CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After a two-day journey, space shuttle Discovery reached the international space station Monday for a weeklong stay to continue construction on the orbiting lab and rotate out a crew member.
Discovery commander Mark Polansky closed in on the station at a tenth of a foot per second before latches automatically linked the spacecraft as they flew 220 miles above southeast Asia during a sunrise.
"Capture confirmed," Polansky told Mission Control and the space station.
About an hour before docking, Discovery did a slow back flip so the space station crew could photograph its belly for any signs of liftoff damage.
Polansky executed the maneuver as the shuttle flew about 600 feet beneath the station. The images will be transmitted to Mission Control for analysis.
Six of Discovery's seven astronauts planned to spend a week at the space station. The seventh astronaut, Sunita "Suni" Williams, will live there for six months, replacing German astronaut Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency.
"You've got a resident and six houseguests that are ready to come aboard," Polansky radioed the space station.
The space station's commander, U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria responded: "You guys won't even have to wipe your feet when you come in."
The space agency has been especially alert to damage to the shuttle's heat shield since the Columbia tragedy in 2003. A piece of foam broke off Columbia's external fuel tank during liftoff and gashed a wing, allowing hot gases to penetrate the spacecraft during its return to Earth. All seven astronauts died.
NASA on Sunday said the shuttle's heat shield appeared to be in good shape, but it will be a few days before engineers can rule out any damage from Saturday's liftoff, the first nighttime shuttle launch in four years.
As the space station came into view of Discovery, Williams told Mission Control: "It's beautiful."
Mission Control responded: "I don't know what kind of creature comforts you're going to have, but you're going to have a room with a view."
In the hours before the docking, set for Monday evening, Discovery made a series of jet firings to put it on course with the space station.
Discovery's crew members grinned as they waved down to Mission Control via TV camera. Five of Discovery's astronauts are first-time spacefliers.
Polansky told Mission Control: "We're just a little bit happy today."
Discovery was carrying a 2-ton addition to the space station.
The $11 million component will be put into place on Tuesday during the first of the mission's three spacewalks. Astronauts also plan to rewire the space lab, switching it from a temporary source to a permanent one, during the two other spacewalks.