The five astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis successfully installed a docking tunnel in Atlantis' cargo bay Tuesday, clearing the way for today's planned linkup with the Russian space station Mir.
Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, was the key player Tuesday, deftly lifting the tunnel from Atlantis with the shuttle's robot arm and positioning it just inches above a docking ring in the cargo bay. Atlantis' commander, Kenneth Cameron, then fired the shuttle's jets to move Atlantis, causing the ring to latch onto the tunnel.
Early today, astronauts plan to guide Atlantis to Mir for a risky docking maneuver 245 miles above Earth. A collision could breach the two pressurized spacecraft and kill the eight crew members aboard the two craft.
Like the first docking by Atlantis in June, this one requires perfect timing, perfect speed and perfect alignment. It is considered more difficult, though, because of the 15-foot docking tunnel jutting out of cargo bay.
The docking tunnel will be left behind on Mir when Atlantis pulls away Saturday. It will make the next five Atlantis-Mir dockings easier.
Despite the federal government shutdown and the furlough of thousands of employees, NASA planned live TV coverage of the docking and the rest of the eight-day shuttle mission. But all news interviews with the orbiting astronauts were canceled--not enough public affairs people to watch over the interviews.