Russian module joins space station via 'hole in one'

Shuttle Atlantis astronauts attach a nine-ton Rassvet compartment to the International Space Station, which is now 98 percent complete by habitable volume.

William Harwood
Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He has covered more than 125 shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune, and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia." You can follow his frequent status updates at the CBS News Space page.
William Harwood
3 min read

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Houston--Using robotic precision in place of brute force, astronaut Garrett Reisman attached a nine-ton Russian module loaded with U.S. supplies and equipment to the International Space Station early Tuesday after an orbital "hole in one."

Appropriately, robot arm operator Reisman waited until orbital sunrise to dock the "Rassvet"--Dawn--compartment to the Earth-facing port of the Russian Zarya module as the shuttle Atlantis and the space station sailed 220 miles above Argentina.

The Russian Rassvet module, top, is poised for capture by the docking system of the space station's Zarya module. NASA TV

"Capture," astronaut Piers Sellers called at 7:20 a.m. CDT. "Contact. And Houston, ISS robo. It looked like a pretty good docking. We never got 'contact 1,' straight down the middle and got capture and contact."

"Houston copies," astronaut Steve Swanson replied from mission control.

"And Houston, ISS robo. Just to follow up on [readings from the Russian] laptop," Sellers called. "We said before 'contact 1' never came on and it's still not showing. And also we got a fault, a yellow block, 'no auto docking signal' statement under the ADS faults."

"And station, that error's expected," Swanson replied. "Everything looks good at this time to us...The reason you didn't get 'contact 1' is because Garrett did too good of a job flying. He went right down the middle and got a hole in one."

"He knows that and he's loving it," Sellers replied.

With the attachment of Rassvet, also known as the mini-research module MRM-1, the International Space Station now masses 816,349 pounds and is 93 percent complete by mass and 98 percent complete by habitable volume, with more than 29,500 cubic feet of pressurized volume.

Reisman thanked station flight director Emily Nelson and the rest of the U.S.-Russian team, saying "great job getting us to this point and we're very happy that we now have MRM-1 docked to the station."

Reisman and Sellers, speaking Russian, both then thanked the Russian mission control team.

"Houston, Moscow, thank you for delivering a new module," station commander Oleg Kotov radioed, speaking English. "We really enjoy work with excellent crew and they did excellent job. Thank you very much."

Shuttle commander Ken Ham and pilot Dominic Antonelli, operating Atlantis' robot arm, pulled the mini-research module from the shuttle Atlantis' payload bay around 4:50 a.m.

Reisman then locked on and took over, maneuvering the squat module into position for attachment to the Zarya module.

The Rassvet module in position for docking. The multiwindow cupola, visible at left, gave robot arm operator Garrett Reisman a bird's-eye view of the docking. NASA TV

Russian modules normally dock autonomously, using more force than NASA typically employs. Using momentum to overcome alignment errors, a probe on the front end of a Russian module can hit anywhere in the receiving cone and still end up in the correct central position for capture.

The station's robot arm could not deliver the normal docking force, but more than made up for that shortcoming by precision alignment ahead of the final capture sequence. The approach was so precisely aligned that the Russian laptop Sellers was using to monitor the docking sequence did not even register several intermediate steps.

With Rassvet in place, the Atlantis astronauts planned to spend the rest of the day gearing up for a spacewalk Wednesday to begin replacing six aging batteries in the station's oldest set of solar arrays.

Reisman also planned to use the station arm to pull the shuttle's heat shield inspection boom from the orbiter's payload bay, handing it off to Atlantis' arm.

Interference with a cable in the pan-and-tilt mechanism of the primary sensor package on the end of the boom forced the astronauts to use a backup procedure to inspect the shuttle's nose cap and wing leading-edge panels the day after launch. Additional inspections may be necessary later.

But engineers have developed a repair plan to move the offending cable and tie it out of the way. Repair plans were uplinked to the crew overnight for possible use during the crew's second spacewalk Wednesday.