February 27, 2011

Discovery Docks With Space Station For The Last Time

International Space Station (ISS) commander Scott Kelly asked "What took you guys so long?" as space shuttle Discovery arrived at the space station for the final time.

Discovery should have met up with the ISS in November, but complications with its fuel tank brought on months of delays. 

"Yeah, I don't know, we kind of waited until like the last two seconds," shuttle commander Steven Lindsey replied when entering the ISS.

The two spacecraft met up 220 miles above Australia.  Discovery will spend at least a week at the orbiting outpost.

It is carrying a closet-style chamber full of supplies as well as the first humanoid robot to fly in space.

There are now 12 people aboard the space station, representing the U.S., Russia and Italy.

It took longer than usual for the hatches to open because of a slight misalignment between the shuttle and station that needed to be corrected. 

Discovery performed a slow 360-degree blackflip so space station cameras could capture any signs of launch damage.  At least four pieces of debris broke off the fuel tank during liftoff, and one of the strips of insulating foam struck Discovery's belly.

NASA managers do not believe the shuttle was damaged because the foam loss occurred so late in the launch, preventing a hard impact.

Space shuttle Discovery is the first in the fleet to be retired this year. 

The space shuttle is the oldest of the three and the most traveled, with 143 million miles logged in over 39 flights in 26 years.

The robot launched aboard Discovery will remain at the space station.  It is an experimental machine from the waist up that will be tested before attempting simple jobs inside the orbiting complex.


Image Caption: Space shuttle Discovery docked to pressurized mating adapter #2 on the International Space Station's Harmony node. Image credit: NASA TV


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