Astronauts prepare for first space walk of mission

Astronauts from the US space shuttle Endeavour prepared for their first spacewalk of the mission Saturday aimed at completing a Japanese space laboratory at the International Space Station.

In this photo provided by NASA, astronaut Tom Marshburn, STS-127 mission specialist, works on the mid deck of space shuttle Endeavour during flight day two activities, Thursday, July 16, 2009.

During their first full day in space, the Endeavour crew inspected the spacesuits that they will use during the five spacewalks planned during the mission.

The seven-person crew, including six Americans and one Canadian also tested rendezvous equipment, installed a camera for the orbiter docking system and extended the docking ring that sits on top the system.

The Endeavour mission aims to help fulfill "Japan's hope for an out-of-this-world space laboratory," as the shuttle delivers state-of-the-art equipment to conduct experiments in the vacuum of space, according to NASA.

Earlier Friday the shuttle successfully docked at the space station amid questions about the integrity of the shuttle's heat shield.

During the delicate docking maneuver the two space vehicles approached each other at 28,000 kilometers (17,398 miles) per hour, giving Commander Mark Polansky a margin of error of 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) to complete the procedure, NASA said.

The entry of Endeavour's crew aboard the ISS brought the number of astronauts inside the orbiting space station to a record 13.

As the shuttle approached the ISS, Polansky photographed the underside of the Endeavour to discover whether Wednesday's takeoff caused any damage to the shuttle's heat shield.

During the launch, which came after five failed take off attempts since June 13, debris could be seen peeling away from the shuttle external rocket booster and then striking the spacecraft.

Endeavour astronauts used the shuttle's robotic arm for what the space agency called "the standard flight day two inspection" of the reinforced carbon nose cap and the wing's leading edge.

Imagery experts on the ground will continue to scrutinize images transmitted by the astronauts to determine the state of the shuttle's thermal protection system, NASA said.

The US space agency has been cautious about conditions for the shuttle's exit and return since the Columbia craft blew apart some 20,000 meters (65,500 feet) above the Earth in 2003 as it was returning from a 16-day space mission to land in Florida.

A chunk of insulation that broke off from Columbia's external fuel tank during takeoff had gouged the space shuttle's heat shield, allowing superheated gases to melt the shuttle's internal structure before it exploded, killing all seven astronauts onboard.

One of the crew's members, Endeavour Mission Specialist Tim Kopra, will be staying aboard the ISS, taking over from Japanese engineer Koichi Wakata, who has been in space for 124 days.

The ISS should be completed in 2010, also the target date for the retirement of the US fleet of three space shuttles.

Source: AFP

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