CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Atlantis arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday for what could be its last visit, delivering fresh batteries and other equipment to help keep the outpost running long after the shuttle program ends.
For now, Atlantis’ dance card is empty after this flight, and NASA has just two missions remaining. But there’s a push to keep the space shuttles flying until next June and to give Atlantis one last hurrah.
Shuttle commander Kenneth Ham was visibly moved as he floated into the space station. He grabbed two of the station astronauts in a tight embrace.
“It’s bigger than we remember and, speaking for myself, better than I remember,” Ham said. “I love this place.”
The rendezvous by Atlantis was accompanied by considerably more picture-taking than usual, to make up for a curtailed safety survey the day before.
Three of the six space station residents snapped a total of 398 pictures using zoom lenses as Atlantis made its final approach. The shuttle performed a slow back flip so all its surfaces could be photographed. An hour later, it docked flawlessly with the station, 220 miles above the South Pacific.
On Saturday, a snagged cable prevented the six shuttle astronauts from properly inspecting their ship. NASA ordered up extra pictures and added an additional space station photographer.
The astronauts may try to free the cable during a spacewalk this week.
Ham and his crew will spend a week at the orbiting science complex, installing a new Russian compartment and replacing six batteries. Three spacewalks are planned, beginning today. If the cable repair is approved, it would be added to the second spacewalk on Wednesday or the third on Friday.