Endeavour makes picture-perfect docking at space station
(dpa) - The shuttle Endeavour docked early Thursday at the International Space Station, completing another picture-perfect part of its mission after a flawless launch, US space officials said.
After docking, the station's three-member resident crew and the seven-member Endeavour crew opened the hatches between the craft at 0528 GMT Thursday to begin 12 days of joint operations.
About an hour before docking, shuttle commander Dominic Gorie and pilot Gregory Johnson steered Endeavour through a now routine yet graceful back flip before the space station's cameras to line up the two craft.
The photos, along with those from a self-examination carried out by Endeavour on its way to the space station, are to be studied by ground control to make sure the shuttle's heat shield is still intact after the stresses of Tuesday's launch.
One of the first tasks of the mission is for US astronaut Garrett Reisman to move into the space station while French colleague Leopold Eyharts moves into the shuttle in preparation for his return to Earth after a lengthy stay in orbit.
The crews intend to conduct five spacewalks to install the first part of Japan's Kibo laboratory and the Canadian-built Dextre, a robotic device.
Japan's long-awaited Kibo laboratory - its arrival was delayed by the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster and the ensuing years of revamping the ageing spacecraft - is to perform about 100 experiments that could aid the development of medications and test new materials in weightlessness.
Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, part of the Endeavour crew, is to help install the Kibo lab.
Two other Japanese astronauts are to fly with missions in May and December to complete construction of the laboratory.
With the addition of Kibo, Japan's Space Station Integration and Promotion Centre north of Tokyo would join other control centres in the United States, Russia and Germany in monitoring components of the space station.
The US space agency, NASA, has an ambitious schedule this year as it hurries to finish construction work on the space station so it can retire the shuttles by 2010.
Russia's Soyuz craft can carry astronauts to the station but only limited amounts of construction material and laboratories because of their small size.