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Turning the Page to the Next Chapter of Human Spaceflight - Part 1

Now that the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the crew of STS-135 are safely back on Earth, I want to share a series of posts documenting a behind the scenes look at this very important and historic mission. This is the first.

Welcome Atlantis - STS-135

The days and weeks preparing for the docking of Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station were very busy.

Imagine a moving truck with 5 tons of supplies and equipment pulling up to your front door, then attaching itself to your house. Next, you have to move those 10,000 pounds into your house, bring 6,000 pounds back to the truck, all the while remaining on the truck or in the house – and oh, by the way, you can’t set anything down because everything is floating, including you.

That was the challenge the crews of Atlantis and the ISS faced during the docked STS-135 mission. To prepare, my ISS crewmates Andrey, Sasha, Sergei, Satoshi, Mike and I spent several weeks prepacking items, removing failed equipment, and doing everything we could to make the transfer of supplies as efficient as possible.

During the 7 days, 21 hours and 41 minutes of our joint mission, 9,403 pounds of equipment and supplies were moved to the station from inside the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) that was berthed to the Space Station, and more than a ton from the Atlantis’ crew cabin. We also re-packed the MPLM with about 6,000 pounds of experiment samples, trash, packing material and failed or no-longer-needed equipment.

Rendezvous

A rendezvous of a spacecraft with the International Space Station is always exciting, the final docking of Space Shuttle Atlantis even more so. Atlantis and her crew arrived right on schedule, 600 feet below the space station.

I was tasked with choreographing the detailed photography of Atlantis’ thermal protection system as the Atlantis did a flip maneuver directly beneath us.

Since my primary job consisted of making sure the correct pictures were taken with precisely determined timing, I had my concentration on several stopwatches and was not really taking in this glorious sight through the windows below us. At one point during the maneuver, I did glance down to see Atlantis framing the islands of the Bahamas. I couldn’t resist grabbing my camera.

Docking and Reunion

Once Atlantis docked, we equalized the pressure between our two spacecraft, then threw open the hatch to welcome Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus. It was great seeing everyone. After a short hello and a safety brief, we all went straight to work.


The combined crew of STS-135 and ISS Expedition 28: Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus, Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev, Mike Fossum, Satoshi Furukawa, Sergei Volkov and Ron Garan

The Work

The first big task of the day was a handoff of the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS). The OBSS is a long boom with several sensors on the end that are used to further evaluate the thermal protection system of the orbiter and is critical for obtaining a “Go” for re-entry. Using the large Space Station robotic arm, Satoshi Furukawa and I removed the OBSS from Atlantis’ payload bay and then handed it to the Space Shuttle Robotic arm being operated by Doug Hurley and Chris Ferguson.

The first day of the docked STS-135 mission was very exciting and rewarding. In the following posts I’ll discuss what it was like having the STS-135 crew onboard, the spacewalk that Mike Fossum and I conducted during the mission, and the historical significance of this last Space Shuttle flight.

Please stay tuned,

Ron