The spaceshuttle Endeavour and its seven-astronaut crew plan to arrive at theInternational Space Station Friday for a long-awaited visit more than a monthoverdue.
The shuttleis set to catch up with the station at 1:55 p.m. EDT (1755 GMT), capping atwo-day high speed orbital chase. Endeavour finallylaunched Wednesday after being held on the ground by a gas leak and apersistent string of bad weather.
When the sevennewcomers join the existing International Space Station (ISS) crew of six, the totalpopulation onboard will be a record 13.
Endeavourcommander Mark Polansky, pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists ChrisCassidy, Julie Payette, Tom Marshburn, Tim Kopra and Dave Wolf will make for acrowded station when they join ISS crewmembers Gennady Padalka, RomanRomanenko, Michael Barratt, Robert Thirsk, Frank De Winne and Koichi Wakata. Allfive space station member organizations - NASA, the Russian Federal SpaceAgency, the Canadian Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency,and the European Space Agency - will be represented.
Kopra isset to replace Wakata as an ISS Expedition 20 flight engineer, while Wakatawill ride home aboard Endeavour in his place.
Despite theimminent crowding on the station, thetwo crews are looking forward to seeing each other again.
"I?msure there?s going to be a lot of emotion as you see your friends up there andit?s always an exciting time to do that," Polansky said in a preflightinterview. "And then after about five minutes of, 'Boy, this is reallycool!' back to work."
BeforeEndeavour docks at the space station, Polansky will guide the orbiter through abackflip so astronauts inside the station can photograph the heat shield tileslining its belly. The maneuver is a now-standard part of NASA?s shuttle heatshield inspections to look for signs of damage from launch debris.
DuringEndeavour?s launch, the shuttle?s fuel tank lost an unusualamount of foam from its external tank. Some minor nicks to tiles were alsoseen.
The twocrews have a busyschedule planned for Endeavour's 11 days docked at the station. A primarytask is to install a new outdoor experiment platform on the Japanese Kibolaboratory. The segment - used to expose science projects to the spaceenvironment - will complete the huge Kibo complex. Endeavour's crew also plansto unload a cache of spare supplies on the station to keep the outpost runningafter the shuttle fleet retires, planned for 2010.
For the sixlong-duration station crewmembers awaiting the shuttle, the influx of new facesand supplies will be very welcome.
"We?rehoping to get some fresh mail and some fresh fruit, and it?s a great crewthat?s coming up and we?re really looking forward to working with them,"Barratt said in a NASA interview.
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SPACE.comis providing continuous coverage of STS-127 with reporter Clara Moskowitz andsenior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for missionupdates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.