to fix it. So that's the first concern, getting it all hooked up, making sure it all physically goes together. And then they requested that two of us use the new toilet right from the get go so they can start getting urine into the system to start the process. We're hoping to at least get the physical connections done, the activations done during the shuttle flight."

Once processing begins, water samples will be collected every four days. Some of those will be analyzed in orbit and other will be set aside for return to Earth.

The toilet will be installed in Destiny just forward of the crew's ergometer exercise bike.

"It's on the port side," Magnus said. "It goes up looking like a regular rack and then there's sort of a fold-out compartment that will extend into the aisle of the laboratory, I don't want to say half way but substantially, so it sticks out into the aisle quite a bit, and that's the hygiene compartment and toilet sort of combined together. So it'll be a major obstruction in the laboratory when it's assembled."

As for privacy, Magnus said "it'll be sufficient, it'll be private enough. It is unfortunate that it's right there, though, in the lab, because it's right down our hallway, our main passageway. But the privacy will be sufficient, I have no worries on that score."

The toilet will not be hooked up and actually used until after Endeavour departs. Engineers want the next shuttle crew to use the new potty to simulate the sort of conditions that can be expected when a six-person crew is on board full time.

In the meantime, "we're going to start with five containers of waste water from the Russian toilet that we're going to be attaching into the potable bus system to start the regeneration system going," Magnus said.

"We'll be taking samples from that system periodically where we're going to attach the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, the TOCA, this flight and that's a way to do analysis on orbit of the quality of the water. We'll also connect up the potable water dispenser, which is part of the galley that we'll have up on station. Once all these systems are connected, we'll be regularly doing water samples. We'll try really hard to get a water sample down on this mission from the TOCA and from the water regeneration system itself so they can be compared on the ground.

"A lot of the other samples that will be taken periodically over the next four months will come down on (the next shuttle mission in February). And then once the ground has been able to do the analysis and make sure the water is the quality they expect, then we'll be given the go to actually drink it. But during our mission, mainly we'll be doing the sampling. We'll be running a lot of those samples through the analyzer on board at the same time we're taking the samples from the regeneration system so we can analyze how well the TOCA is performing. So there will be a lot of water work on this mission."


11:15 AM, 11/13/08: Countdown on track; weather improves to 70 percent 'go'

The shuttle Endeavour's countdown is ticking smoothly toward launch Friday night on a four-spacewalk space station assembly mission. There are no technical problems of any significance at pad 39A and forecasters are predicting slightly better weather, calling for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions.

"All of our systems are in good shape, the countdown work is on schedule, I have no issues to report," NASA Test Director Charlene Blackwell-Thompson told reporters today. "Endeavour is ready to go. And we're really excited to share our version of a sunrise with you tomorrow night."

LIftoff is targeted for 7:55:34 p.m., roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries the launch pad into the plane of the international space station's orbit.

Kathy Winters, the shuttle weather officer at the Kennedy Space Center, said a frontal system approaching Florida from the west is not moving quite as fast as initially expected. It is now expected to move through the area late Saturday, bringing heavy clouds and rain. Isolated showers and cumulus clouds are expected Friday, as the front approaches.

"That's our primary concern for launch, isolated showers and cumulus clouds in the area," Winters said. "The front will move through the area on Saturday, late afternoon to the evening time period. So with that, we're in a pre-frontal condition before launch, which makes us have a warm, moist atmosphere and that causes us concern╩for these showers and cumulus clouds."

Based on the latest computer models, "we're a little bit more optimistic for Friday evening, mainly because we're more confident in the frontal passage. Still, our primary concerns are the╩showers within 20 nautical miles and also cumulus clouds within 10 nautical miles of the launch pad. So we have a 30 percent chance of KSC weather prohibiting the launch."

The forecast worsens to 70 percent no-go Saturday and improves to 80 percent favorable for Sunday.


12:35 PM, 11/12/08: Countdown underway; forecast still 60 percent 'go' for Friday launch

The shuttle Endeavour's countdown began on time Tuesday night and with no technical issues of any significance, NASA's Mission Management Team today cleared the spacecraft for launch Friday on a critical space station assembly and maintenance mission. Liftoff is targeted for 7:55:34 p.m. Friday and forecasters continue to predict a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather.

"At the end of the discussion we determined we don't have any open issues, no open work, no open constraints," said MMT Chairman LeRoy Cain. "So we're ready to go, the vehicle, the crew and the ground teams have prepared very hard for this mission. We were postured to fly a different mission just a month or so ago. But we were always planning on flying this mission this Fall, and so we're ready to go do that now."

He was referring to the planned mid-October launch of the shuttle Atlantis on a mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Because of a component failure in orbit, that flight has been delayed to next May at the earliest to give engineers time to test and prepare replacement hardware.

Endeavour, which would have served as the emergency rescue vehicle for the Hubble crew, now is primed for launch Friday on the same mission it would have flown after a successful Hubble flight: A critical space station visit to install water recycling gear, a new toilet, a second galley and two of four crew sleep stations that will set the stage for expanding the lab crew from three to six next year.

Endeavour's crew also plans to carry out four spacewalks to attach equipment and spare parts to the station and to clean and lubricate a contaminated solar array rotary joint on the right side of the station. A similar joint on the left side of the station's main power truss is operating normally, but the astronauts will apply lubrication as preventive maintenance.

In addition, astronaut Sandra Magnus, hitching a ride to the station aboard Endeavour, will replace outgoing flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, who was launched to the lab complex last June. Chamitoff will return to Earth aboard Endeavour.

Magnus, commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, Don Pettit and spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough flew to me Kennedy Space Center from Houston Tuesday to make final preparations for launch.

"This mission is all about home improvement, home improvement both inside and outside the international space station," Ferguson told reporters. "On the inside of the space station, the walls are largely up. We've had some large modules delivered in the last year. Well, it's moving day, it's time to fill them up. And on the outside, on the outside we have some never-before-attempted repair work. That repair work will be to hopefully improve the performance of a faulty solar alpha joint rotation mechanism with grease. We've never tried anything like this. So on our first EVA out there on flight day number five, Heide and Steve will hit the bricks with grease guns, scrapers and new trundle bearings in an attempt to bring new life back to the solar alpha joint."

Launch director Mike Leinbach said today Endeavour is in good shape "and we're not tracking any issues that would prevent a launch at this stage."

The weather, of course, is another issue. Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said the forecast still calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather based on computer models tracking a frontal system expected to reach central Florida on Saturday.

"What we're mainly concerned about with weather is a frontal boundary that's going to be moving into the area," she said. "And it's going to be affecting us more on Saturday, but there could be some pre-frontal weather, particularly our concern is showers in the area and also cumulus cloud development within 10 nautical miles of the launch pad."

Good weather is expected at emergency runways in New Mexico and California and in Moron, Spain. The forecast for Saturday calls for a 60 percent chance of bad weather, improving to 70 percent "go" after the front passes through.

Endeavour's launch window extends through Nov. 25. But it's not yet clear if the mission can be launched after Nov. 21. The Russians plan to launch an unmanned Progress supply ship Nov. 26 that will reach the station on Nov. 30. Flight controllers like at least a day of cushion between the departure of one vehicle and the arrival of another.

The Russians have agreed to delay the Progress docking, if necessary, to accommodate the shuttle. But as of this writing, the agreement only covers a delay of about a week. If Endeavour launched as late as Nov. 21, the shuttle would undock from the station on Dec. 5, the day before the Progress would have to dock under the current agreement. Based on that, Endeavour would have to be off the ground by Nov. 21 at the latest.

Leinbach said today he does not expect it to come to that.

"Our standard plan is to try four attempts in five days," he said. "Given that and barring any major facility or vehicle problems, we have a very high likelihood of launching, it's up in the 90 percent range, probably 93 to 95 percent."

But Cain said if the flight was delayed to the point where additional launch attempts after Nov. 21 might be needed, NASA would re-open talks with the Russians to explore additional options.


12:30 PM, 11/11/08: Shuttle countdown on tap; weather 60 percent 'go' for Friday launch (UPDATED at 11:30 p.m. with start of countdown; crew quotes)

The shuttle Endeavour is on track for launch Friday evening, weather permitting, to kick off a space station resupply and servicing mission, the fourth and final shuttle flight this year. Liftoff is targeted for 7:55:34 p.m. Friday, with forecasters predicting a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather.

Endeavour's seven-member crew - commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, Don Pettit, space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus and spacewalkers Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough - flew to the Kennedy Space Center from Houston later today to prepare for launch. Endeavour's countdown began at 10 p.m. this evening.

The primary goals of the four-spacewalk mission are to service the station's degraded right-side solar array rotary joint mechanism and to install water processing equipment, a new toilet and galley that will permit the urine and waste water recycling needed to expand the lab's crew from three to six next year. Magnus will join Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke and flight engineer Yury Lonchakov as a long-duration crew member while Gregory Chamitoff, launched to the station last June, will return to Earth aboard Endeavour.

"This mission is all about home improvement, home improvement both inside and outside the internatioanl space station," Ferguson told reporters at the shuttle landing strip. "On the inside of the space station, the walls are largely up. We've had some large modules delivered in the last year. Well, it's moving day, it's time to fill them up. And on the outside, on the outside we have some never-before-attempted repair work. That repair work will be to hopefully improve the performance of a faulty solar alpha joint rotation mechanism with grease. We've never tried anythying like this. So on our first EVA out there on flight day number five, Heide and Steve will hit the bricks with grease guns, scrapers and new trundle bearings in an attempt to bring new life back to the solar alpha joint."

Kathy Winters, the shuttle weather officer, told reporters today the timing of a frontal system moving toward Florida will play a major role in whether Endeavour gets off Friday. As of today, the forecast called for a 40 percent chance of clouds and rain showers ahead of the front that could delay launch. The odds worsen to 60 percent "no go" Saturday and improve to 70 percent go on Sunday.

"Our main concern for weather when it comes to launch is the front that's going to be moving into the area at the end of the week," Winters said. "It's going to be moving into the southeast U.S. as we move into Friday and Saturday. I think mainly the frontal passage will be moving through on Saturday, but there will be a lot of clouds and a chance for some showers ahead of the front."

NASA flight rules forbid a launch in the event of thick clouds along the shuttle's flight path at an altitude where the temperature is 32 degrees or lower because of the possibility of rocket-triggered lightning. Another issue is rain showers within 20 nautical miles of the shuttle's emergency runway where Endeavour could be forced to land due to an engine failure in the first few minutes of flight.

Whether those conditions actually develop will depend on when the frontal system moves into central Florida.

"The timing of the front will be critical," Winters said.

