Thisstory was updated at 4:10 p.m. EST.
HOUSTON — Seven astronauts on boardspace shuttle Atlantis arrived at International Space Station (ISS) Saturday,delivering a massive European science lab and a fresh crew member to thegrowing orbital outpost.
STS-122shuttle commander Stephen Frick piloted the 100-ton orbiter into position at12:17 p.m. EST (1717 GMT) on the end of the space station's U.S. Harmony node,where the European Space Agency's (ESA) Columbuslaboratory module will be installed.
"We have a greatview of ISS out the front window," Frick told Mission Control here atJohnson Space Center (JSC) as Atlantis closed in on the orbital outpost."It looks tremendously bright and beautiful."
"Atlantisarriving!" said Expedition16 flight engineer Dan Tani as he rung the ceremonial docking bell on boardthe space station. Hatches merged the two cheering crews around 1:40 p.m. EST(1840 GMT).
Since docking, missioncontrollers told astronauts on board the ISS thatthey will be delaying tomorrow's spacewalk by 24 hours.
Chris Cassidy, spacecraftcommunicator, also told the seven astronauts of the shuttle STS-122 crew andthe three Expedition 16 space station crew members that and ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel will be replaced by mission specialist StanleyLove.
"We'll have [tomorrow'splans] to you as soon as we have them," Cassidy said.
Before Frick parkedAtlantis on orbit, however, the active Navy captain piloted the spacecraft intoa 360-degree back-flip below the space station around 11:25 p.m. EST (1625GMT).
Expedition 16 spacestation flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko and commanderPeggy Whitson took hundreds of images of the shuttle's underbelly duringthe maneuver, which NASA specialists at JSC plan to pore over for any signs ofdamage.
Mission managers John Shannon and MikeSarafin said Friday that there's no reason to believe launch inflicted anyAtlantis has suffered any damage during its heat shield, which protects thespacecraft from the searing heat of a return to Earth. They cautioned, however,that the images gathered from today's back-flip maneuver will be necessary toclear the heat shield of damage.
Shuttle crew photos, infact, revealed what mission controllers referred to as a tear in a thermalblanket of the shuttle's right OrbitalManeuvering System (OMS) pod, located at the spacecraft's rear. NASA gavespecial instructions to Whitson and Melenchenko to take extra photos of thesmall, upturned flap there as well as an area on the shuttle's nose cone.
Big birthday present
Atlantisferried the 13.5-ton Columbus laboratory module to the space station today,which coincides with Whitson's 48th birthday.
"Mypresent is a new module," Whitson said of the Columbus lab Friday. Thedelivery kicks off a busy eight-to-nine days of on-orbit construction as theshuttle-space-station complex travels more than 17,500 mph (28,200 kph) abovethe Earth.
STS-122mission specialists Rex Walheim and Hans Schlegel, an ESA astronaut, willconduct thefirst spacewalk on Sunday to prepare Columbus for attachment onto theHarmony module. Once readied, lead robotic arm operator Leland Melvin will useAtlantis' robotic arm to guide Columbus into place.
The thirdand final spacewalk of the mission, slated to occur on Thursday, will outfitthe bus-sized laboratory with two external experiments.
The spaceshuttle also delivered a fresh replacement for Tani, who has lived on orbitsince Oct. 12, 2007. The second ESA astronaut of the shuttle's crew —Leopold Eyharts — now takes his place.
NASA isbroadcasting Atlantis' STS-122 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's shuttle mission coverage and NASA TV feed.
- SPACE.com Video Interplayer: NASA's STS-122: Columbus Sets Sail for ISS
- Test Your Smarts: Space Shuttle Countdown Quiz
- Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage
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Dave Mosher is currently a public relations executive at AST SpaceMobile, which aims to bring mobile broadband internet access to the half of humanity that currently lacks it. Before joining AST SpaceMobile, he was a senior correspondent at Insider and the online director at Popular Science. He has written for several news outlets in addition to Live Science and Space.com, including: Wired.com, National Geographic News, Scientific American, Simons Foundation and Discover Magazine.