CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Space shuttle Endeavour docked with the international space station Friday, delivering a new three-member crew to relieve the men who have been up there since August.
"This is a great place. You're going to love it here," space station commander Frank Culbertson told the new crew. "Welcome aboard!"
The shuttle pulled up as the two spacecraft orbited 250 miles above the Polish-Ukrainian border, ending a two-day chase.
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Onufrienko, who will replace Culbertson as the space station's skipper, floated in with a bag of apples. Culbertson happily accepted and handed the apples to his two crewmates, who grabbed them and started munching.
"It's a really big day for us," Culbertson said.
Culbertson had eagerly awaited the arrival of Endeavour, his ride home. Although his four-month stay was quiet, the retired Navy fighter pilot said he felt isolated and frustrated following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His crewmates were two Russians.
"We're ready to see you guys," Culbertson radioed once Endeavour pulled within 1 miles. He watched as the shuttle, a ghostly white against the blackness of space, drew ever closer.
As Endeavour slowly closed the final 40 feet, Culbertson rang the ship's bell aboard the space station and announced in the tradition of the high seas, "Endeavour, arriving."
It took longer than usual to draw the spacecraft tightly together. The shuttle crew had to deal with a sticky damper on Endeavour's docking ring, which dragged out the alignment process. An hour after the initial contact, the vessels were finally snug against each other, their hooks latched.
"Space flight is nothing if not challenging, right?" Culbertson told flight controllers. He later complimented shuttle commander Dominic Gorie on his smooth flying and added with a laugh: "Hardware always gives us trouble, so get used to it."
"Your house is beautiful and it's even prettier on the inside," Gorie said. "I'm looking forward to transferring some stuff and bringing you home."
Culbertson and his crewmates, Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, will move out of the space station on Saturday. Onufrienko and Americans Carl Walz and Daniel Bursch will take their places. They will stay aboard until May.
During Endeavour's 11-day mission, two shuttle astronauts will venture out on a spacewalk to perform space station maintenance.