Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Discovery safely docked at space station for nine-day stay

Discovery and seven astronauts are safely docked at the International Space Station, completing a two-day journey that began with Monday's 6:21 a.m. launch from Kennedy Space Center.

"Houston and station, capture confirmed," Discovery pilot Jim Dutton radioed at 3:44 a.m. EDT as Discovery's docking ring connected with its port 215 miles above the Caribbean Sea.

"Discovery arriving," said station astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who rang a ship's bell to mark the occasion.

Discovery commander Alan Poindexter and Dutton made the approach and docking appear routine despite lacking radar data that normally helps pilots calculate their position.

A failed Ku-band antenna forced the duo to rely on range and rate information from backup devices including hand-held lasers and star trackers that locked onto the brightly shining station.

Seals between the two spacecraft will be checked for leaks before hatches are opened and the two crews greet each other. They total 13 people -- eight Americans, three Russians and two Japanese.

You can watch a welcome ceremony planned around 5:40 a.m. EDT here. Click on the NASA TV box at right to launch a viewer.

About an hour before docking, Poindexter guided the orbiter through a dramatic back flip, rolling nose over tail about 700 feet below the station as it flew 213 miles above Thailand.

Through windows on the outpost's Russian service module, cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer shot several hundred pictures of Discovery's heat shields using 400 mm and 800 mm cameras.

The images will be transmitted to analysts in Houston for review to help determine if Discovery is in good condition following Monday's launch.

Poindexter then steered Discovery in front of the station, settling at a speed slightly slower than the station's to allow it to catch up.

The orbiter is positioned on the forward docking port of the U.S. Harmony module, the same module to which the cylindrical cargo carrier hauled up by Discovery is scheduled to be attached early Thursday.

Discovery astronauts plan to stay to spend nine days at the station unloading cargo and replacing a coolant tank before returning to KSC on April 18.

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