On last mission, Discovery docks with ISS

Discovery has docked with the ISS on its final visit before hanging up its wings at a museum.

Last Updated: Feb 27, 2011, 16:08 PM IST

Houston: NASA`s space shuttle Discovery
has docked with the International Space Station on its final
visit before hanging up its wings for good at a museum.

The space shuttle along with six astronauts docked
with the space station as both spacecraft flew 354 kms above
western Australia.

The crew`s arrival marked the end of a two-day orbital
chase that began with the shuttle`s last launch on Thursday.

"What took you guys so long?" the space station`s
commander Scott Kelly joked with Discovery`s crew as the
shuttle drew near.

NASA had tried to launch Discovery in November, but
fuel tank cracks held the mission up until repairs were
completed.

"Yeah, I don`t know. We kind of waited until like the
last two seconds," Discovery`s commander Steven Lindsey told
Kelly. "You guys look great, so we`re on our way."

Discovery is flying on an 11-day mission to deliver a
new storage room and a humanoid robot assistant called
Robonaut 2, along with supplies and spare parts, to the space
station.

Two spacewalks are also planned during the mission.

Commander Steve Lindsey floated onboard the space
station at 4:36 pm EST (local time).

Lindsey was followed by mission specialist Nicole
Stott, Steve Bowen, Mike Barratt and pilot Eric Boe and
mission specialist Alvin Drew.

After the welcome ceremony and a safety briefing, the
shuttle and station crews will begin transferring cargo from
Discovery to the space station.

The arrival of Discovery`s crew doubled the number
of people at the space station from six to 12. The joint-crew
includes astronauts from the US, Italy and Russia.

The two space crews will spend the next seven days
working together to move cargo between their two vehicles.

Discovery`s arrival also marked a historic space
first: For the first time since construction began on the
International Space Station in 1998, spacecraft from four of
the five major partners (the space agencies of Russia, Japan,
Europe and the US) are docked at the orbiting laboratory.

The remaining partner, Canada`s space agency, does
not have station-visiting spacecraft, but it did build the
outpost`s robotic arm and Dextre maintenance robot.

Altogether, the docked spacecraft and space station
weigh 1.2 million pounds.

NASA and its partners hope to stage a space photo
session by cosmonauts flying around the station in a Soyuz
spacecraft if time allows during Discovery`s flight.

Before Discovery hooked up with the station, Lindsey
flew the shuttle to a point about 600 feet below the orbiting
laboratory and deftly guided the 100-ton spaceship through a
slow back flip.

As Discovery turned, astronauts inside the orbiting
lab took hundreds of high-resolution photos of the shuttle.

The images will be beamed back to Mission Control on
the ground so that teams can assess how the shuttle`s heat
shield fared during liftoff, ascent and the two days in orbit.

During launch, a camera on Discovery`s fuel tank
spotted four pieces of foam debris, some of which appeared to
strike the orbiter during its ascent, but NASA officials said
the impact should pose no problems for the spacecraft or its
crew.

A review of the photos taken of Discovery`s heat
shield will help them make a final call, NASA officials said.

Discovery is no stranger to the orbital flip
maneuver. In 2005, Discovery became the first space shuttle
ever to perform the maneuver during the STS-114 mission -
NASA`s first flight after the loss of shuttle Columbia and its
crew in 2003 due to heat shield damage.

The space flip and photo session have been a standard
part of shuttle missions ever since.

After the pre-docking flip, Lindsey pulled Discovery
in front of the station and slowly backed the shuttle into its
docking port.

Discovery, which will be retired later this year along
with the rest of the US shuttle fleet, is scheduled to return
to Earth on March 7.

PTI