The Progress M-60 cargo vehicle was launched at 23: 25, May 11, 2007. After following a standard 2-day rendezvous, automated docking occurred at Zvezda’s wake at 01: 10, May 15. During the final approach the KURS antennae on the Progress were retracted earlier than on previous Progress flights, allowing the crew on ISS to confirm visually that it had indeed retracted. Following pressure checks, the hatches between the two vehicles were opened later that night, and the unpacking of the 2,561 kg of supplies took place over the next few weeks. On May 27, Williams was informed that she would now return to Earth on STS-117, then targeted for launch on June 8, 2007, rather than STS-118, planned for August 8, 2007, as originally planned. Clayton Anderson, her relief, had been moved forward one Shuttle flight after NASA managers had assured themselves that it would not impact any future operational goals. On receiving the news she replied, “All right, thanks very much. I might see you guys sooner than we all thought. That is pretty good.’’
Anderson later explained:
“I had an inkling that it was coming, but at first it was being evaluated… to make sure that there were no big showstoppers… [T]he answer came back essentially, “no.’’ … I tell Suni that I’m her knight in shining armour, I’m going to come up there and I’m going to rescue her from her potential nine-month duration on orbit and I also tell people that it’s a clever plot by Michael Lopez-Alegria to keep Suni from breaking his new long-duration endurance record… It’s a very hectic time for me. We had been scheduled to launch on STS-118 at the end of June, and then, when the hailstorm damage happened to 117’s External Tank, STS-118 had moved to August. So… we breathed a little sigh of relief and I thought, hey, a little extra time to maybe get all this together and relax a little bit. At that point they decided to move me to 117, which now launches earlier than my original date on 118, so, from the perspective of my family getting ready, my guests being ready to go to Florida to watch a launch, all that’s a little hectic but it’s going to work out.”
While commencing preparations for the end of her 6 months in space, Williams made repairs to some exercise equipment and rode the station’s stationary bicycle while doctors in Huntsville measured her oxygen intake. She also updated the software in the station’s laptop computers. Meanwhile, Yurchikhin and Kotov began preparations for their first EVA, planned for May 30. They checked out Pirs, their Orlan pressure suits, and gathered together and tested the tools that they would use. They also closed the hatch to Progress M-59, docked to Pirs’ nadir. On May 23, controllers in Korolev fired Progress M-60’s thrusters to place the station in the correct orbit to receive STS-117.
After dealing with an unexpected communications problem, Yurchikhin and Kotov left Pirs, 45 minutes late, at 15: 05, May 30, 2007. Having gathered their tools, they moved to the Strela-2 crane on the exterior of Pirs. There, they attached an extension to the Strela boom, to increase its length from 14m to 18.75m. Kotov then positioned himself on the end of the extension while Yurchikhin turned the handle to extend the crane until his partner was suspended above PMA-3 on Unity. Using Kotov’s verbal instructions, Yurchikhin manoeuvred the crane until its end-effector locked on to a grapple fixture on an adapter stowage rack attached to PMA-3. The rack carried 17 micro-meteoroid debris panels in three bundles, and was referred to by the cosmonauts as the “Christmas Tree’’. Yurchikhin then manoeuvred the Strela crane, holding Kotov and the “Christmas Tree’’ to Zvezda’s ram, before making his own way to the same location and helping secure the Strela to a grapple fixture. Their first task was nothing to do with the debris panels. It required them to make their way to Zvezda’s large conical section where they re-routed a cable for the Global Positioning System which would be used in association with ESA’s ATV. With that task complete they returned to the “Christmas Tree’’, where they removed and opened a bundle of five debris panels each measuring 66 cm x 1m and installed the panels between Zvezda’s large and small diameter sections before returning to Pirs and sealing the hatch at 20: 30. The EVA had lasted 5 hours 25 minutes.
The cosmonauts followed the EVA with an easy day, drying their Orlan suits and recharging their batteries. Williams began packing for the end of her flight. May 4 and 5 were spent preparing for the next EVA.
Yurchikhin and Kotov began their second EVA from Pirs at 10: 23, June 6. Initially, they installed sample containers on the exterior of Pirs, for a Russian experiment called Biorisk, which was designed to look at the effect of the space environment on micro-organisms. Next, they deployed a length of Ethernet cable on the exterior of Zarya to complete a remote computer network that would allow the
Figure 87. Expedition-15: Oleg Kotov works with the Period Fitness Evaluation experiment keyboard.
Russian modules to be commanded from the US sector if required. As they worked to clamp the cable securely in place they noticed a 6 mm diameter hole in Zarya’s insulation. They reported, “This is a dent from a meteorite; it looks like a bullet hole.’’ The remainder of the EVA was taken up with deploying the remaining 12 micro-meteoroid debris panels on the centre section of Zarya. During this work Korolev requested that Yurchikhin return inside Pirs to confirm that the pressurised oxygen bottles were closed correctly: they were. While Yurchikhin returned outside to assist Kotov, Korolev identified that the unexpected reading they were receiving from Pirs was caused by a small amount of oxygen escaping from a fluid umbilical that had improperly sealed when it was disconnected from one of the cosmonauts’ Orlan suits. Controllers closed off the flow of oxygen to the hose in order to preserve oxygen. They commanded the flow back on once more, after the two men returned to Pirs; after 5 hours 37 minutes the hatch was closed to end the EVA at 16: 00.