After the successful launch of a manned Delta IV heavy rocket into space and its orbit of the International Space Station, NASA scientists were faced with a potential catastrophe yesterday as flight engineer Natalie Schlimberg attempted to dock the ten-ton craft onto the space station.
Male colleagues on board the ship – three Russians, two Americans and a Japanese astronaut – kept a respectful silence and their eyes averted downwards as their female colleague brought the space craft to a halt beside the space station, turned to look back over her left shoulder and began to steer the ship towards the deceptively tight docking bay.
The first attempt looked good until Schlimberg over-steered fractionally and left herself too close to the nearside entry wall. Then, after pulling out again and approaching at a slightly different angle, she overcompensated and left herself not enough room to straighten up.
‘Take your time,’ offered one of the Americans, trying be supportive. ‘There’s absolutely no rush at all.’
After several more aborted reversing attempts, during which the Japanese astronaut was scolded for ‘breathing too loud’ and staff on the observation deck were told to ‘stop moving the space station’, flight engineer Schlimberg switched the controls from manual to automatic pilot and left the spacecraft to successfully dock itself.
‘When you’ve negotiated the perils of take-off, leaving the earth’s atmosphere and navigating through an asteroid belt, it’s often easy to assume parking at the space station would be the easy part,’ said NASA Commander Kevin Kaplinski. ‘But it’s always harder when people are watching.’
NASA said that Schlimberg also demonstrated poorer map reading skills than they would have liked, but that on the plus side she was much more prepared than her male counterparts to stop the space craft and ask for directions.
Now on board the space station, Schlimberg is occupied with important experiments including ironing in zero gravity and attempting to remain silent for periods of five minutes or more. The female flight engineer was said to be fed up with her male colleagues’ half-finished attempts at DIY throughout the space station, but was inwardly very proud when she began the journey home by pulling out of the docking bay with a textbook nine-point turn.