ISS checks Endeavour out

By Phil Plait | May 20, 2011 11:07 am

After the Columbia Orbiter tragedy, NASA changed the safety protocols for Shuttle missions to the International Space Station. When an Orbiter gets there, it performs a slow pitch so that astronauts on ISS can take a good look for any damage that might have occurred during takeoff. It’s a serious procedure, but during it they get really intense pictures of the Orbiter.

This dramatic shot [click to enspaceplanenate] was taken on May 18, 2011, shortly after Endeavour made its final rendezvous with ISS. It’s a view we don’t get when the Orbiters sit on the ground.

They also snapped this lovely shot of Endeavour’s wing shortly before docking. It’s an important picture — they are looking for potentially mission-threatening damage, after all! — but it’s also a beautiful one, well-lit, crafted, and executed. You should check out this picture, too, with the Orbiter’s payload bay doors open, and a tiny Moon in the background.

I may not be a 100% true fan of the Space Shuttle, but for many years it provided us with access to space. Flawed as the project is and was, these are magnificent machines, capable of doing a huge amount of work. As I write this, in fact, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 is being deployed on the ISS from Endeavour. AMS will investigate dark matter, antimatter, and other cosmological mysteries. It’s the grandest science, in my opinion, that has been done on ISS to date. I’m glad it’s up there, but I wish there were much, much more science to join it.

The next Shuttle launch is for Atlantis, its last, and the last of all the Shuttles. It’s currently scheduled for July 8 at 11:35 EDT, returning to Earth on July 20… interestingly, the anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.

Images credit: NASA

Related posts:

Debating space
Dream of Endeavour
Deconstructing Discovery
Endeavour’s final walk down the aisle


Comments (19)

Links to this Post

  1. Rum and Reason » Sunrise on Atlantis | Bad Astronomy | June 28, 2011
  1. A 1970s design is still breathtaking (yes, I know, the program concepts started in 1969, but this design came out of the 1970s). I am also quite excited about the AMS getting deployed.

  2. Bryan D

    Sad that it seems we’re going backwards regarding space these days, from nothing, to orbit, to the moon, to orbit, back to nothing.

    I know it’s not literally that way, but it just feels that way.

  3. Timmy

    Why is the moon so small? Is it because we are seeing it from the other side of Earth so it is twice as far away? Either I’m confused or the Empire is about to test their doomsday machine on another peaceful planet.

  4. Joe

    @Timmy: The latter. All those rumors of the Apocalypse tomorrow were spread by the Empire.

  5. but the fundamental truth about the shuttles is that they were not capable of a tremendous amount of work where operating costs and overhead were a crippling factor for decades. If your launch costs are extremely high then the actual utility is not merely reduced but forced into a quasi-twilight of utility in your flight ops cripples the ops of other divisions. This has been NASA’s own version of austerity to keep a crippled banking system afloat—- here the austerity has been on science missions to keep a fundamentally flawed shuttle program floating in liquidity.

  6. Doug

    Glad to see the July launch time was right – I heard it from a NASA employee when I was at KSC a month ago and posted it in the comments here that day. NASA’s launch schedule still showed June 28 and still did until recently. Makes sense with all the bumps to Endeavour’s schedule.

    I was at the launch on Monday, it was one of the best 15 seconds of my life (only about 15 seconds between liftoff and the 5000 foot cloud cover). Way cool.

    I’m glad July was right for the next one because it means my wife can join me when I go back for Atlantis’ launch, if it had been any earlier she would have been at a conference.

  7. John Sandlin

    They’ll be checking extra careful – there were ice chunks noted in the launch videos that may have impacted one of the landing gear doors (heard on NPR this morning). The report noted they use high definition cameras and a laser device to measure the surface and scan for damange.

    When I was much younger I kept a shuttle scrapbook with all the news paper clippings of the development of the new project, including the news release that they were naming the first vehicle Enterprise. I’ve since lost that scrapbook. The only shuttle vehicle I’ve seen up close was Enterprise at Vandenberg Air Force Base in the mid-80s as they were preparing a launch facility for the shuttle on the west coast. It was an exciting time.


  8. Travis Bear

    Where’s the white ipod in the window?

  9. The BA Says: “…returning to Earth on July 20… interestingly, the anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.”

    If they pull that off, it will be a wonderful set of “bookends” to the program. The very first Shuttle flight was on the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight.

    – Jack

  10. Jeremy Winterson

    What happens if they find damage?

  11. Lorena

    july 20th is also “friend day” in argentina and in other countries, because on 20/07/1969 everbody in the world were “friends” when “we” set foot on the moon

  12. Charles Boyer

    @Thomas Barton: please name just one other operational spacecraft that could have completed the Hubble repairs.

  13. The Mutt

    Man, there’s nothing I love more than pictures of spacecraft in space. The pictures of Gemini 6 and 7 that appeared in glorious two-page spreads in Life magazine made me a space junkie for life.

  14. gopher65

    Charles Boyer:

    Hubble wasn’t intended to be serviced in space. I’d wager quite a bit that large space projects (including future space telescopes) that will be designed in the coming decade will be designed with some minor emphasis on robotic repair and refuelling (and deorbiting). As time goes on and robots become more useful, the need for *any* human repair missions will decrease to nearly nothing.

    Then we (meaning humans) will have nothing left to do in space but lick funky rocks and figure out if the Shrimp of Europa are edible (I *really* hope that they are;)).

  15. Tom Boucher

    I took my nephews to a famous Seattle hardware store today–Hardwick’s–and as we wondered about who’d use the incomprehensibly specialized files and outsized channel-lock pliers, I told them of serendipitously watching there on TV the very first shuttle landing in the eighties. After the successful landing the clerk intoned: “I KNEW it would work.” I still keep that confidence and attitude in my heart.

  16. Actually, gopher, the Hubble was *deliberately* designed to be serviced in space, specifically by the Shuttle. It was supposed to be the first of a new generation of complex spacecraft that could be repaired if something broke or wore out because spaceflight was going to be (relatively) cheap.

    Hubble has the grapples for the Canadarm, access panels with removable fasteners and critical equipment that was modularized for easy replacement (well, as easy as anything is in space).

    – Jack

  17. In a similar inspection photo from 2008 ( you can see someone’s iPod through one of the starboard windows.

  18. Ray

    @ Jeremy,

    If they find damaged tiles they can fix it. They have duct tape.


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