The shuttle Endeavour has arrived at the International Space Station today, two days after its long-delayed launch.
CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood reports that commander Mark Polansky guided the 120-ton orbiter to a gentle docking with the space station as the two spacecraft sailed 220 miles above northern Australia at five miles per second.
Running a few minutes ahead of schedule, the shuttle's docking system engaged its counterpart on the front end of the space station at 1:47 p.m. EDT.
"Houston, Endeavour, capture confirmed," an astronaut radioed as the mechanisms engaged.
After locking the two spacecraft together, the astronauts carried out leak checks to ensure a tight seal before opening hatches for a traditional "Welcome aboard" ceremony in the Harmony module. Hatch opening was planned for around 3 p.m.
The Endeavour crew is beginning a week-and-a-half-long stay, creating the biggest manned presence ever in orbit at the same time: 13 astronauts. The two crews will greet one another, face-to-face, as soon as the hatches between the craft are opened.
As with all post-Columbia station visits, Polansky preceded docking by positioning Endeavour 600 feet directly below the space station, guiding the shuttle through a slow back-flip to expose the orbiter's belly to the station crew.
During the shuttle's eight-minute rotation, the crew from the ISS, using digital cameras equipped with 400 mm and 800 mm telephoto lenses, took approximately 300 photographs of the shuttle's heat shield.
Engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will analyze the photos to assess the state of the shuttle's protective tiles.
Endeavour's external tank lost an unusual amount of foam insulation from its central "intertank" region during launch Wednesday, creating debris that struck the shuttle in at least two areas. Engineers do not believe the damage is serious, but the inspection later today will determine if there are any other areas of interest.
Endeavour will remain at the space station for 1½ weeks.
Harwood reports that that shuttle is delivering the last piece of Japan's space station lab, called Kibo. The shuttle crew will install the experiment platform, as well as replace aging solar array batteries and transfer spare parts and supplies to the station.
Astronaut Tim Kopra will join the station crew after docking and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will join Endeavour's crew for the trip back to Earth at the end of the mission.
Five spacewalks are planned, with the first on tap Saturday beginning at 11:58 a.m. ET.
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