February 09, 2010, 9:04 PM — NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour crew is making preparations to link-up with the International Space Station after it spent most of today giving the spacecraft the once over looking for any damage that may have occurred during launch.
Such inspections to the shuttle’s thermal tile protection system are routine as the tiles have been a source of problems since the first launch of the spacecraft in 1981. According to NASA the thermal protection system is made up of various materials designed mostly to protect the craft and crew from an amazing array of temperature differences from minus 250 F in the cold soak of space to re-entry temperatures that reach nearly 3,000 F.
The astronauts pay particular attention to inspection of the shuttle’s heat-resistant tiles and reinforced carbon-carbon surfaces on the wing leading edges and the nose. The crew’s spacesuits are also given the once-over as the crew will use them for scheduled three space walks.
Endeavour is scheduled to dock with the ISS shortly after midnight Wednesday. Once docked the shuttle and ISS crews will begin removing from the space shuttle’s storage bay and docking the life support module known as Tranquility.
According to NASA, the pressurized Tranquility module will bump out the room for crew members and many of the space station's life support and environmental control systems including include air revitalization, oxygen generation and water recycling. A waste and hygiene compartment and a treadmill also will be relocated from other areas of the station, NASA stated.
Tranquility will be linked to the Earth-facing side of the ISS’ Unity node. The new node will provide an additional docking point for space shuttles and other crew vehicles visiting the station in the future.
Astronauts will also begin attaching the room with a view module known as the Cupola module. NASA says the Cupola node could be considered the ultimate observation deck as the small, dome-shaped module has seven windows -- six around the sides and one on top -- that can be shuttered when not in use to protect them from micrometeoroids and the harsh space environment.