Close neighbours finally meet in space
On Friday the crews of the International Space Station (ISS) and the Endeavour finally met face to face. Although they have been living as close neighbours since Saturday 2 December, when the Endeavour docked alongside the ISS, the hatches between the two spacecraft had remained closed for safety reasons as the pressure on board the Endeavour had to be lowered to help prepare the astronauts for their space walks.
Before entering the Unity module of the ISS, the Endeavour crew commander, Brent Jett, requested permission from the ISS commander, Bill Shepherd, to open the last hatch. Finally the two crews, who have been working alongside each other all week, were able to shake hands and exchange greetings. However, this was not just a friendly social visit, there was also work to be done to prepare for the next shuttle visit in January carrying the laboratory Destiny.
Both crews worked together transferring equipment and supplies between the two spacecraft, and taking refuse from the ISS to the Endeavour for return to Earth. In addition, structural tests of the station and its solar arrays were carried out, and the crews set up and checked the TV system that will help the ISS crew attach the laboratory Destiny when it arrives.
On Sunday the two crews said goodbye as the hatches between the two spacecraft closed and preparations began for undocking from the ISS and returning to Earth. Before leaving, the Endeavour circled the station at a distance of approximately 152 metres. This took about an hour with the two spacecraft moving at eight kilometres a second and travelling two-thirds of the way around the Earth at a height of 383 kilometres.
On completing this last manoeuvre, the two commanders exchanged final greetings before the Endeavour set off for home. The shuttle is scheduled to arrive at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida at 23.04 UT today.