Another wild card is the planned launch of an unmanned Russian Progress supply ship from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch is targeted for 7:38 a.m. on Nov. 26 with docking on tap Nov. 30. If Endeavour's launch is delayed past Nov. 16, the Russians would have to delay the Progress docking to ensure at least 24 hours between the shuttle's undocking and the supply ship's arrival. It is not clear as of this writing how long the Progress could loiter if Endeavour's launch slips toward the end of its window.

The shuttle launch window closes Nov. 26. Between then and mid December, the angle between the sun and the plane of the space station's orbit - the beta angle - will be such that temperature constraints for the docked shuttle-station complex would be violated. Shuttle managers have said they would delay the flight to early next year if Endeavour does not get off this month.


09:00 PM, 10/30/08: Endeavour cleared for 11/14 launch; Hubble mission delayed to at least May

NASA managers today cleared the shuttle Endeavour for launch Nov. 14 on a space station assembly and servicing mission. But work to test a component needed by the Hubble Space Telescope will not be finished in time for launch aboard the shuttle Atlantis in February. That flight, Hubble Servicing Mission 4, originally was scheduled for launch Oct. 14 but it was delayed when a critical science data relay unit aboard the observatory failed in late September. NASA managers decided to delay the Hubble flight to mid February to give engineers time to test replacement electronic gear, but detailed checkout and problems with the equipment require additional troubleshooting, delaying the long-awaited flight to May at the earliest.

"Today, after a thorough review at the Goddard Space Flight Center of the work to go preparing the spare science instrument command and data handling system, the science mission directorate has informed the space operations mission directorate and the space shuttle program that the spare unit will not be available to support a February launch date with acceptable schedule margin and technical risk," Jon Morse, director of astrophysics at NASA headquarters, told reporters.

Engineers now plan to remove Atlantis from its external tank and solid-fuel boosters and give that "stack" to the shuttle Discovery for launch Feb. 12 on a flight to deliver a final set of solar arrays to the international space station. If all goes well, the Hubble mission could take off around May 12, two weeks before launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft May 25 that would carry three crew members to the space station, boosting the lab's crew size to six.

But that schedule assumes engineers at Goddard can resolve anomalies in the replacement Hubble command and data handling subsystem and complete an exhaustive series of tests to verify its flight readiness. Preston Burch, Hubble program manager at Goddard, said he's confident the hardware will be ready to fly in May.

"I'm very confident, personally, that we can troubleshoot the anomaly that we're currently working on and get it ready to fly," Burch said. "We have all the design documentation, all the schematics and everything, we have a very smart group of engineers and technicians that are working on this. This is a glitch on a black box that's well known, well understood, flight proven, so I don't see this as a huge, insurmountable deal. It's not like we're doing something experimental in quantum physics or anything like that. So I suspect we're going to have success with this."

The Hubble trouble began Sept. 27 when the telescope's control unit and science data formatter, or CU/SDF-A, suffered a "hard" failure, preventing ground controllers from receiving data from the science instruments. The A and B channels of the redundant science instrument data handing system are located on the same electronics tray and NASA managers decided to replace the entire unit with a flight spare to restore lost redundancy.

But the flight spare must be tested and recertified, forcing NASA to delay Atlantis' launch from mid October to mid February. In the meantime, after initial problems, engineers successfully activated the B-side electronics aboard Hubble and resumed science operations.

But they have not been so fortunate with the spare hardware on the ground. During initial checks, engineers were able to activate the spare unit's B-side but they had problems with its counterpart. Those problems prompted speculation and reports of potentially serious trouble.

"There's been a lot of speculation in the media and I guess they've╩been going to sources that don't have any direct knowledge of the condition of the hardware," Burch said. "That's really unfortunate."

He said the spare science instrument command and data handling system "was delivered to NASA in the early 90s and at that time, the acceptance test program had not been completed."

"There was some open paperwork and there were some anomalies that had not been resolved at that time," Burch said. "In the early 90s, we were focused on preparations for the first servicing mission and so did not want to spend the resources and the time on the SIC&DH spare at that time. So we set it aside with the understanding that we would be able to address any of the open issues associated with it and get it in a flight worthy condition in the future should it be needed. And now that time is here. So it's been quite a few years since we've looked at this particular unit."

Along with the spare SIC&DH, Goddard also has an engineering unit used for testing. Here's how Burch explained the issue:

"We have an engineering model SIC&DH that's a single string unit, it doesn't have two sides, an A and a B, but it's built just like the flight unit," Burch said. "But it hasn't gone through the same type of program that the flight unit has gone through and so it's not considered to be a flight unit. But we have had a need over the past 15 years to occasionally use an SIC&DH on the ground for testing instruments and for testing the NICMOS (infrared camera) cooling system that you'll recall we developed in preparation for servicing mission 3B, which we launched in March 2002.

"As a result of that, we availed ourselves of the spare unit and we took some equipment off of it. We removed the B side CU/SDF, the control unit/science data formatter, because we needed one to use on the engineering model SIC&DH. We took off one of the computer processors and put that on and one of the (data interface units). So there was some disassembly of that unit, but it's otherwise in a pristine condition. So when we found ourselves with a need to fly it, we immediately went back and rounded up the (needed hardware). And now we are operating it on the ground.

"We tried to fire up the A side CU/SDF Friday and it didn't handle the commands properly that were being sent to it to turn it on," Burch said. "So after a little bit of trying that, we thought well, we might have a problem with our test configuration. So we thought, why not try the B side and see how that works? So we switched over to the B side and that came up and worked just fine. We tested the B side for a few days and then decided to go back to the A side to try to troubleshoot that.

"Initially the unit did not respond properly but with repeated attempts at commanding the A side, the A side slowly came around and started handling the commands properly. At one point, it was performing as well as the B side, it was handling multiple format-type commands, it was handling data from multiple science instruments ... it was behaving beautifully. Then it stopped behaving like it should and we restarted it. And so it's been kind of a back and forth deal with it.

"What we're trying to do now is to understand what the sensitivity of that unit is to things like temperature. There are a number of suspicions about what could be the cause of the problem. What we suspect is, there's a workmanship or a parts problem on that unit, which is causing this glitch and we're going to need to try to troubleshoot that."

Burch said he was confident engineers will track down the problem, fix it and press ahead with testing.

"Our plan overall takes something on the order of about six-and-a-half months from now," he said. "There's about a month or so devoted to inspecting and resolving any of the performance issues associated with it, about three months for environmental tests and then about two to two-and-a-half months to do final testing and shipping down to Kennedy Space Center."

The primary goals of Hubble Servicing Mission 4 are to install new batteries and stabilizing gyros, two new science instruments, a replacement fine guidance sensor and new insulation. The astronauts also plan to repair two of Hubble's instruments, the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Space Telescope Imagine Spectrograph.

Three of Hubble current set of six gyroscopes have failed, its six nickel-hydrogen batteries are nearly 20 years old and only hold half the charge they were designed for and its data subsystem no longer has redundancy. Even so, Burch said the observatory should be able to ride out the latest servicing mission delay with no major problems.

"Right now, we are doing science on two gyros and we have one gyro remaining that's a spare that is off," he said. "We should be able to easily go another year with the current gyros we have."

Hubble's batteries currently are operating at half their rated capacity. While that is sufficient for normal operations, engineers have no idea how long they will last. "Nobody has ever operated nickel-hydrogen batters in orbit as long as Hubble has," Burch said. "The way we use the batteries, we've been able to get smarter and come up with a better regimen for operating them on a daily basis. But that still doesn't get around the fact that they're well past their design lifetime. The prudent thing to do is replace them. But I think we'll be fine with batteries for the next several months."

As for the no-longer-redundant science data handling subsystem aboard Hubble, "I am very confident the B side will continue to operate normally," Burch said.


05:00 PM, 10/23/08: Endeavour hauled from pad 39B to 39A

The shuttle Endeavour, bolted to a mobile launch platform perched atop one of NASA's powerful crawler-transporters, was hauled off pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center today and moved to nearby pad 39A for work to ready the ship for blastoff Nov. 14 on a space station resupply and servicing mission. The move came two days earlier than originally planned because of approaching bad weather.

Endeavour was hauled to 39B in late August to serve as a rescue vehicle for the shuttle Atlantis, at that time scheduled for launch from pad 39A on a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission Oct. 14. But the Sept. 27 failure of an electrical component aboard the telescope forced NASA managers to delay the servicing mission to mid February at the earliest.

As a result, flight planners decided to press ahead with Endeavour's space station flight. Pad 39B is being modified to support launches of the Ares 1 rocket that ultimately will replace the shuttle and Endeavour had to be moved to 39A because of payload processing issues. Endeavour's payload - a supply module and other equipment - was moved to the pad Wednesday.

Endeavour's crew - commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen, Donald Pettit, Robert "Shane" Kimbrough and space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus - is scheduled to fly to Florida Sunday to review emergency procedures and participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown next Wednesday.

If all goes well, Endeavour's countdown will begin at 10 p.m. on Nov. 11, for a launch attempt at 7:55:31 p.m. on Nov. 14.


6:00 PM, 10/20/08: Atlantis moved back to VAB; Endeavour rollover from pad 39B on tap Friday

The space shuttle Atlantis, its mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope on hold, was hauled off pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center and back to the Vehicle Assembly Building today, clearing the way for the shuttle Endeavour to take its place this weekend.

Endeavour, scheduled for launch Nov. 14 on a space station resupply mission, currently is mounted atop nearby pad 39B where it was on standby for use as an emergency rescue vehicle for the Hubble crew. With that flight on hold until mid February at the earliest, Endeavour's payload will be moved from a processing facility to pad 39A on Wednesday and the shuttle will be rolled over Saturday.

The goals of the year's final shuttle flight are to deliver equipment and supplies to the space station, including water recycling gear, a second toilet, a second galley and astronaut sleep stations to permit the lab crew to expand from three to six next year. The shuttle astronauts also will attempt to lubricate and clean the station's solar array rotary joints.

The right-side joint has suffered extensive degradation that prevents it from automatically tracking the sun. The astronauts plan to clean and lubricate the starboard mechanism and lubricate the left-side joint as a preventive measure.

Endeavour's crew - commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Eric Boe, Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Stephen Bowen, Donald Pettit, Robert "Shane" Kimbrough and space station flight engineer Sandra Magnus - are scheduled to fly to Florida Sunday to review emergency procedures and participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown next Wednesday.

If all goes well, Endeavour's countdown will begin at 10 p.m. on Nov. 11, setting up a launch attempt at 7:55:28 p.m. on Nov. 14.


02:45 PM, 10/3/08: NASA shoots for Nov. 14 Endeavour launch; station crew ready for visitors (UPDATED at 5:30 p.m.; rollback Oct. 20)

Shuttle program managers are now targeting Nov. 14 for launch of the Endeavour on a space station repair and resupply mission. No target dates have yet been set for shuttle Atlantis' launch on a now-delayed flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope, but it appears the earliest possible launch slot is mid February.

