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Discovery Docks
By Karen Fanning

A view of Discovery's crew cabin, photographed by one of the crewmembers onboard the International Space Station.
A view of Discovery's crew cabin, photographed by one of the crewmembers onboard the International Space Station.
(Photo: Photo: NASA)
July 7, 2006—It was well past midnight Thursday morning, but no one at the International Space Station (ISS) was in the mood for sleep. Instead, they were busy celebrating the arrival of the space shuttle Discovery as it made its final approach to the outer space laboratory.

"Great to see you out the window," astronaut Jeff Williams radioed to the Discovery crew.

After a July 4 launch, the first leg of Discovery's space odyssey is going according to plan. The shuttle docked with the space station early Thursday morning.

Discovery successfully transported German astronaut Thomas Reiter to the space station. Reiter joins Williams and Pavel Vinogradov of Russia as the station's newest resident. Williams and Vinogradov welcomed Reiter and Discovery's seven-member crew.

During its 12-day mission, Discovery's crew will deliver supplies to the ISS and test shuttle-inspection procedures. Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum plan to perform at least two space walks—one to check a new robotic arm, the other to fix a piece of equipment outside the space shuttle.

Safety Concerns

Safety is a major concern with this mission. After two weather-related delays, Discovery finally blasted into space at 2:38 p.m. on July 4. The Independence Day launch was just NASA's second shuttle flight since the Columbia tragedy in 2003. That mission ended in disaster when the shuttle exploded upon its return to Earth, killing all seven astronauts. During the investigations into what caused the Columbia accident, officials cited foam loss.

There was concern Tuesday afternoon when pieces of foam fell off Discovery's external fuel tank during liftoff. An inspection conducted by Discovery's crew on Wednesday, however, showed no signs of serious damage from the launch.

During the approach to ISS, Discovery Commander Steve Lindsey turned the spaceship over so that Williams and Vinogradov could photograph its belly. The digital images were then sent back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where officials will examine them closely to be sure everything looks safe.

Deputy Program Manager John Shannon said he welcomed the extra steps NASA is taking to ensure the safe return of its astronauts.

"I think it's a very good thing that we have this sensitivity and that we're looking this closely at the vehicle," he said.