By MARCIA DUNN
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.— Space shuttle Endeavour steadily closed in on the international space station today, with NASA controlling two manned ships for the first time in almost 30 years.
Endeavour is delivering huge electricity-producing solar wings to space station Alpha that will be installed by the shuttle crew, beginning Sunday.
First, though, the shuttle must dock. The 230-mile-high linkup is set for Saturday afternoon.
As soon as Endeavour lifted off late Thursday, NASA was in control of two manned, flying spacecraft for the first time since the Apollo moon landings of the early 1970s.
Space station commander Bill Shepherd and his two Russian crewmates learned of Endeavour’s flawless launch after they woke up.
"Clean up the house and put the welcome mat out," radioed Mission Control.
"We’ll have everything ready in Bristol fashion," said Shepherd, a Navy captain. He added: "That’s kind of a nautical term."
Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev are one month into a four-month stay about the space station. The five shuttle astronauts will be their first visitors.
Endeavour is carrying the world’s largest, most powerful set of spacecraft solar wings. Attaching the $600 million wings to the space station represents NASA’s most daunting construction job to date.
Once unfurled, the wings will stretch 240 feet from tip to tip, and 38 feet across, constituting the largest structure ever deployed in space.
Alpha is in urgent need of the extra power that these sunlight catchers will provide.
One of Alpha’s three rooms is closed off because there isn’t enough power to heat it. In addition, a U.S. lab module cannot be launched to the space station in January as planned unless the solar panels are installed.
The shuttle astronauts will conduct three spacewalks to hook up the solar wings and attach other equipment to the space station. The spacecraft will be docked together for one week.
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