"Coffee," astronaut Donald Pettit announced as he floated into the space station from the docked shuttle Endeavour on Monday. He carried straws and bags of drinks for the three inhabitants who were about to move out.
The one American and two Russians who had been on board since the spring were thrilled to see Endeavour, their ride home. Besides a fresh space station crew, the shuttle delivered another girder that will be installed during three spacewalks, set to begin Tuesday.
"You guys look pretty good out there," space station astronaut Peggy Whitson radioed as Endeavour made its final approach. The shuttle closed the gap more slowly than usual and docked a half-hour late, prompting Whitson to joke: "It looks like you guys fly that like you stole it."
The two spacecraft came together 250 miles above the South Pacific, ending a round-and-round-the-world chase that began with Endeavour's weekend launch. It marked the close of a six-month stint aboard the space station for Whitson and cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev.
When the three checked into the space station on June 7, they were supposed to leave in October after 4½ months. But shuttle problems extended their stay.
Astronaut Kenneth Bowersox, a 46-year-old Navy captain, replaced Korzun as the space station commander. He will remain on board until March, along with Pettit and cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin. Mission Control immediately welcomed them to their new home.
The crews embraced one another as soon as the hatches between the two spacecraft swung open. Whitson teased Pettit about his new buzz cut.
"Hey, you got a haircut, dude," she said, laughing. "I'm glad you're here."
Pettit, 47, a newcomer to space and the station's designated science officer, was not supposed to be on this mission. He was originally an understudy, but was upgraded in July after NASA pulled astronaut Donald Thomas off the flight. Doctors were worried about Thomas' exposure to cosmic radiation during a long space voyage.
Endeavour will remain at the space station for a full week so the astronauts can install the latest link in its backbone, the $390 million girder that flew up on the shuttle.
A nearly identical girder was attached by another shuttle crew last month. By the time the aluminum framework is completed in another year, it will stretch longer than a football field and support a network of solar wings and radiators.
By Marcia Dunn