STS-134: Endeavour safely in orbit for packed mission

by Chris Gebhardt

The 25th and final mission of Endeavour is underway following a visually stunning mid-morning liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Endeavour and her six-man international crew are for an orbital mission filled with firsts and unique and inspiring challenges.

16-day Mission Timeline Overview:

After safely arriving on orbit, Endeavour’s final flight crew – Commanded by veteran Shuttle astronaut Mark E. Kelly – concentrated their Flight Day 1 (FD-1) activities on post-insertion events, which included the opening of Endeavour’s payload bay doors, deployment and checkout of the Ku Band antenna, and reconfiguration of the crew cabin from its launch arrangement to its on-orbit arrangement.

The NC-1 course correction burn, or phasing burn, was also performed to help adjust Endeavour’s orbital approach to the International Space Station.

Imagery gathered of the External Tank from Endeavour’s onboard ET (External Tank) umbilical well cameras, along with hand-held video and Hi-RES images of the tank, was downlinked to the ground for analysis prior to power-up and checkout of Endeavour’s Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS) robot arm.

On FD-2, the crew will spend the entire day preparing Endeavour for docking with the ISS and inspecting her Thermal Protection System (TPS) for any damage that might have been incurred during launch.

Before these activities begin, however, the crew will perform the second NC course correction burn. The OBSS (Orbiter Boom Sensor System) survey of Endeavour’s Wing Leading Edge (WLE) Reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC) panels and nose cap, as well as the upper flight surfaces and T0 umbilicals, will begin at MET (Mission Elapsed Time) 17 hours 30 minutes.

The survey will be interrupted 3.5hrs later for crew meals, after which the crew will continue with and complete the survey.  After lunch, a subset of the crew will also begin checkout procedures on the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Units – or spacesuits) to be used during the mission’s four historic spacewalks, or EVAs.

Following completion of the OBSS surveys, the OBSS will be berthed back into its cradle in Endeavour’s payload bay, after which the crew will grapple the ELC-3 space parts pallet with Endeavour’s SRMS.

Rendezvous tools checkout and Orbiter Docking Ring (ODS) extension will follow. The NC-3 course correction burn will finish out FD-2 for the crew.

The crew will then wake up one hour earlier on FD-3 to prepare Endeavour for final approach and docking to the ISS. Of special interest here, is that only one ISS crewmember will wake at the same time as Endeavour’s crew while the others continue on a different sleep pattern.

For the duration of STS-134, ISS crewmember Ron Garan (who coincidentally flew with Mark Kelly on his most-recent mission: STS-124) will sleep and wake with the Shuttle crew while the other Station crewmembers – specifically the three returning to Earth on Soyuz 25S on May 23 – will follow a different sleep pattern.

STS-134 Specific Articles:

Currently, Ron Garan is the only ISS crewmember who will be aiding the 134/Endeavour crew fulltime once they arrive on station. The remaining five (5) crewmembers will, in part, split their duty time between joint 134/ISS activities and preparations for the pending Soyuz 25S departure on May 23.

Nonetheless, Endeavour’s crew will perform the NC-4 course correction burn (if needed) at MET ~1day 17hrs on FD-3, with the Terminal Initiation burn, the final burn to place Endeavour on course for a spot 600ft “below” the ISS on the R-bar, following at a MET of ~1day 18hrs 45mins.

The R-bar Pitch Maneuver (RPM), the customary post-Columbia backflip safety maneuver to permit the ISS crew to photograph the Shuttle orbiter’s underbelly TPS tiles, will then be performed at 04:46 EDT followed by docking at an approximate MET of 1day 21hrs 19mins (06:15 EDT).

PMA-2 (Pressurized Mating Adaptor -2)/ODS vestibule pressurization and leak checks will follow, leading to hatch opening and “Welcome Aboard” ceremonies.

Following a mandatory safety briefing for the Shuttle crew by the ISS commander, Endeavour’s crew, and Ron Garan, will get right to work removing the ELC-3 pallet from Endeavour’s payload bay via the SRMS. The ELC-3 will then be handed off to the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System) for installation on to the truss of the Space Station.

FD-4 (May 19) will be dominated for the Endeavour crew by the removal of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) from Endeavour’s payload bay and its installation on the International Space Station’s Integrated Truss Structure as well as preparations for the mission’s first EVA.

Conversely, the ISS crew’s time on FD-4 will be devoted to “Soyuz Drill 2.”

FD-5 will then see the mission’s first EVA, during which a spacewalking duo will work on swapping out MISSEs (Materials on ISS Experiments), connecting an ammonia jumper line, and working with an antenna.

During this time, the ISS crew will be assisting with EVA operations and equipment/supply transfers from Endeavour to the ISS.

