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Shuttle to help space station dodge space junk

Endeavour, seen with the docked space station on the left, will boost the station away from some space junk.
Endeavour, seen with the docked space station on the left, will boost the station away from some space junk.  

By Amanda Barnett

(CNN) -- The space shuttle Endeavour is to change its departure course from the international space station on Saturday to give the shuttle time to fire its jets to boost the station away from some Russian space junk.

Mission Control in Houston, Texas, said it was notified early Friday that a spent Russian rocket upper stage launched in the 1970s could pass within three miles of the station if Endeavour did not perform the engine firing.

With the boost from the shuttle, the space junk should stay more than 40 miles away when it passes the station on Sunday, according to a press release on NASA's Human Space Flight Web site.

The station and shuttle crews will say their farewells and close the hatches between the two spacecraft at about 8:30 a.m. EST on Saturday. Then at about 9:55 a.m. EST, Endeavour will fire its steering jets for about 30 minutes to raise the station's altitude by almost three-quarters of a mile.

After the station is safely in higher orbit, Endeavour will undock and leave the station at about 10:37 a.m. EST.

Because of the changes in the departure schedule, Endeavour will not perform the usual full-circle flyaround of the station. Instead, Endeavour will fly only a quarter circle of the complex before moving away from Alpha at 12:20 p.m. EST. The flyarounds allow the shuttle crew to examine the station as they pull away.

Endeavour is leaving behind a new space station crew of three along with fresh food, supplies, experiments and equipment.

The new crew, the fourth for Alpha, consists of Russian commander Yury Onufrienko and NASA astronauts Dan Bursch and Carl Walz. They are scheduled to stay on the space station until May 2002.

Endeavour will bring home the third space station crew, U.S. commander Frank Culbertson, and Russian crew members Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin. The U.S. and Russian space agencies rotate command of the space station.

Earlier Friday, Endeavour pilot Mark Kelly used the shuttle's robot arm to lift a huge cargo carrier off the side of the space station and return it to the shuttle's cargo bay.

The Italian-built Raffaello logistics module carried up supplies and experiments. The crews of the station and shuttle unloaded it, then repacked it with used equipment, trash, used packing material and the gear of the returning station crews.

Endeavour currently is scheduled to land Monday at 12: 55 p.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center.


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