Under that scenario, the shuttle Discovery would serve as the Hubble crew's rescue vehicle. As a result, Discovery's launch on a high priority station assembly flight, currently targeted for Feb. 12, would be delayed. But NASA managers are considering a variety of options, including one that would keep the February station flight on track and instead delay Hubble Servicing Mission 4 to early May. Mission managers hope to have a better idea about how to proceed after additional assessments over the next week or so.

Atlantis had been scheduled for launch Oct. 14 from pad 39A, but the flight was put on hold earlier this week after a critical electronic component aboard Hubble malfunctioned, preventing science data from reaching the ground. The component is part of a redundant computer system and a backup channel is available. But with the failure of the A-side electronics, Hubble could be knocked out of action for good by a subsequent failure. NASA managers opted to delay Atlantis to give engineers time to prepare replacement hardware.

Engineers at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., currently are reviewing the complex procedures needed to switch Hubble over to its B-side data management system, which has not been activated since before launch in 1990. It's not yet clear when the switchover will be attempted. Because of the critical nature of the operation, Hubble managers want to make sure the procedure is solid before it is implemented.

At the Kennedy Space Center, shuttle engineers are setting their sights on getting Endeavour ready for flight, preparing to remove the Hubble payload from Atlantis' cargo bay so the shuttle can be hauled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building Oct. 20. Endeavour, the Atlantis rescue vehicle, is mounted atop pad 39B. The current plan calls for Endeavour to be moved from pad 39B to 39A on Oct. 25 for final preparations.

Shuttle program managers plan to hold a flight readiness review Oct. 21 and 22, followed by an executive-level review Oct. 30. Endeavour's crew, meanwhile, plans to fly to the Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 26 to review emergency procedures and participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown on Oct. 29.

If all goes well, the countdown will begin for real on Nov. 11, setting up a launch attempt at 7:55 p.m. on Nov. 14. Docking is expected around 5:10 p.m. on Nov. 16. Four spacewalks are planned, each one starting around 1:50 p.m., on Nov. 18, 20, 22 and 24. Undocking is expected around 10;49 a.m. on Nov. 27 with landing back at the Kennedy Space Center targeted for 2:18 p.m. on Nov. 29.

In the near term, the Russian space program is gearing up to launch a fresh crew to the space station. Expedition 18 commander Mike Fincke, flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov and Richard Garriott, a space tourist, are scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:01 a.m. EDT on Oct. 12 aboard the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft. Garriott, the son of former Skylab and shuttle astronaut Owen Garriott, will be the first second-generation American to fly in space.

Fincke and Lonchakov will replace Expedition 17 commander Sergey Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko, who were launched to the station April 8 aboard the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft. Volkov, Kononenko and Garriott are scheduled to undock from the station around 8:20 p.m. on Oct. 23 for a landing in Kazakhstan three hours later, at 11:46 p.m. EDT.

The two previous Soyuz entries ran into problems that triggered steep, off-course landings. Russian engineers believe the electrical environment around the station caused arcing that, in turn, affected specific pryo bolts used to separate the Soyuz crew module just before atmospheric entry.

Volkov and Kononenko removed a pyro bolt from the TMA-12 spacecraft during a July 10 spacewalk and plan to bring it back to Earth for a detailed analysis. With the bolt removed, Russian engineers believe the TMA-12 vehicle will separate normally.

"They sent us a report and they assured us that everything should be OK," Volkov told CBS News today. "Of course, we've done a spacewalk to remove this pyro bolt that they thought might be causing the problem for previous crews' landing. They made some mathematical calculation for the re-entry into the atmosphere. And they said everything should be OK."

Expedition 17 flight engineer Gregory Chamitoff, launched to the station aboard a space shuttle on May 31, will remain aboard the lab complex with Fincke and Lonchakov when Volkov and Kononenko depart. Chamitoff is scheduled to return to Earth aboard Endeavour in November, taking the seat of his replacement, Expedition 18 flight engineer Sandra Magnus.

Chamitoff said today he was excited at the prospect of visitors after four months in space.

"We're ready to have them on board, we're very excited they're coming," he said of the Expedition 18 crew. "Of course, I'm going to miss these guys very much. We've had a great time together for a long time. If we were ... to go to Mars and back, we'd have done great together I think. But we're looking forward to our friends that are coming up. I can't wait to welcome them here. And it's the same for the shuttle, too. We've done a lot of work to prepare for the shuttle and all the shuttle's going to do here, all the stuff that has to be off loaded and all the stuff that has to be loaded on the shuttle. We're looking forward to it."

Outgoing station astronauts typically spend several days briefing their replacements on the intricacies of station operation. Fincke is a station veteran, but the lab has changed considerably since he was there in 2004.

"It'll be easier for him to come on board for the second time," Chamitoff said. "I won't have to worry about showing him all the ropes, he'll know most of everything. But since he was here, we've added many modules to the space station. Everything behind me, actually, is brand new since he was here. So two spectacular laboratories. ... So there's a lot to show him, how we do everything and what's going on in those laboratories. So there's plenty of us to talk about."

Including politics. Chamitoff said he's been able to watch presidential debates and speeches from the Republican and Democratic conventions that were beamed up from mission control. Both Fincke and Chamitoff will cast their votes from orbit via computers aboard the station.

"It's great that we're able to do that, it's really important to vote, especially this time," Chamitoff said. "There's a lot going on on the ground. We've been following and we're both really glad we're going to be able to vote. It's basically like an absentee ballot, an electronic ballot especially set up between NASA and the county. We fill it out electronically, send it down and then the county records it. They actually convert it to a paper ballot. Anyway, this is all in place and we should be able to vote. So it's great."

Chamitoff rode out Hurricane Ike aboard the space station. The storm was so huge, he said, it wouldn't fit in his camera's field of view.

"Our hearts go out to everybody in Houston right now because we know it's a very big effort now to recover for everyone and a lot of folks have a lot that they have lost," he said. Because mission control and the Johnson Space Center shut down the week of the storm, "we didn't really see much of what happened other than what we heard directly from the control center until afterwards. And it's devastating to see everything that happened there, really devastating. But my family could leave town. Our house does have some roof damage, but of course, nothing compared to what many other people have had to deal with."

He said the crew tracked Ike's progress as the station flew over and "we certainly saw the hurricane before it approached and hit Houston."

"You know, this hurricane was so massive," Chamitoff marveled. "Other ones we were able to sort of see clear borders around the hurricane and the center and see kind of the flow of clouds entrained into the hurricane. This one was so difficult to get the whole thing in any camera lens. It was unbelievable. And of course, afterwards now, when we're flying over with a high zoom lens, it is possible for us to see the changes there. I've been able to see Galveston and taken some pictures. There's clearly missing structures along the coast. Those pictures will kind of be good to help look at exactly what happened, before and after."


02:30 PM, 10/01/08: Setting up STS-126 page

With launch of the shuttle Atlantis on hold, mission planners are pressing ahead with preparations for launching the shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-126, a space station assembly flight, in mid November. Program managers are assessing a variety of options and no firm launch targets have been set. But it appears Endeavour is heading for a launch around Nov. 14. The schedule for Atlantis is less certain. The flight is expected to slip to mid February at the earliest because of an equipment failure aboard the Hubble Space Telescope and a decision earlier this week to add replacement hardware to mission STS-125.

This page has been udpated to shift the focus to STS-126. An updated flight plan, personnel list, launch windows chart, crew seating and links to astronaut bios are available on the CBS News STS-126 Quick-Look page:

http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/currentglance.html

An updated flight plan for Atlantis and mission STS-125 also is available on the Quick-Look page, reflecting a launch around 6:50 a.m. on Feb. 17. This date is little more than a "guesstimate" at this point and the timeline is provided primarly to give readers a ballpark idea about when major events would occur for a mid-February launch.

Both flight plans and personnel lists are available in SpaceCalc_126, which has been updated and is available on the downloads page:

http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/downloads.html


8:00 PM, 9/29/08: NASA assesses February - or later - launch for Hubble servicing mission; optimistic new repair can be added to busy mission

Living up to its "Perils of Pauline" heritage, a critical equipment failure aboard the Hubble Space Telescope on the eve of a long-awaited fifth and final shuttle servicing mission put astronomical observations on hold and forced NASA managers today to delay the mid-October flight of Atlantis. Pending an engineering review, the long-awaited servicing mission is expected to slip from Oct. 14 to mid February - and possibly later - to give engineers and astronauts time to shoehorn replacement hardware into an already challenging five-spacewalk mission.

"Barring some unforeseen circumstance ... our plan right now is to take the delay and put up the new hardware so we can keep Hubble going as long as possible," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for space science. "If we're going to spend the money and take all the risk involved in a shuttle mission, we want to be sure we leave Hubble as healthy as we possibly can and potentially lasting for five or 10 more years."

Weiler said NASA was lucky the electronics failure occurred now, on the eve of launch, and not after the final servicing mission was over.

"Think about if this failure had occurred two weeks after the servicing mission," he told reporters in an afternoon teleconference. "We'd have several single point failure, we could have lost the mission in six, 12, 18 months. So in some sense, if this had to happen it couldn't have happened at a better time. ... So I'm trying to look at the glass as half full today and I think it IS half full for us."

Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon said he expects a decision on how to proceed by the end of next week. Assuming the Hubble mission is, in fact, delayed to next year, NASA will press ahead with launch of the shuttle Endeavour on a space station assembly mission around Nov. 14, two days earlier than currently planned.

Endeavour is stacked atop pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center to serve as a quick-response rescue vehicle for the Hubble astronauts in case of any post-launch problems that might prevent a safe re-entry. With a decision to delay the Hubble flight, Atlantis would be hauled off pad 39A and moved back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Endeavour then would be moved to 39A for normal launch processing. NASA is in the process of converting pad 39B for use by the Ares rockets that will replace the shuttle. While the pad could be used to support Endeavour's launch on a rescue mission, it's payload changeout room is no longer capable of normal processing.

Whenever Atlantis takes off on mission STS-125, Endeavour will no longer be available for rescue duty. For a Hubble flight in February, the shuttle Discovery, currently scheduled for launch Feb. 12 on a mission to deliver a final set of solar arrays to the space station, would be pressed into service. That flight is known as STS-119.

But Shannon must take into account how the Hubble flight would fit into the overall manifest. The Russians plan two Soyuz launches to the space station next spring and temperature constraints due to the station's orbit will preclude shuttle visits for several weeks in that timeframe. One option would be to delay the Hubble flight until after Discovery's station assembly mission. In that case, Endeavour, scheduled for another launch next May, could once again serve as the rescue vehicle.

