Shuttle Discovery Arrives at Space Station
This view from a camera aboard the shuttle Discovery shows the International Space Station just before the two spacecraft docked on Aug. 30, 2009 high above the Atlantic Ocean.
CREDIT: NASA TV.
This story was updated at 12:33 a.m. EDT.
After a two-day orbital chase, space shuttle Discovery linked up with the International Space Station late Sunday to deliver a new crewmember and a cargo pod full of vital supplies.
Discovery commander Rick Sturckow docked the 100-ton shuttle with the space station as both spacecraft flew more than 200 miles (341 km) above the Atlantic Ocean.
?It?s great to hear your voices,? station astronaut Michael Barratt radioed Discovery?s crew as the two spacecraft drew close. ?We can?t wait to see you.?
Sturckow flew Discovery without the aid of six small thrusters, which are usually extensively used during docking, because one had a leak. Instead, he used Discovery?s larger, more powerful thrusters, which use more propellant and can make for a louder ride and more challenging docking.
?He just flew it like a champ today,? shuttle flight director Tony Ceccacci told reporters after docking.
A rendezvous first
Sturckow has trained to use the larger thrusters during docking, but NASA never had to try it until today, Cain said. The smaller thrusters will not be used for the duration of Discovery?s 13-day mission, he added. Sturckow also had to compensate for a slight misalignment of the space station, which was 1 degree out of position during tonight?s docking, NASA officials said.
Before docking at the space station, Sturckow flew Discovery through an orbital back flip so station astronauts could photograph the shuttle?s tile-covered belly in a routine heat shield check. Analysts on Earth will review the images once they are sent to Mission Control.
Discovery docked at the station about 10 minutes early at 8:54 p.m. EDT (0054 Aug. 31 GMT). Hatches between Discovery and the space station opened just over 90 minutes later with the seven shuttle astronauts boosting the station?s six-person crew up to 13 people - a record-tying high - for only the second time.
Stocking up station
Discovery launched toward the space station late Friday carrying a cargo pod packed with about 15,200 pounds (6,894 kg) of new science gear and a treadmill named after television comedian Stephen Colbert.
Colbert rallied fans of his Comedy Central show ?The Colbert Report? to help him win naming rights for a new space station room during an online NASA poll earlier this year. But NASA named the module Tranquility instead. As a consolation prize, NASA named the new treadmill the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, or COLBERT.
Discovery is also ferrying NASA astronaut Nicole Stott to the space station to begin a three-month mission aboard the orbiting laboratory. She will replace fellow spaceflyer Tim Kopra, who has lived on the station for more than a month and will return home on Discovery.
Earlier Sunday, Stott sent her 7-year-old son Roman ?ginormous thanks? and ?big space hugs? after he sent her a long-distance dedication as a wake up call. ?I just want to let him know that I love him more than anything,? Stott said.
Discovery and its crew will spend just over a week linked to the space station to move the nearly 8 tons of cargo to the orbiting laboratory. Three spacewalks are planned during the mission to replace an ammonia coolant tank as massive as a small car and perform other upgrades and maintenance.
Deputy shuttle program manager LeRoy Cain told reporters Sunday that an early review of data from an inspection of Discovery?s heat shield by astronauts has found the shuttle in good health. A final analysis of the inspection data and imagery collected during Sunday?s docking should be completed in the next few days, he added.
Discovery docked at the space station on the 25th anniversary of its maiden launch on Aug. 30, 1984. That mission, STS-41-D, deployed three satellites and tested solar array technology for a future space station.
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SPACE.com is providing complete coverage of Discovery's STS-128 mission to the International Space Station with Managing Editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.
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