Shuttle Docks Smoothly With Space Station

Moving ever so slowly -- albeit at 17,200 miles an hour relative to Earth's surface -- the astronauts of Space Shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station, 200 miles out in space.

Having made the first night launch since the Columbia accident in 2003, the astronauts also had no problem approaching the giant station as they passed over the night side of Earth.

"Houston, Discovery," radioed the shuttle crew. "No trim required. We're initiating final approach."

A Tenth of a Foot Per Second

The shuttle's commander, astronaut Mark Polansky, slowed his approach to less than a 10th of a foot per second as Discovery closed in on the station's docking port. The two ships were flying southwestward over Southeast Asia, only about 15 feet apart as they approached sunlight.

"Inside 10 feet," said Mission Control. The two ships inched closer, and finally touched.

"Houston and Alpha from Discovery, capture confirmed," said astronaut Robert Curbeam, backstopping Polansky as the shuttle's flight engineer.

"Welcome aboard," answered Michael Lopez-Alegria, commander of the three-man crew currently living on the space station.

The crew's first job is to transfer astronaut Sunita Williams to the station, where she will join Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin as part of the 14th resident crew.

The European Space Agency's Thomas Reiter, who has been in orbit for six months, will return with the Discovery crew.

New Home

"I can't wait to see my new home," Williams told astronaut Shannon Lucid at Mission Control when the crew awoke several hours earlier.

"Good morning to you, Suni! You need to rise and shine, because today is the day that you say, 'Goodbye, shuttle and hello station,"' Lucid said.

The shuttle blasted off Saturday on NASA's first nighttime launch since the 2003 Columbia accident.

Managers had suspended night launches to ensure its cameras would have good visibility to detect any debris-shedding problems with the shuttle's fuel tank, which triggered Columbia's demise.

After an initial assessment of images taken by ground and shuttle-based cameras and of radar that tracked the ship's climb to orbit, NASA was confident the shuttle reached orbit without any Columbia-style damage.

Columbia had been hit during launch by a chunk of insulating foam that smashed a hole in its wing. The shuttle broke apart as it flew through the atmosphere for landing 16 days later, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Members of the shuttle crew spent their first day in orbit on Sunday, scanning Discovery's wings and nosecap for damage using a 100-foot (30-meter) boom outfitted with lasers and high-resolution cameras.

Before docking at the station, Polansky put the shuttle through a slow back flip, allowing the station crew to photograph the delicate heat tiles on the ship's underside.

During the shuttle's planned weeklong stay at the station, the crew plans to conduct three spacewalks to install a new truss segment and rewire the station's power grid.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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