"There is a time starting on March 13 and ending May 28 where we have two Soyuz launches and a significant beta cutout whereas the Hubble mission is not constrained by any of that," Shannon said. "So we will consider that once we know more about the Hubble need date. If we could put the Hubble in and fly STS-119 before that (first) Soyuz, that would be good. If it looks like Hubble needs a little more time than that, then it's very possible we could fly 119 first, let Hubble fly sometime in that Soyuz and beta cutout with (Endeavour) as the launch-on-need vehicle."

The problem aboard Hubble cropped up shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday when channel A of the telescope's control unit/science data formatter, or CU/SDF-A, began acting erratically. The telescope's flight computer, following pre-programmed instructions, then acted to "safe" the payload computer and science instruments. An attempt by ground controllers to reset the formatter was not successful. Troubleshooting continues, but engineers are not optimistic.

The telescope is not in any danger, but science operations are on hold until engineers can reconfigure the observatory to use channel B of the control unit/science data formatter. Engineers plan to make the switchover Thursday or Friday, after a detailed readiness review.

"All the testing and all the efforts so far to restore (the A-side electronics) indicates it has totally failed," said Hubble Program Manager Preston Burch. "Our only option at this point is to switch over to science data formatter B, which is the redundant channel. Unfortunately, switching to that side will require the switch over of the spacecraft data management system to the B side as well. ... So this is a major event for Hubble."

The backup, or "B side," of the data management system has not been powered up since the telescope was launched in 1990. Even if it works - and if five instrument subsystems successfully make the transition to their own B channels - NASA would still be faced with a loss of redundancy in a critical system and a subsequent failure would permanently disable the observatory.

"The transition to side B operations is complex," NASA said in a statement. "It requires that five other modules used in managing data also be switched to their B-side systems. The B-sides of these modules last were activated during ground tests in the late 1980's and/or early 1990, prior to launch. The Hubble operations team has begun work on the Side B transition and believes it will be ready to reconfigure Hubble later this week. The transition will happen after the team completes a readiness review."

Given CU/SDF-A worked normally for nearly two decades, one could argue the backup channel should work as required for years to come. But senior managers do not want to risk mounting a costly servicing mission and then leave the telescope without redundancy and no chance to carry out an additional servicing mission before the shuttle is retired in 2010.

"If we go that route, just go to side B, we would be left with a system that has several single point failures and that would pose a risk to the mission," Weiler said. "By going ahead and accepting a delay of perhaps several months, we can actually get our SIC&DH (science instruments command and data handling) spare unit tested and ready to go. And if we can put that in there sometime in the winter, we would now have an observatory that was again doubly redundant, that is, it would have backup systems, it wouldn't have single point failures in it. That's the reason we're looking at accepting this several months delay to buy back that redundancy we used to have with a fully functional side A."

A spare science instruments command and data handling system, which includes the needed control unit/science data formatter, is available at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. But it is not flight qualified and it has not been powered on since 2001. Extensive testing and checkout will be required to upgrade it to flight status. The box weighs about 135 pounds and measures 21.5-by-32.5-by-9.5 inches. It will be mounted on the side of a payload carrier in Atlantis' cargo bay for the ride up to Hubble. Burch said the shuttle can easily accommodate the additional hardware and nothing will have to be removed to make room.

Installation of the box is expected to take about two hours to complete. The unit would be attached to the door of electronics bay No. 10 with 10 bolts and one electrical connector. Engineers have not yet decided where the work might go in the already tight spacewalk timeline.

But Burch said it's possible the additional task can be added to the crew's timeline without losing any other already planned task. The repair of Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, for example, is currently spread over two spacewalks, EVAs 3 and 5. But if the work is completed in the first of those two excursions, the crew would be able to install the new data formatter hardware during the ACS block of time in the second EVA.

"Given the fact that we think this job can be done in under two hours, there is a possibility ... if he's able to complete the ACS repair on EVA day 3, that frees up a substantial amount of time on EVA day 5. So in theory, this may be a doable thing for us to have our cake and eat it too. But a lot of things will have to go right. And we certainly don't want to over extend the crew."


12:00 PM, 9/29/08: Hubble science data control system fails; NASA assesses shuttle servicing options (UPDATED at 2:30 p.m. with launch delay)

A science data control system aboard the Hubble Space Telescope failed Saturday, preventing the observatory from relaying data to the ground and effectively ending science operations until the observatory can be switched over to a backup unit late this week. With no redundancy left in such a critical system, NASA managers decided today to delay the planned Oct. 14 launch of the shuttle Atlantis on a Hubble servicing mission. It is not yet clear how long it will take to resolve the issue, but sources say replacing the channel A electronics of the control unit/science data formatter likely would push launch to January or February.

"Fixing the problem will result in delaying next month's Hubble servicing mission," NASA said on a web page announcing an afternoon media teleconference to discuss the problem and NASA's options.

The telescope is not in any danger, but science operations have been suspended until engineers can reconfigure the observatory to use channel B of the control unit/science data formatter, or CU/SDF-B. The backup channel has not been powered up since the telescope was launched in 1990. Even if it works - and if multiple subsystems successfully make the transition - NASA would still be faced with a loss of redundancy in a critical system and a subsequent failure would permanently disable the observatory.

Given CU/SDF-A worked normally for nearly two decades, one could argue the backup channel should work as required for years to come. But senior managers do not want to risk mounting a costly servicing mission and then leave the telescope without redundancy and no chance to carry out an additional servicing mission before the shuttle is retired in 2010.

Shuttle mission STS-125, the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission, already has a full plate: five back-to-back spacewalks are planned to install two new science instruments, to repair two others, to install six new gyroscopes, six new batteries, a new fine guidance sensor and new insulation blankets. It is considered one of the most challenging Hubble servicing missions yet attempted.

A spare control unit/science data formatter, used for testing and troubleshooting, is available at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., but it has not been powered on since 2001 and it would require extensive testing and checkout to upgrade it to flight status. Whether the unit could be added to Atlantis' payload complement without bumping something else is not yet known.

Likewise, it's not yet known when Atlantis could be ready for launch if a replacement is ordered. But sources said today the flight likely would slip to January or February, throwing a wrench of sorts into NASA's tightly scripted space station assembly schedule.

If the Hubble flight is, in fact, delayed to next year, NASA likely would press ahead with plans to launch the shuttle Endeavour around Nov. 16 on a space station assembly mission. Endeavour already is mounted atop pad 39B to serve as a quick-response rescue vehicle for Atlantis should the Hubble crew encounter any orbiter problems that might prevent a safe re-entry. It's not yet clear, however, which pad Endeavour would use if the Hubble flight is delayed.

Either way, the shuttle Discovery, now scheduled for launch Feb. 12 on a mission to deliver a final set of solar arrays to the station, would have to replace Endeavour as a rescue vehicle for Atlantis.

In the meantime, NASA managers have postponed a planned executive-level flight readiness review for Atlantis and mission STS-125. A media teleconference to discuss the Hubble failure and possible shuttle launch scenarios is expected later today.


12:25 PM, 9/26/08: Launch window update

Flight controllers have revised the launch time for shuttle Atlantis on Oct. 14. Controllers initially decided to launch the shuttle 10 minutes after the opening of the launch window to improve ascent performance. But a more detailed timeline analysis showed that would require an earlier rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope and, as a result, a lower-than-allowable altitude after the OMS-2 orbit adjustment rocket firing. To meet requirements, flight planners moved launch up three minutes to the opening of the second of two "panes" at 10:16:27 p.m. The window will close at 11:11:09 p.m. The launch time is still more than 10 minutes after the opening of the overall launch window, preserving the desired ascent performance margin. The flight plan, rendezvous timeline and launch windows chart posted on the CBS News STS-125 Quick-Look page have been updated to reflect this change.


01:45 PM, 9/24/08: NASA delays next two shuttle missions to make up for time lost to Hurricane Ike

Shuttle program managers today ordered minor delays for the next two shuttle missions - an October flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope and a November space station assembly mission - primarily because of training time lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

The target launch date for shuttle mission STS-125, the fifth and final planned Hubble servicing mission, will slip from Oct. 10 to 10:19 p.m. EDT on Oct. 14, officials said. Shuttle managers meeting for a program-level flight readiness review also agreed to delay launch of Endeavour on the next mission, STS-126, from Nov. 12 to Nov. 16. Liftoff of that flight would be targeted for around 7:07 p.m.

The new target dates still must be reviewed by senior management, which plans an executive-level readiness review Oct. 2 and 3.

Both delays were blamed on Hurricane Ike, which forced NASA to shut down the Johnson Space Center last week. The Atlantis astronauts, training for one of the most complex Hubble missions yet attempted, missed four underwater spacewalk training runs, two large-scale integrated simulations involving the astronauts and flight controllers and an ascent simulation to practice emergency procedures.

"We had a little bit of room in the final couple of weeks, but all that stuff needs to be done and we have to make it happen before we fly," Atlantis commander Scott Altman told reporters Tuesday.

Altman, pilot Gregory C. Johnson, flight engineer Megan McArthur and spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino, Andrew Feustel and Michael Good donned pressure suits and strapped in aboard Atlantis today for a dress-rehearsal countdown at pad 39A.

If the new target dates hold up, Atlantis would take off for real at 10:19:20 p.m. on Oct. 14. After a two-day orbital chase, robot arm operator McArthur would grapple the telescope around 9:33 p.m. on Oct. 16.

Five back-to-back spacewalks are planned to install two new science instruments, to repair two others and to install six new gyroscopes, six batteries, a fine guidance sensor and insulation. For an Oct. 14 launch, the spacewalks would begin around 3:30 p.m., with the first on Oct. 17 and the final excursion on Oct. 21.

If all goes well, Hubble would be released around 5:17 p.m. on Oct. 22 and Atlantis would land back at the Kennedy Space Center around 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 25.

The Hubble mission is the only flight on NASA's shuttle manifest that doesn't go to the international space station. Because the telescope is in a different orbit, the Atlantis astronauts cannot seek safe haven aboard the lab complex in case of a major problem that might prevent a safe re-entry.

Even though the odds of such a failure are considered remote, the shuttle Endeavour, hauled to pad 39B late last week, is being prepped for launch on an emergency rescue flight if the unexpected occurs. After Endeavour is cleared for entry, Endeavour will be moved to pad 39A and prepared for launch on a four-spacewalk station assembly flight.

Under the proposed schedule, Endeavour would take off around 7:07 p.m. on Nov. 16 and dock with the space station around 4:40 p.m. on Nov. 18. Four spacewalks are planned, each one starting around 1 p.m., on Nov. 20, 22, 24 and 26. Undocking would be targeted for around 10 a.m. on Nov. 29 with landing on tap the afternoon of Dec. 1.

