Shuttle Astronauts Arrive at Space Station
A camera outside the International Space Station reveals the shuttle Discovery just after its March 17, 2009 docking during the STS-119 mission.
Credit: NASA TV.

This story was updated at 8:44 p.m. EDT.

The space shuttle Discovery arrived at the International Space Station Tuesday after a two-day chase, linking up with orbital lab to deliver the last piece of the outpost?s U.S.-built power grid.

With shuttle commander Lee Archambault at the helm, Discovery docked at the space station at 5:19 p.m. EDT (2119 GMT) as the two spacecraft flew above western Australia.

?Welcome to your entire crew, we?re dang glad to see you,? station skipper Michael Fincke told the arriving astronauts.

Fincke and his two crewmates traded wide smiles and warm hugs with Discovery?s seven astronauts, paying special attention to Japanese spaceflyer Koichi Wakata, Japan?s first long-term resident of the space station.

?Koichi-san, the first long-duration Japanese guy in space ever, welcome!? Fincke exclaimed.

Some assembly required

Discovery launched toward the station late Sunday to deliver a $298 million pair of new solar wings.

The solar arrays and their 16-ton support girder are the last major American addition to the International Space Station and will complete the outpost?s 11-piece main truss, which serves as the outpost?s backbone. They are the station?s fourth set of the U.S. solar arrays, with wings that are each 115 feet (35 meters) long when unfurled.

When complete, the space station?s four solar arrays will generate enough electricity to power 42 average homes. Discovery?s crew will perform three spacewalks to install and deploy the new solar wings.

Later today, Wakata will move a customized seat liner out of Discovery and into a Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked at the station. The move - which prepares a seat for Wakata on the Soyuz should he need it - formally marks his replacement of NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus as a station flight engineer. During his three-months aboard, Wakata will watch over the station?s Japanese Kibo laboratory built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

?This is a great accomplishment for Japan,? said Kuniaki Shiraki, an executive director with JAXA, late Tuesday. ?We hope that he enjoys his stay.?

Magnus will return to Earth aboard Discovery to complete a four-month mission, with Wakata due to land aboard a different shuttle in about three months in orbit..

Discovery is also delivering a load of supplies to the space station, including a vital spare part for the outpost?s urine recycling system and equipment to help eliminate bacteria in a new water dispenser. The repairs are expected to fix the station?s water recycling system and help the outpost support larger, six-person crews later this year.

Orbital flip

Before the shuttle docked, Archambault flew the spacecraft through an orbital flip 600 feet (183 meters) below the space station so astronauts inside the outpost could photograph the thousands of heat-resistant tiles covering the shuttle?s belly.

Analysts on Earth will study the images from today?s survey to look for any signs of damage, though Fincke said an early look found Discovery in good health.

?The orbiter looked clean, very nice,? Fincke radioed down to Mission Control.

The survey is follows a Monday inspection of Discovery?s wing edges and nose cap by the shuttle astronauts. It is one in a series of checks that have become standard after the 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia and its astronaut crew due to heat shield damage. A third survey of Discovery?s heat shield will be performed next week after the shuttle leaves the space station.

Aside from a slight delay due to a communications glitch and the need to tweak Discovery?s approach to keep it aligned, Tuesday?s docking went smoothly.

NASA trimmed a day and a spacewalk from Discovery?s initial 14-day and four-spacewalk flight due to delays launching the spacecraft last week.

Mission managers want to complete the shuttle?s construction flight before the arrival of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying two new station crewmembers and American space tourist Charles Simonyi, who is paying more than $30 million for his second trip into orbit. The Soyuz is scheduled to launch on March 26 and arrive at the space station on March 28, the same day Discovery is due to land.

SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-119 with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.

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