Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shuttle Discovery docks with Space Station

Shuttle Discovery at 600 feet from space station today. (NASA)

The International Space Station welcomed six astronauts and a new storage module today as shuttle Discovery docked to the outpost this afternoon.

Like a white dove soaring to her nest upon the black vastness of space, Discovery cruised up to and slowly backed in to dock one last time with a space station.

On this her final space flight, Discovery had docked with two different space stations beginning with Russia's MIR in 1998.

Discovery's commander Steve Lindsey steered the shuttle to the station's forward section and docked to the end of the Harmony node on time at 2:14 p.m. EST, after completing a 46 hour chase of the outpost.

Docking occurred during an orbital sunrise as the two spacecraft flew 225 miles above southern Australia.

One hour earlier, Discovery performed a rendezvous pitch maneuver in which the nose of the shuttle is pitched up and performs a 360-degree back flip so that the belly of the shuttle can be photographed from the space station.

As Discovery soared 219 miles high over the cloudy Amazonian jungles of central South America, station astronauts Cady Coleman and Paolo Angelo Nespoli in the Zvezda module began snapping several hundred detailed images of Discovery's heat shield during an 89 second period.

A post-Columbia standard, the space shuttle pitch maneuver has happened on each shuttle flight to station beginning in 2005.

In two hours, the station's crew of six will greet the shuttle's six astronauts as they begin nearly eight days of resupply work, spacewalks and the transfer of a new cargo module to the station.

The new arrivals will receive a station safety briefing and tour during the next hour.

The now 1.2 million pound space station-shuttle complex could see a Russian Soyuz TMA craft separate and perform a fly around maneuver later during Discovery's visit.

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