Updated flight plans reflecting the new target dates are posted on the CBS News STS-125 Quick-Look page.

http://www.cbsnews.com/network/news/space/currentglance.html


11:45 AM, 9/23/08: Shuttle commander says crew needs to make up training lost because of hurricane

Reviewing emergency procedures at the Kennedy Space Center, Atlantis commander Scott Altman said today his crew lost a week of training time because of Hurricane Ike, "so you come to the question of either slipping the launch or cutting out events."

"We're still working with the whole system to balance that," he told reporters at the launch pad. "In the end, I think we're going to try to do most of our training and that, of course, may mean a bit of a slip. But it's being evaluated and we're kind of standing by."

Atlantis is targeted for launch at 12:43:35 a.m. on Oct. 10 to kick off a long-awaited flight to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Five back-to-back spacewalks are planned to install two new instruments, to repair two others and to install new gyroscopes, batteries, a fine guidance sensor and insulation.

Altman and his crewmates - pilot Gregory C. Johnson, flight engineer Megan McArthur and spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino, Andrew Feustel and Michael Good - flew to Florida on Sunday to review launch pad emergency procedures and to participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown Friday.

While that exercise is proceeding, shuttle program managers will meet to discuss a wide variety of issues, from Atlantis' processing and work to ready shuttle Endeavour for a possible rescue flight to the increased threat posed by orbital debris at Hubble's high altitude. They also will review crew training and the impact of Hurricane Ike, which forced NASA to shut down the Johnson Space Center last week. The campus-like facility escaped major damage, but critical training time was lost for the crew, flight controllers and Hubble engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Sources say launch is expected to slip a few days, but no final decisions have been made. A recommendation will be forwarded to an executive-level flight readiness review scheduled for Oct. 2 and 3.

"It was seven days, seven events," Altman said of the interrupted training. "Basically four NBL (Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory) runs, practicing the spacewalks; two large-scale integrated simulations with both Goddard and Houston playing together while we trained EVA-5 and rendezvous day. And then we missed an ascent integrated sim where we practice the whole launch routine and how we respond to emergencies. So a lot of important stuff. ... We had a little bit of room in the final couple of weeks, but all that stuff needs to be done and we have to make it happen before we fly.

"We'd like to have all the training as planned. There are a couple of things that I think we could still launch into space without and be fully trained and ready to carry out a successful mission. There are things the crew doesn't need, but the control team on the ground and at Goddard needs to make sure they're fully up to speed. So we're looking at balancing that, who plays when, is the crew involved in everything or do we try to do things a little creatively?"

The two runs in NASA's spacewalk training pool were intended to rehearse complex repairs needed by two instruments aboard Hubble, the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Space Telescope Infrared Spectrograph. Neither instrument was designed to be serviced in space and the work is considered especially challenging.

Altman, Grunsfeld and Massimino visited Hubble in 2002 as members of the STS-109/Servicing Mission 3B crew. At the time, STS-109 was considered one of the most complex missions ever attempted by a shuttle crew. But Grunsfeld said today Servicing Mission 4 aboard Atlantis will be even more demanding, highlighting the importance of crew training.

"The bottom line to me is this mission is really hard," Grunsfeld said. "After 109, I thought we'd really maxed out what we could do on a space mission. ... This time, we've added a lot of content with (heat shield) inspections. From an EVA standpoint, we've gone from doing heart surgery on Hubble to what is comparable to doing brain surgery on Hubble with the instrument repairs. So this is going to be a very complex mission, it's going to be very hard."

Massimino said the crew will be ready, despite the impact of Hurricane Ike.

"We've been training hard and long and I feel pretty confident we're going to be able to pull those two repairs off," he said. "I think we're ready for them and it's just to be fresh, have it fresh in your mind, we're going to hopefully recover those NBL runs and do a little more training in the simulator. But I think we're as ready as we're ever going to be to do that. Hopefully it'll go as we expect it to. There'll probably be some surprises in there that we didn't anticipate. But I think we're going to be ready to react to those as well."


7:45 PM, 9/22/08: Launch slip likely; shuttle crew preps for countdown test; Endeavour at pad 39B; Hubble payload delivered to pad 39A; launch window update

The Atlantis astronauts are reviewing emergency procedures at the Kennedy Space Center before participating in a dress-rehearsal countdown Wednesday. Launch on a high-profile mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope remains targeted for 12:43:35 a.m. Oct. 10, but sources say the flight is expected to slip a few days because of training and hardware processing issues.

A shuttle program-level review is planned later this week. Mission managers will assess the shuttle's readiness, crew training, flight control preparations and the impact of Hurricane Ike on the Johnson Space Center workforce, before making a launch date recommendation to senior NASA managers. An executive-level FRR is scheduled for Oct. 2 and 3.

While the launch target remains Oct. 10, sources said today a slip of two or more days is expected because of lost training time due to the hurricane and the shutdown of the Johnson Space Center last week, as well as payload processing issues at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Atlantis astronauts, who flew to the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday to participate in this week's Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, were in good spirits and eager to get on with preparations.

"I just wanted to take a minute and tell you all how happy we are to be down here and how great it felt to fly by and see a pad with our vehicle on it pointed up, ready to go," commander Scott Altman told reporters at the shuttle runway. "It's great to be down here and turning our focus from the hurricane that's behind us now to the flight that is in front of us."

Late last week, engineers delayed delivery of Atlantis' payload to the pad because of an insulation contamination issue with an instrument canister. That problem was resolved and the cargo was moved to the pad Saturday night, the day after the shuttle Endeavour was hauled to nearby pad 39B to serve as an emergency rescue vehicle for the Atlantis crew.

Engineers ran into more problems getting the Hubble cargo canister hoisted into pad 39A's payload changeout room, but the work was completed early Monday. The Hubble payload - two new science instruments, new batteries, gyros and other needed hardware - will be installed in Atlantis' cargo bay Tuesday.

Altman and his crewmates - pilot Gregory C. Johnson, flight engineer Megan McArthur and spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino, Andrew Feustel and Michael Good - will field questions from reporters at the launch pad early Tuesday.

If all goes well, the astronauts will don pressure suits and strap in aboard Atlantis Wednesday for a practice countdown that will end with the simulated ignition and shutdown of the shuttle's main engines.

Mission planners have opted to launch Atlantis 10 minutes after the daily launch window opens to maximize ascent performance. Here is an updated launch windows chart (in Eastern Time):

DATE.......WINDOW OPEN...LAUNCH........WINDOW CLOSE

10/10/08...12:33:35 AM...12:43:35 AM...01:39:51 AM

10/11/08...12:03:54 AM...12:13:54 AM...01:09:13 AM

10/11/08...11:36:45 PM...11:46:45 PM...12:38:36 AM

10/12/08...11:06:08 PM...11:16:08 PM...12:08:02 AM

10/13/08...10:35:33 PM...10:45:33 PM...11:41:47 PM

10/14/08...10:09:20 PM...10:19:20 PM...11:11:09 PM

10/15/08...09:38:41 PM...09:48:41 PM...10:40:34 PM

10/16/08...09:08:05 PM...09:18:05 PM...10:14:23 PM

10/17/08...08:37:30 PM...08:47:30 PM...09:43:43 PM

10/18/08...08:11:16 PM...08:21:16 PM...09:13:06 PM
			
10/19/08...07:40:38 PM...07:50:38 PM...08:42:31 PM


5:20 PM, 9/17/08: Hubble instrument carrier contamination issue assessed; payload delivery delayed at least 24 hours (UPDATED at 11:40 PM with Endeavour rollout delay)

Trouble with a purge system connected to a canister housing fresh batteries and a new camera bound for the Hubble Space Telescope somehow blew insulation into protective bagging around the cargo carrier, officials reported late today. Work to inspect and clean the canister will delay its delivery to the shuttle Atlantis at launch pad 39A by at least 24 hours. While a corresponding launch delay is possible, NASA is sticking with its current Oct. 10 launch target until managers get a better sense of how much lost time can be made up.

"During installation today of the super lightweight interchangeable carrier, the SLIC, what they believe is some insulation around the new batteries we're taking up on that carrier got blown by the purge system up inside the protective bagging," said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel. "So we stopped operations. We're having to unbag that carrier, clean up all the insulation, make sure there's no contamination, rebag it, install it in the canister and take it to the launch pad."

Atlantis is mounted atop pad 39A, being prepared for launch Oct. 10 on a fifth and final mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. The shuttle's crew plans to fly to the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday to review emergency procedures and participate in a dress-rehearsal countdown next Wednesday.

Late today, engineers made finel preparations to haul the shuttle Endeavour from the Vehicle Assembly Building to nearby pad 39B to serve as a rescue vehicle for the Atlantis crew in case of a post-launch problem that might prevent a safe re-entry. Bad weather, however, forced NASA to delay rollout by 24 hours, from early Thursday to early Friday.

Unlike crews bound for the international space station, the Atlantis astronauts cannot seek safe haven aboard the lab complex because Hubble and the station are in different orbits. As a result, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin decided to process Endeavour in parallel for possible rescue duty. Assuming no such flight is required, Endeavour will be moved to pad 39A after Atlantis departs and prepared for launch on a station assembly flight Nov. 12.

But first up is Atlantis. The Hubble crew plans five back-to-back spacewalks to install the Wide Field Camera 3, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, a full set of batteries, six new stabilizing gyroscopes, a new fine guidance sensor, new insulation and carry out repairs on two other science instruments that are currently out of action. The upgrades and repairs are expected to extend Hubble's scientific life five to seven years.

Engineers had planned to haul the new gear to the launch pad early Friday for installation in the shuttle's cargo bay. The SLIC houses Hubble's new batteries, the Wide Field Camera 3 and other equipment. Another carrier, called the orbital replacement unit carrier, houses the new spectrograph, the fine guidance sensor, the new gyros and instrument repair equipment.

The cargo carriers are moved to the pad in a huge container that mirrors the shuttle's 60-foot by 15-foot payload bay. Once at the pad, the container will be lifted into a payload changeout room so the SLIC, the ORUC and other gear can be mounted in the cargo bay for launch.

"Right now, it's at least a 24-hour delay (on delivery) to the launch pad," Beutel said. "Senior managers are looking at what effect that might have on the target launch date of Oct. 10."

The delay initially appeared to ruin plans for a photo opportunity showing both shuttles on NASA's two launch pads with gantries rolled back out of the way. This is believed to be the last time in program history when two shuttles will be on the pad at the same time. With the Atlantis payload delivery delay, it appeared the protective gantries that shield both vehicles would not be rolled back at the same time. With Endeavour's rollout delay, however, the photo-op timing might still work out.

NASA sources said earlier today a launch delay appeared likely for Atlantis, but if no major contamination is found engineers may be able to make up the lost time and keep launch on track for 12:33 a.m. on Oct. 10.

