December 12, 2006 in Nation/World

Discovery docks at space station

Mike Schneider Associated Press
 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After a two-day journey, the 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.

Upon arriving, crews prepared to examine the outer side of the shuttle’s left wing, where sensors detected a “very low” impact, a NASA official said.

“Overnight one of those sensors detected an impact, albeit very low,” said NASA spokesman Kyle Herring. He said that sensors sometimes falsely detect objects impacting the spacecraft but that “the timeline permits for an early look in that particular area, so that’s the desire and the decision by the teams here on the ground.”

Earlier, Discovery commander Mark Polansky closed in on the station at a tenth of a foot per second before latches automatically linked the spacecraft shortly before a sunrise.

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.

The two will swap places before the end of the day, making Williams only the third woman in history to reside long-term at 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.

NASA said on Sunday that the shuttle’s heat shield appeared to be in good shape, but that 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.

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