Editor?s Note: This story was updated at 6:15 p.m. EDT.
HOUSTON ? After a two-day chase, NASA?s shuttle Discoveryand its seven-astronaut crew caught up with the International Space Station(ISS) Monday to deliver a massive new room for the orbiting laboratory.
Discovery?sSTS-124 commander, veteran astronaut Mark Kelly, steered the shuttle tomeet up with the orbiting lab at 2:03 p.m. EDT (1803 GMT).
?We?re really looking forward to seeing you guys,? Kellysaid to the crew waiting on the space station after the ISS came into view.
?You have no idea how much we?re looking forward to seeingyou, too,? replied U.S. astronaut Garrett Reisman from aboard the station,where he played the country western song ?Convoy? by C. W. McCall for theapproaching shuttle crew.
?Keep on truckin? Discovery,? Reisman called out to theSTS-124 astronauts.
About an hour and a half after docking, the crews opened thehatches between the two vehicles, sharing hugs and warm greetings all around.These orbital doors opened at 3:36 p.m. EDT (1836 GMT). Shortly after, stationcommander Sergei Volkov gave a safety briefing to familiarize the new arrivalswith their home away from home
The space shuttle launchedSaturday with the giant Japanese Kibo laboratory and the newest member ofthe station?s three-man crew; U.S. astronaut Greg Chamitoff. About the size ofa large tour bus, Japan?s $1 billion Kibo science module is about 37 feet (11meters) long, about 14.4 feet (4.4 meters) wide, and will be installed Tuesdayduring the first of three spacewalks planned for Discovery?s 14-day mission.
The shuttle is also delivering some much needed plumbingsupplies to the space station. The lone toilet on the ISS, a Russian-madecommode on the Zvezda service module, has been acting up recently, forcing theastronauts to perform a laborious and inconvenient manual pump to flush. AboardDiscovery is a new pump that will hopefully solve the potty problems.
Kelly smoothly backed up Discovery to attach to a berth atthe front of the space station?s U.S. Harmony node. Astronauts aboard thestation and shuttle plan to open the hatches separating their two spacecraft atabout 3:52 p.m. EDT (1952 GMT) after a series of leak checks.
After Discovery arrived, STS-124 lead flight director MattAbbott said it was ?just a beautiful rendezvous and docking day. The team andthe flight crew did a fantastic job. It was just flawless.?
A delivery of ?hope?
Waiting aboard the station for Discovery?s crew are Reisman,Volkov and and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.
Reisman and Chamitoff plan to officially trade places todayat 4:57 p.m. EDT (2057 GMT), when they are due to exchange custom-made seatliners on the Soyuz spacecraft docked at the station. Though Chamitoff isslated to ride home on a space shuttle in the fall, his seat liner must be inplace on the Soyuz vehicle in case the space station crew needs to escape on itin an emergency.
?I think when you visit a place for a weekend or a week, oreven two, you?re a visitor,? Chamitoff said in a preflight interview. ?If youstay somewhere for a month or longer you feel like you?ve lived there. I lookforward to feeling like I?ve done that in my life where space and the spacestation were my home. I?m looking forward to [having] the honor to be able tocontribute to the future in a way that is really meaningful to me.?
In addition to dropping off Chamitoff, Discovery deliveredthe main segment of Japan?s laboratory, which will be thelargest room on the station when it is installed. This project has been inthe works for Japan for more than 20 years; its designers eagerly await the dayit can be used for its intended purpose.
?Just having launched and put it in the station is not enough,?Keiji Tachikawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, saidthrough a translator on Saturday after Discovery?s launch. ?The real purpose ofthis project is to utilize that facility to have experiments. We think we canstart our experiments as early as August of this year.?
Shortly before docking Kelly flew Discovery through a backflip so the astronauts on the ISS could snap detailed photos of the vehicle?sbelly that will be analyzed on the ground for signs of damage to its sensitiveheat shielding. The astronauts took 302 photos, which are just beginning to belooked through.
So far, mission managers have detected some minor damage onthe shielding covering the right OMS (Orbital Maneuvering Systems) thruster.
?This is not going to be any issue for us whatsoever,? saidmission management chair LeRoy Cain in a briefing Monday afternoon. ?This isjust a little frayed area.?
The shuttle astronauts also conducted a limited inspectionof the heat-resistant panels along Discovery?s wing edges on Sunday using acamera at the end of their spacecraft?s robotic arm. They are expected toretrieve a laser-tipped inspection boom from the station on Monday and performa comprehensive survey later in the mission to ensure Discovery?s heat shieldis in good shape for landing on June 14.
After Discovery?screw settles in to the orbital outpost today, they will spend the rest ofthe afternoon preparing for the mission?s first spacewalk tomorrow. Theastronauts will carry the spacesuits and tools for the excursion to thestation?s Quest airlock, with spacewalkers Mike Fossum and Ron Garan set tocamp out inside the module under lower-pressure overnight to help prepare theirbodies for work outside of the station.
NASA is broadcasting the planned launch of Discovery'sSTS-124 mission live on NASA TV on Saturday. Click here for SPACE.com'sshuttle mission updates and NASA TV feed.
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