A wild card in NASA's planning is recovery operations in Texas where Hurricane Ike devastated communities near the Johnson Space Center, located between Houston and Galveston. The space center escaped major damage, but nearby neighborhoods were not so lucky. NASA hopes to reopen Johnson Monday, but it's not yet clear what impact the hurricane might still have on the NASA-contractor workforce.

If launch slips to Oct. 11, readers are advised NASA has two possible launch times in the Eastern time zone: 12:03 a.m. and 11:36 p.m. The former would represent a 24-hour delay and the latter a 48-hour slip, even though both fall on Oct. 11. But again, no such delay has been announced and NASA managers are hopeful they can maintain the Oct. 10 target.


01:00 PM, 9/13/08: NASA assesses hurricane damage at Johnson Space Center

A rideout team at the Johnson Space Center endured a virtual direct hit from Hurricane Ike early Saturday, firing up generators to keep sensitive computer and communications gear in mission control on line when power was lost. A detailed assessment is not yet available, but officials said no injuries were reported and the space center appeared to escape major damage.

A team of flight controllers based at a hotel near Austin remained in contact with the international space station throughout the storm, using laptop computers and a high-speed NASA communications system. The mood was somber, insiders said, because like other Houston residents who left the area before Ike roared ashore, the controllers do not yet know whether their homes survived or how much damage they might face when they return.

In the meantime, U.S. and Russian flight controllers hope to press ahead with the delayed docking of an unmanned Russian supply ship Wednesday at 2:43 p.m. The cargo craft was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last Wednesday and originally was scheduled to dock Friday.

But NASA's backup control center is not as capable as the main space center facility and at NASA's request, Russian controllers delayed the Progress docking and put the craft in a parking orbit. Depending on the reliability of the backup center's communications gear, U.S. space station control may be switched to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., for the Progress docking.

But NASA operations will be severely constrained until power is restored at Johnson. The generators currently powering mission control only have enough fuel for three to five days of around-the-clock operation and computer support needed by NASA personnel in Moscow is off line.

There is standing water on the grounds of the Johnson Space Center and rain intrusion through the roof of Building 30, where mission control is located, but the rideout team reported no major damage.

At nearby Ellington Field, where NASA bases its fleet of training jets, hangar damage was reported but most of the agency's planes were moved to El Paso before Ike came ashore.

There is no word yet on how long the space center will be closed or, more important, what impact Ike might have had on the homes of the NASA-contractor workforce. As such, it is too soon to say whether the storm will have any impact on NASA's plans to launch the shuttle Atlantis Oct. 10 on a mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA hopes to follow that mission by launching the shuttle Endeavour on a space station assembly mission Nov. 12. That flight must get off the ground by Nov. 25, or launch will slip into next year because of thermal issues related to the angle between the sun and the station's orbit.

Crew training and normal processing for both missions already were on a tight schedule. Given the apparent damage to the Clear Lake area around the Johnson Space Center, the launch schedule may be difficult to maintain.


11:45 AM, 9/11/08: JSC braces for Hurricane Ike; backup control center activated; STS-125 readiness review delayed (UPDATED at 6:14 PM with updated NHC track)

With Hurricane Ike bearing down on the coast of Texas, NASA managers today activated a rudimentary mission control center near Austin and ordered agency and contractor employees to evacuate the Johnson Space Center. A program-level flight readiness review for the next shuttle mission - a flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope - was delayed to next week.

As of this writing, it is not yet known what impact the hurricane might have on NASA's plans to launch the shuttle Atlantis on Oct. 10. Based on the 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, the center of the projected cone showing where Ike might ultimately go passes within about one mile of the Johnson Space Center.


5 p.m., 09/11/08 Update: National Hurricane Center projected track of Hurricane Ike passing the Johnson Space Center

A rideout team plans to be in place inside mission control throughout the storm. Critical computer and communications systems will remained powered up as long as possible and the team is prepared to safely shut them down if required. NASA training jets at nearby Ellington Field have been flown to El Paso, Texas.

Ike has already had an impact on space station operations. Early today, U.S. flight control switched from Johnson to a hotel near Austin, Texas. Using laptop computers with secure, high-speed internet connectivity, Johnson flight controllers, working around the clock in three shifts, are staying in contact with the space station and monitoring critical systems.

Another team of flight controllers will be stationed at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to take over if the Johnson Space Center loses power and the ability to relay communications to and from the backup center near Austin.

But some systems cannot be commanded from the backup control center, including precision control of solar array orientation. Such control is needed to "feather" the arrays before visiting spacecraft can dock to prevent contamination by rocket exhaust plumes. As a result, Russian space program officials may have to delay Friday's planned docking of an unmanned Progress supply ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Wednesday.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, meanwhile, engineers moved the space shuttle Endeavour from its processing hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building early today for attachment to an external tank and boosters. If all goes well, Endeavour will be hauled to pad 39B before dawn on Sept. 18. It will be the first time since July 2001 that NASA has had two shuttles on its two launch pads at the same time.

The Hubble crew, launching from pad 39A, cannot seek safe haven aboard the international space station if a major problem prevents a safe re-entry. As a result, Endeavour is being prepped for a quick-response rescue mission if necessary. If no such mission is needed, Endeavour will be moved to pad 39A and prepped for launch Nov. 12 on a space station assesmbly flight.


12:18 PM, 9/5/08: Launch delayed two days to accommodate Hubble payload processing

As expected, NASA managers today decided to delay the shuttle Atlantis' launch on NASA's final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission by two days, from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10 (at 12:33 a.m.), to give engineers more time to complete payload processing. Program managers also moved launch of the shuttle Endeavour on the next space station assembly mission from Nov. 10 to Nov. 12 ( at 8:43 p.m.).

Detailed flight plans for both missions, revised to reflect the new target launch dates, are posted on the CBS News STS-125 Quick-Look page. Flight planners are expected to adjust the launch time for Atlantis by several minutes based on lighting and ascent performance. In the meantime, here are mission highlights at a glance (in Eastern/mission elapsed time):

DATE/TIME......DD...HH...MM...EVENT

10/10/08
Fri 12:33 AM...00...00...00...STS-125 launch

10/11/08
Sat 11:47 PM...01...23...14...Hubble space Telescope capture

10/12/08
Sun 05:48 PM...02...17...15...EVA-1 begins (RSUs, batteries)

10/13/08
Mon 05:48 PM...03...17...15...EVA-2 begins (WFC-3, batteries)

10/14/08
Tue 05:48 PM...04...17...15...EVA-3 begins (COS, ACS repair 1)

10/15/08
Wed 05:48 PM...05...17...15...EVA-4 begins (STIS repair)

10/16/08
Thu 05:48 PM...06...17...15...EVA-5 begins (ACS repair 2, FGS)

10/17/08
Fri 07:31 PM...07...18...58...HST release

10/20/08
Mon 10:21 PM...10...21...48...Landing


6:30 PM, 9/4/08: Shuttle Atlantis hauled to launch pad

Bolted to a mobile launch platform atop a massive crawler-transporter, the shuttle Atlantis was slowly hauled from NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building to launch pad 39A today for work to ready the ship for blastoff around Oct. 8 on a final mission to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

The 3.2-mile trip began at 9:19 a.m. and was completed at 3:52 p.m. when the MLP was "hard down" on support pedestal's at the seaside launch stand.

Launch currently is targeted for 1:34:52 a.m. on Oct. 8, but the flight is expected to slip two days or so because of time needed to complete Hubble payload processing. That processing was interrupted when the Kennedy Space Center was closed for tropical storm Fay and the team has been unable to make up the lost time.

Rollout to the pad was delayed a week because of Fay and because of technical problems with a propellant feedline connection. It was delayed another two days because of the threat of tropical storm Hanna.

That system is now expected to pass well to the east of the Florida peninsula, but NASA managers are keeping close tabs on the progress of Hurricane Ike in the mid Atlantic Ocean. It is not yet known whether Ike will pose any threat to the Kennedy Space Center next week, but NASA managers expect enough warning to move Atlantis back to the protection of the VAB if necessary.

Hubble Servicing Mission No. 4 is the only flight left on NASA's shuttle manifest that is not bound to the international space station. Because the space telescope is in a different orbit, Atlantis' crew cannot seek "safe haven" aboard the lab complex in case of a Columbia-class problem that might prevent a safe re-entry.

As a result, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin decided early on to process a second shuttle - Endeavour - in parallel to serve as a rescue vehicle. Engineers currently plan to haul Endeavour to launch pad 39B on Sept. 19. The Hubble crew plans to strap in aboard Atlantis five days later for a dress-rehearsal countdown that will set the stage for launch.

Assuming a rescue flight is not needed, Endeavour will be moved to pad 39A and prepared for launch on the next space station assembly mission around Nov. 10.


5:30 PM, 8/29/08: Shuttle rollout delayed by Hurricane Hanna

Already running four days late because of Tropical Storm Fay and another three because of a technical snag, the shuttle Atlantis' move to launch pad 39A was held up another 24 hours today, from Tuesday to at least Wednesday, because of uncertainty about the possible impact of Hurricane Hanna.

The National Hurricane Center predicts Hanna will pass relatively close to the Kennedy Space Center as it moves along a track 100 miles or so to the east overnight Thursday and Friday before slamming into the mainland near Savannah, Ga. The decision to delay rollout by 24 hours will give NASA managers another day to assess Hanna's track and it's potential impact on the space center.

Hurricane Gustav, meanwhile, roared ashore in Louisiana earlier today, passing to the southwest of New Orleans and Lockheed Martin's Michoud Assembly Facility where space shuttle external tanks are built. While company officials have not yet carried out a detailed inspection, NASA sources say the sprawling facility appears to have come through in relatively good shape.

As if dodging two hurricanes was not enough to worry about, NASA managers also are tracking the development of tropical storm Ike in the mid Atlantic Ocean. Ike is expected to strengthen to hurricane status and while it doesn't appear to threaten Florida's east coast, it's too soon to say where the storm might eventually go.

NASA hopes to launch Atlantis around Oct. 8 on the agency's fifth and final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Even with the delays to date, shuttle workers still have several days of on-pad contingency time to handle unexpected problems.

But engineers preparing Hubble hardware for launch also fell behind because of Fay and unlike their shuttle colleagues, they do not have any on-pad contingency time left. As of late last week, the Hubble team was two to three days behind schedule, raising the prospect of a launch delay to Oct. 10 or 11, regardless of the rollout delay.

NASA plans to follow Atlantis' mission by launching the shuttle Endeavour around Nov. 10 on a space station assembly flight. But the agency only has two weeks to get Endeavour off the pad before the angle between the sun and the lab complex reaches a point that precludes shuttle visits because of temperature constraints.

