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Endeavour docks with space station

space shuttle Endeavour
A view of the international space station as the space shuttle Endeavour docks  

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- The space shuttle Endeavour docked at the international space station on Saturday, bringing a robot arm to help the station astronauts add on to their orbital outpost.

Shuttle commander Kent Rominger nudged the Endeavour up to the docking port at 8:59 a.m. CDT Saturday, about 243 miles (388 kilometers) over the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand. Rominger and pilot Jeffrey Ashby slowed the 100-ton vessel to a relative speed of about five feet per minute before docking.

Rominger and a multinational crew of six, including a Canadian, a Russian and an Italian, had been maneuvering the shuttle into position for Saturday morning's docking since Friday.

CNN's Eric Philips has more on Endeavors' mission, including installation of a robotic arm

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A 360° stroll through the International Space Station
Cult3D models of the International Space Station

"It is complicated. It takes the whole team of us to do it. We use cameras, computers, lasers and different sensors, including radar," Rominger said in a broadcast interview. "We wind up within an inch of our target when we dock."

Endeavour lifted off Thursday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is carrying a 58-foot mechanical device known as the "Big Arm," a larger and more advanced version of the Canadian-built robot appendage located aboard the shuttle. The new arm will be attached to the space station.

The new robot arm, dubbed the Canadarm 2, is designed to move station modules and experiments about. Later additions will allow it to do detailed repair work as well.

The new arm will not be locked into one place aboard the station -- it will be able to move along the station's hull to reposition itself as needed to continue the station's construction. It is so long that it would not fit inside the bay unless it was folded, and so heavy -- 3,618 pounds (1,644 kilograms) of aluminum, steel and graphite epoxy -- that it could not support its own weight on Earth.

Endeavour's astronauts are the first visitors to space station Alpha since current crew members Yury Usachev, Susan Helms and James Voss arrived March 8. But the two crews will not officially greet each other until Monday, since hatches between the two spacecraft must remain closed during spacewalks.

Images from top to bottom show Endeavour's path as it nears and then locks onto the docking port  

NASA has called this the most international crew ever to fly a shuttle mission. The Americans Rominger, Ashby, Scott Parazynski and John Phillips are joined by Canadian Chris Hadfield and two crew members from the European Space Agency, Russian Yuri Lonchkov and Italian Umberto Guidoni.

The shuttle also will hook up an Italian-built cargo module and bring the section back to Earth after the station's three-member crew takes aboard the food, clothes and scientific equipment it carries.

Endeavour will spend one week docked with Alpha. The shuttle departs April 28, the same day Russia is scheduled to launch a Soyuz spacecraft to Alpha. The Soyuz will bring up two cosmonauts and possibly Dennis Tito, the 60-year-old American businessman who reportedly paid Russia up to $20 million for a 10-day round-trip excursion to the space station.

NASA opposes the visit, but a spokeswoman for the space agency said Friday that preparations are under way for Tito's seemingly inevitable arrival.

"We have asked our operations teams to look at the space station crew's timeline during the (Soyuz) taxi flight to see what kind of modifications could be made to their schedule to ensure everyone's safety," Kirsten Larson said.

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International space station Alpha

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