FD-6 will see some deserved off-duty time for the Endeavour crew in the “morning” of the mission timeline schedule. Provided that a Focused Inspection of Endeavour’s TPS is not required (a requirement that is unlikely but still necessary to protect for), the crew will handoff the OBSS to the SSMRS in the “afternoon” before entering into pre-EVA-2 activities that “evening.”

During FD-6, the ISS crew, sans Ron Garan, will perform various ISS tasks as well as suit checks for the returning ISS crewmembers.

FD-7 will then be dominated by EVA preparations and EVA-2 itself, consisting of Ammonia tank filling, Port SARJ (Solar Alpha Rotary Joint) lubrication, and Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (or DEXTRE) lubrication.

During this day, the ISS crew, sans Ron, will be waking up 2.5hrs after the start of EVA-2.

FD-8 will then see a further divergence of Shuttle and Station crew wake/sleep times, with the Shuttle crew’s and Ron’s day beginning at MET 6days 12hrs and the Station crew’s beginning at MET 6days 22.5hrs.

During FD-8, the Shuttle crew will tackle various internal ISS activities, including work on the Oxygen Generation System’s (OGA’s) Quick Disconnect and ISS/Endeavour supply/equipment transfers. After a meal at “midday,” the crew will enjoy off duty time and begin heading to bed right when the ISS crew begins their long day.

Then, during the Shuttle crew’s sleep period between FD-8 and FD-9, a three person subset of the ISS crew will board their Soyuz 25S spacecraft and undock from the ISS at 23:06 GMT May 23.

Currently, evaluations are ongoing as to whether or not the departing Soyuz will be used to perform a flyabout of the ISS for the sole purpose of gaining historical photographic documentation of the ISS with Shuttle, Soyuz, Progress, and ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) all docked to it – a family portrait missing only Japan’s HTV spacecraft.

Two and a half hours after Soyuz undocking, the Shuttle crew will wake up to start FD-9. The ISS crew, again sans Garan, will start heading to bed one (1) hour after the Endeavour crew wakeup. The ISS crew will remain completely off duty – with their schedules blocked off for “sleep” – for the next 26.5hrs.

Back to FD-9 for the Endeavour crew, the day will be spent conducting a water dump, preparing for EVA-3, continuing work on the Oxygen Generation System’s installation, and getting some more deserved off-duty time.

FD-10 will then begin with EVA-3 preparations and In-Suit Light Exercise, which will be taking the place of the over-night campout in the Quest Airlock. EVA-3 will dominate the day, the EVA consisting of FGB Power Data Grapple Fixture work, Y-Jumper installations, and cable routing.

After getting some sleep, FD-11 will see the Shuttle crew remove the CDRA (Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly) frame and perform maintenance work on the unit.

FD-12 will then be spent performing the customary late-inspection of Endeavour’s TPS WLE RCC and nose cap panels. This late inspection will be performed during Endeavour’s docked mission due to the need to leave Endeavour’s OBSS on the Station for future Station crews to use as a robot arm extension work platform for astronauts in SSMRS inaccessible areas of the Station.

Following the late inspection, Endeavour’s crew will participate in a joint crew news conference with reporters on Earth before moving into EVA-4 preparations.

FD-13 will then see EVA-4 – the final EVA/Spacewalk to be performed by a Shuttle crew. This EVA will be dedicated to the transfer of the OBSS to the ISS.

FD-14 will then focus on the completion of middeck transfers to and from Endeavour and the transfer of all EVA equipment back to Endeavour.

Hatches between Endeavour and the ISS – the station she started construction of in 1998 on STS-88 – will be closed for the final time late in the STS-134 crew’s day.

Endeavour will then undock the from the premiere international space research laboratory on FD-15 at MET 13days 14hrs 57mins. Endeavour’s Pilot, Greg Johnson, will then perform a flyaround of the Station with Endeavour before beginning separation, STORRM re-rendezvous, and final separation maneuvers at MET 13days 19hrs 41mins.

FD-16 will be spent conducting a host of Public Affairs media interviews, giving a tribute to the good ship Endeavour, and preparing Endeavour for reentry via the RCS (Reaction Control System) hot fire test, powering up a single APU, and checking out the Flight Control System.

On FD-17, Endeavour’s crew will close the vehicle’s payload bay doors and, weather permitting, return for a final landing of Endeavour at the Kennedy Space Center at MET 15days 17hrs 36mins in the early morning hours of June 1.

(Lead Image via ET via NASA TV. All other images via L2. Extensive coverage is being provided on the news site, forum and L2 special sections – the latter of which is the world’s best front row seat to Shuttle missions. With specific and extensive flight day coverage, from interactive “one stop” FD live coverage in the open forum, to internal documentation, photos, videos and content in the specific L2 FD areas).

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