In that case, Endeavour's launching likely would slip into early next year, triggering downstream delays for subsequent flights. As a result, NASA managers want to preserve Endeavour's Nov. 10 launch target if at all possible to ensure an adequate cushion to handle weather or unexpected technical problems.

Endeavour is being processed in parallel to serve as an emergency rescue vehicle in case Atlantis suffers any damage that might prevent a safe re-entry. Just how much cushion Endeavour ends up with depends in part on when Atlantis gets off the ground and when Endeavour is cleared of its launch-on-need obligations.

Regardless of the threat of subsequent delays, NASA managers plan to stick with the current flight sequence. There has been talk in recent days about a possible mission flip flop - delaying Atlantis to early next year to ensure Endeavour gets off in November - if the Hubble flight falls too far behind. But officials said today they plan to stay in order, launching Atlantis first, then Endeavour.


8:25 PM, 8/24/08: Shuttle Atlantis moved to VAB; engineers discuss sound heard during STS-126 tank rotation

Delayed by tropical storm Fay, the shuttle Atlantis was moved from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building Saturday evening and attached to its external tank and solid-fuel boosters. After tests and checkout, the assembled "stack" will be hauled from the VAB to pad 39A in about a week. Launch on NASA's final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope is targeted for Oct. 8.

Because Atlantis' crew cannot seek "safe haven" aboard the space station if a post-launch problem prevents a safe re-entry, the shuttle Endeavour is being processed in parallel to serve as a rescue vehicle if needed. Processing has been going relatively smoothly, but engineers are assessing an unusual sound heard when Endeavour's external tank was rotated from horizontal to vertical recently in the VAB.

After debriefing on-scene engineers and technicians, taking X-rays and reviewing the tank's manufacturing history, troubleshooters do not yet know whether there is any debris inside the tank, whether the noise heard could have been debris falling from a crane or other equipment near the tank in the VAB or the result of something unrelated. It may not be possible to definitively pin down what might have caused the noise.

Engineers currently are assessing the fuel flow environment inside the tank, the strength of various screens and other safety features to make sure nothing could get sucked into one of the shuttle's main engines if any debris is, in fact, present.

A NASA spokesman said Sunday the issue remains open but so far, nothing has been found.


02:20 PM, 8/14/08: NASA sticks with Oct. 8 launch date for STS-125

NASA managers today decided to stick with Oct. 8 as the target launch date for shuttle mission STS-125, a long-awaited flight by the shuttle Atlantis to service and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. They also agreed to stick with Nov. 10 for launch of the flight after that, a space station assembly mission by the shuttle Endeavour.

As it now stands, Atlantis will be hauled to launch pad 39A on Aug. 26. Commander Scott Altman and his six crewmates - pilot Gregory C. Johnson, robot arm operator Megan McArthur and spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino, Andrew Feustel and Michael Good - plan to strap in for a dress-rehearsal countdown on Sept. 19.

If all goes well, Atlantis will blast off around 1:34:49 a.m. on Oct. 8. After grappling the space telescope, the first of five back-to-back spacewalks will begin around 6:50 p.m. on Oct. 10 to install two new instruments, an upgraded fine guidance sensor, a new set of batteries and full set of gyroscopes. The astronauts also will attempt to repair two instruments that malfunctioned earlier and install fresh insulation. The flight plan calls for the astronauts to release the refurbished telescope on Oct. 15 and to land back at the Kennedy Space Center around 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 18.

STS-125 had been targeted for launch Aug. 28, but in May the flight was delayed because of time needed to ready two external fuel tanks. The Hubble repair crew cannot seek "safe haven" aboard the international space station if a Columbia-class heat-shield problem occurs. As a result, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin decided early on to have a second shuttle - Endeavour - prepped for launch on a rescue mission if necessary. Assuming no rescue flight is needed, Endeavour then would be used for the next station assembly mission, STS-126.

The Hubble rescue requirement meant two tanks had to be ready at roughly the same time and building new tanks with post-Columbia safety upgrades took a bit longer than initially expected. The Hubble launch slipped to Oct. 8 and Endeavour's flight was delayed from mid October to Nov. 10. A flight that had been planned for December slipped to February.

As it turned out, work to ready the next two tanks went smoothly and NASA managers recently asked engineers to look into the possibility of moving the next two flights up a few days, to Oct. 2 and Nov. 4 respectively. That later was amended to Oct. 5 and Nov. 7. Today, program managers agreed to stick with Oct. 8 and Nov. 10.

"It was a combination of things," a NASA spokesman said. "When they put that CR (launch date change request) out, they put it out with the understanding that tank processing needed to mature. They had to watch that for a while. That ended up turning out better than they hoped. The problem came with Hubble payload deliveries. Even if they hit every milestone they could possibly hit... the best they could do was Oct. 7."

The problem for Endeavour's flight was crew training. A tropical storm recently forced NASA to shut down the Johnson Space Center and Endeavour's crew lost valuable training time that could not be made up without violating work load guidelines. And so, the shuttle program decided to stick with the original Oct. 8 and Nov. 10 launch targets.

A detailed flight plan for STS-125 is posted on the CBS News STS-125 Quick-Look page, along with a launch windows chart, crew and personnel data.


4:30 PM, 7/25/08: NASA modifies launch date 'change request' to move up next two shuttle launchings

Space shuttle program managers today modified an official "change request" that, if approved, will move up the next two shuttle launchings by three days each, not six as initially requested.

As originally written, the CR would have moved launch of STS-125, a long-awaited mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, from Oct. 8 to Oct. 2. The flight after that, STS-126, would have moved from Nov. 10 to Nov. 4 - election day in the United States.

But crew training, payload processing and work to ready external tanks for flight prompted managers today to request Oct. 5 for launch of the Hubble servicing mission and Nov. 7 for the subsequent space station assembly flight. A decision on whether to actually approve those target dates is expected Aug. 14.

Assuming the revised target dates are selected, the shuttle Atlantis would take off on the Hubble servicing mission at 3:02:18 a.m. EDT on Oct. 5. The telescope would be grappled around 1:28 a.m. on Oct. 7 and the first of five back-to-back spacewalks to service and upgrade the observatory would begin later that day at 8:17 p.m. If all goes well, Hubble would be released from the shuttle around 9:13 p.m. on Oct. 12 and Atlantis would land back at the Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 16 at 12:04 a.m.

Launch of shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-126 would occur around 10:39 p.m. on Nov. 7 followed by docking with the international space station around 8:11 p.m. on Nov. 9. Four spacewalks are planned - Nov. 11, 13, 15 and 17 - each one beginning around 4:29 p.m. Landing back at the Florida spaceport would be targeted for around 5:02 p.m. on Nov. 22.

Detailed flight plans will be posted after official launch targets are determined Aug. 14.


6:45 PM, 7/7/08: NASA unveils revised shuttle manifest; Shannon optimistic about completing program on time

NASA today unveiled a revised manifest for the final 10 flights in the space shuttle program, reflecting previously forecast delays across the board because of post-Columbia external tank safety upgrades that have stretched out deliveries. But shuttle Program Manager John Shannon said he's confident NASA can complete the space station and retire the shuttle fleet in 2010 as planned.

"There are challenges with that, that's really a no-contingency-days, no-big-problems kind of schedule," he told CBS News in a telephone interview. Even so, he added, "I think we have a very credible plan to get done, with some margin at the end of it."

Two more shuttle flights are planned this year, in October and November, five in 2009 and a final three missions in the first half of 2010 to bring the program to a close.

NASA had planned to retire the shuttle Atlantis after a final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in October, but the orbiter will make two more flights beyond that, one in 2009 and another in 2010, to provide additional processing margin. Atlantis and Discovery will fly three more times each and the shuttle Endeavour will make four more flights, including the 10th and final mission.

"The original rationale (for retiring Atlantis) was that we would take Atlantis down, it would save some money for the program and we would use it as a spares option for us," Shannon said. "We looked at our spares posture, and it was pretty good, it did not look like there was any pressing need to retire Atlantis.

"From a money standpoint, we were able to continue flying and continue processing Atlantis at no additional cost to the program and that is because we were ramping down all of our return-to-flight efforts and we had gotten more efficient in ground ops processing. So it did not cost us any additional money and on the positive side, it gives us a tremendous amount of manifest flexibility. It makes it much more feasible to finish the program on time."

Unlike Endeavour and Discovery, Atlantis is not equipped with a space station-to-shuttle power transfer system to tap into the station's solar power grid. But Shannon said the two station flights planned for Atlantis do not require the additional docked time the power transfer system provides and "it made a lot of sense to keep Atlantis flying."

Here is the revised manifest (a more detailed manifest is available here: http://cbsnews.cbs.com/network/news/space/manifest.html):

During a May 1 briefing to preview the just-completed flight of the shuttle Discovery, Shannon announced that STS-125, the Hubble servicing mission, would slip from August to October and the subsequent flight, STS-126, would slip from October to November. He said STS-119, which had been scheduled for launch in December, would move into 2009, all because of external tank processing issues. At that time, no other target dates were revealed pending additional assessment of tank delivery schedules.

The tank used by Discovery for the most recent shuttle launch on May 31 was the first to be built from scratch with post-Columbia safety upgrades and it took engineers at Lockheed Martin's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans additional time to perfect and implement required manufacturing techniques.

Those issues were compounded for the upcoming launch of Atlantis on NASA's final planned Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. Shuttle crews bound for the international space station have the option of "safe haven" aboard the lab complex, where they can await rescue by another shuttle if any Columbia-class problems occur that might prevent a safe re-entry. That is not possible for the Hubble repair crew because the telescope is in a different orbit and the shuttle cannot reach the station from there.

As a result, NASA plans to have a second shuttle ready for launch on short notice in case of any major problems and that, in turn, means two tanks will be needed.

In May, Shannon said the changes to the way external tanks are built "added about four to five weeks of processing time on those two tanks. The tank team has done a really nice job of taking the lessons learned processing the tank that's about to fly, and the Hubble tank. So I don't expect that to (expand the time needed) on each of the downstream tanks. They have a mitigation plan in place so that the 2009 tanks come in more on a normal template. So we're going to take a one-time hit of this four to five weeks, it will move pretty much all of the tanks in series, the next 10 tanks that will come out, about that four to five weeks."

Even so, Shannon said today that starting with STS-127 next May, the external tank team at Michoud will need to shave about a month off the time needed to manufacture each tank to keep the program on track.

"The schedule we've put together challenges the Michoud Assembly Facility production on the external tanks by about a month per tank," he said. "We partnered with them very closely to try and understand what production efficiencies we're going to have as we go through the next several builds of tanks. And we think we'll be able to get a month back. But that's not proven yet."

To provide as much margin as possible to cope with unexpected problems, the shuttle program wants to keep the shuttle Endeavour on track across its four upcoming flights. As it now stands, the final flight is targeted for launch on May 31.

