CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – Space shuttle Discovery pulled up and docked at the international space station on Sunday night, delivering a full load of gear and science experiments.
The linkup occurred as the spacecraft zoomed more than 200 miles above the Atlantic and ended a round-the-world chase of nearly two days.
A thruster failure made the rendezvous all the more challenging for shuttle commander Rick Sturckow.
One of Discovery's small thrusters began leaking shortly after Friday's midnight liftoff and was shut down. None of the little jets was available for the rendezvous and docking, and Sturckow had to use the bigger, more powerful primary thrusters, making for a somewhat bumpier, noisier ride.
Struckow trained for this backup method — never before attempted for a space station docking — well before the flight. NASA said everything went well.
"Great to hear your voices," station astronaut Michael Barratt called out when the two spacecraft were 4 1/2 miles apart. "Can't wait to see you."
Discovery and its crew of seven are dropping off thousands of pounds (kilos) of equipment, including a treadmill named for Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert. The treadmill was launched in more than 100 pieces, and astronaut Nicole Stott — who's about to become the newest space station resident — won't have time to put it together until the shuttle is long gone.
Earlier in the day, Stott sent "big space hugs" down to her 7-year-old son, Roman. "I just want to let him know I love him more than anything," she radioed. Stott will remain at the space station until another shuttle comes to get her in November.
Discovery — launched for the very first time 25 years ago Sunday — will spend more than a week at the orbiting complex. The astronauts will perform three spacewalks to replace an ammonia tank and perform other outside maintenance. The first one will take place Tuesday night.
Monday evening's action will involve lifting the huge cargo carrier out of Discovery's payload bay, using a robot arm, and attaching it to the space station.
This is only the second time 13 people have been together in orbit. The first was just last month during Endeavour's space station visit.
Discovery, meanwhile, seems to have fared liftoff well.
The chairman of NASA's mission management team, LeRoy Cain, said Sunday that a preliminary look at launch pictures and other data indicates the shuttle had no major damage. No significant pieces of foam insulation were spotted coming off the fuel tank.
Cain cautioned that another few days of analyses are needed. Engineers got even more data after Discovery arrived at the space station. The shuttle performed a slow backflip on final approach so the space station crew could photograph its belly in a search for damage.