NASA managers may opt to move up the next two flights by a few days, in part to provide additional margin for Endeavour. Based on ground processing alone, the Hubble mission likely could be moved up five to six days, Shannon said. But because of payload issues and crew training "they might get two or three days, it doesn't look like much more than that."

But that likely would enable NASA to launch Endeavour on mission STS-126 a few days ahead of the current Nov. 10 target. That's important because it would provide a few additional days of margin to get Endeavour off before a so-called beta angle cutout begins around Nov. 25. If the shuttle isn't off the ground by then, thermal issues caused by the angle between the sun and the plane of the station's orbit would prompt a significant launch delay.

"The beta ends in the middle of December, but we wouldn't launch then because of workforce issues, it would probably be the middle of January or early February," Shannon said. "Right there, you lose two months, almost three months off your critical path and we'd have to really struggle to make that up."

As a result, "we would really like to get 126 off before the beta cutout," Shannon said. "If we move Hubble up a few days, that would make us think we could move 126 up a few days and get a few more days before that beta angle constraint. That's really important to us because we want to keep on the timeline for the (Endeavour) flights."

As with all post-Columbia missions, NASA will have a set of boosters and an external tank available to support an emergency "launch on need" rescue mission for Endeavour's final flight. Congress is considering a plan to use that hardware for one additional flight, a mission to carry a high-tech physics experiment to the space station.

In the wake of the Columbia disaster and the 2010 deadline for completing shuttle operations, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, or AMS, payload lost its ride to the station. Congressional supporters are considering whether to add a flight and Shannon said the agency was protecting that option.

"Right now, we don't have any direction to go fly the AMS from Congress or the White House," he said. "We've protected the option. We've put together a cargo layout that would have the AMS flying, we have had people from the shuttle program involved in integration to determine the long-lead integration items that we need in order to put it in the shuttle payload bay and be able to go fly it. And I am going to have, at the end of the program, hardware available to not only fly an additional flight but I would also have launch-on-need capability for that flight."

He said external tank 122, which was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, could be upgraded and prepared for launch-on-need use if needed. A set of boosters would have to be procured, but "I don't have to make the decision for configuring ET-122 or the extra boosters until the middle of next year," Shannon said. "So we'll wait and see what everybody wants to do."


4:15 PM, 6/26/08: Launch pad repair plan approved; no impact on Hubble servicing mission launch

Shuttle program managers today approved a plan to strip away fire bricks from damaged sections of the "flame trench" at launch pad 39A, to erect a steel grid over the exposed concrete back wall and to spray on a thick coating of heat-resistant Fondu Fyre to protect the structure from super-hot shuttle booster exhaust. The work, expected to cost less than $2.7 million, should be complete before the shuttle Atlantis is hauled to the pad at the end of August for blastoff Oct. 8 on a high-profile mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

"We really like the plan ... and we approved it," said shuttle Program Manager John Shannon. "We expect to start moving out on it right away."

During the shuttle Discovery's May 31 launch on a space station assembly mission, more than 3,500 fire bricks lining the northeast wall of the booster side of the flame trench at pad 39A were blasted away. Radar tracking showed some of the bricks exiting the trench at some 1,000 feet per second, or about 680 mph.

A detailed inspection found that many of the anchor plates used to secure the interlocking fire bricks to the 3-foot-thick concrete back wall were heavily eroded due to decades of exposure to severe pressures and acidic rocket exhaust. In addition, epoxy used to help secure the bricks to the wall was degraded or not consistently applied when the pad was built in the mid 1960s. As a result, the outer brick wall was not tightly locked to the underlying concrete wall it was designed to protect.

"We did find evidence of a fracture joint along a construction joint between the first and second panels of the east wall," said Perry Becker, chief of NASA's structural systems branch at the Kennedy Space Center. "We believe that fracture was brought on by a number of different components. We have found erosion of some anchor plates that were used to secure the brick to the back wall. We've found degradation of the epoxy that was used to adhere the brick to the back wall. We have found evidence of acid deposition in that area. We've found evidence of carbonation in the area, which leeches the calcium out of the concrete, which reduces the strength of the mortar-to-concrete joints."

Becker said the damage that occurred during Discovery's May 31 liftoff apparently happened when a Fondu Fyre patch over an area of earlier erosion ripped away seconds after booster ignition.

"We believe, based on pre- and post-launch pictures, that we liberated a Fondu Fyre patch that was put over an area of fairly significant erosion," he said. "We think the lack of adhesion on that wall resulted in some bowing off the back wall and resulted in the liberation of that patch. Once that patch was liberated at launch, we believe that created the intrusion point that got the hot gas behind the wall."

Once booster exhaust gases got behind the brick layer, "we had impingement on the back wall and with no real adhesive strength left in that local area, we started a localized failure," Becker said. "Due to the interlocking nature of the brick, we believe that led to a cascading failure on down the wall."

To fix the trench, bricks covering a 25-by-100-foot section of the east wall of the trench, along with a 25-by-80-foot section of the west wall, will be removed. A steel mesh-like structure will be erected over the exposed backwall and then covered in sprayed-on Fondu Fyre, a material already used to protect the massive flame deflector directly under the shuttle's boosters and main engines.

Working two 10-hour shifts per day, the repair team expects to have the brick removed by July 19. After that, the mesh will be erected and the Fondue Fyre applied. Space shuttle processing manager Rita Willcoxon said the repair should be complete by the third week in August. The shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to be hauled to the pad Aug. 29.

Becker said the repaired flame trench will be closely inspected after every launch, but he expects it to hold up through the end of shuttle operations in 2010.

Nearby pad 39B is believed to have similar weaknesses in its flame trench. But no major repairs are envisioned in the near term. All 10 remaining shuttle flights are scheduled to use pad 39A and while NASA could use pad 39B for a rescue mission should Atlantis suffer major damage during the Hubble flight, a detailed analysis shows no debris from either pad's flame trench could reach a shuttle or cause any damage.

"We also discussed in a lot of detail the transport analysis to see if there was any risk to the space shuttle vehicle from anything liberated from the trench," Shannon said. "We got good results that said that would not be any kind of a risk to the vehicle."

Pad 39B currently is being modified for use by the new Ares 1 rockets that will carry the Orion crew capsules intended to replace the shuttle. A longer-term fix for the flame trench may be required down the road, but no final decisions have been made.


5:35 PM, 6/16/08: Pad repair likely will involve brick removal, application of spray-on Fondu Fyre

Engineers assessing extensive damage to launch pad 39A during the shuttle Discovery's May 31 takeoff said today they are confident the "flame trench" that diverts exhaust to either side can be repaired in time for NASA's next mission, the Oct. 8 launch of shuttle Atlantis on a flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

Repair options will be presented to shuttle Program Manager John Shannon on June 26, leaving about two months to complete the pad rehab before the planned Aug. 29 rollout of Atlantis.

"We feel we're on the right path for a design solution and we're working to get there," Perry Becker, chief of NASA's structural systems branch at the Kennedy Space Center, told reporters today. "We're working very extensively with a few vendors in industry, we're starting to put that plan together. ... We're confident, regardless of the scope of the work here, that we can repair this pad in time and support the rollout."

During Discovery's takeoff, some 5,300 heat-resistant bricks lining the northeast wall of the flame trench under the shuttle's mobile launch platform were blown away, some blasted more than 1,800 feet, heavily damaging a security fence around the pad perimeter. The interlocking bricks, held in place by epoxy and metal clips anchored in concrete, are used to protect an underlying 3-foot-thick concrete wall that helps form the structural backbone of the pad.

The missing bricks exposed an irregular area of the concrete wall measuring roughly 20 feet by 75 feet. New bricks cannot be manufactured in time to support the Hubble mission, but Becker said engineers believe the trench can be repaired by stripping away additional bricks around the damage area, erecting a steel mesh framework and then spraying on a thick coating of a refractory material like Fondu Fyre.

A five-inch-thick coating of Fondu Fyre currently covers the inverted V-shaped flame deflector that diverts main engine exhaust to one side of the pad and booster exhaust to the other. About 20 feet of the flame trench extending from the deflector on the booster side already is covered by Fondu Fyre, giving way to bricks. The idea would be to extend that coating to cover the areas damaged during Discovery's launching.

"We're certainly looking strongly at Fondu Fyre, we've got a history with it out here, we know its properties," Becker said. "There are a couple of other materials on the market that we're looking at, so we haven't down selected that definitively. But it is a leading candidate."

Despite the intense heat and pressure produced by the shuttle's solid-fuel boosters, Becker said the Fondu Fyre coating the flame deflector holds up well to the extreme heat and pressures produced by the shuttle's huge solid-fuel boosters.

"The erosion rate we would expect on the side walls (of the flame trench) would be very, very minimal based on some Fondu Fyre that we have up near the main flame deflector itself," he said. "That has performed very well."

It is not yet known how many more bricks will need to be stripped away or how large an area might ultimately be covered by Fondu Fyre, assuming program managers approve that approach.

"I like to talk about it as if you're redoing tile in your bathroom at your house," said Ed Mango, launch director for the Hubble servicing mission. "One tile gets loose, then you've got to chase it. This is a similar thing. The tile in your shower is there to protect the wall behind it. We have the brick here to protect the concrete behind it. Of course, the over pressure and the amount of water is much worse!"

Looking at trowel marks on the exposed concrete, engineers believe the epoxy used to help hold the bricks to the wall was not uniformly applied. So-called "tap tests" have revealed possible voids behind other sections of the flame trench where bricks are still in place.

"We have seen indications on the visibly damaged sections of trowel marks in some areas on the wall there that shows less than full engagement of the bricks to the back wall structure when it was originally manufactured," Becker said. "Certainly, that is one component of several possibilities of the root cause of failure."

Becker downplayed the question of whether the original construction was flawed, saying "there's no such thing as a perfectly vertical or smooth wall. So there are going to be voids and surface imperfections, that's common in the construction industry."

The Hubble crew cannot take advantage of "safe haven" aboard the international space station if Atlantis suffers any damage that might prevent a safe re-entry. As a result, NASA plans to have a second shuttle, Endeavour, ready for takeoff from nearby pad 39B if a rescue mission is required.

Both shuttle pads were built in the 1960s for the Apollo moon program and engineers are carrying out tests and inspections to assess the health of pad B.

"We're evaluating that state of pad B as we speak and if we find anything, we'll take the appropriate action," Becker said.

First used in 1967, pad 39A has withstood 12 Saturn 5 launchings, including the first Apollo moon landing mission, and 70 shuttle flights. Pad 39B, first used in 1969, supported one Saturn 5 launch, four Saturn 1B flights and 53 shuttle missions, including Challenger's final flight.