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Science & Space

Shuttle hooks up with space station

By Richard Stenger (CNN)

Atlantis is the first space shuttle to visit the space station since June
Atlantis is the first space shuttle to visit the space station since June

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(CNN) -- The space shuttle Atlantis docked with the international space station on Wednesday, beginning a weeklong rendezvous that includes three spacewalks to deliver a $390 million girder to the orbiting outpost.

The spacecraft, both flying more than 200 miles (320 km) above Asia, linked up around 11:17 am ET, a few minutes ahead of schedule.

Less than two hours later, the hatches between the ships opened and the crews greeted one another in the station amid cheers, hugs and laughter.

The Atlantis fliers were the first visitors for the current space station residents, one American and two Russians, who arrived at the modular outpost the first week of June.

As shuttle commander Jeffrey Ashby guided Atlantis into a docking port, he told space station astronaut Peggy Whitson that she could expect a particular snack she had asked for.

"OK, we'll let you in then," Whitson responded.

After the initial pleasantries, astronauts and cosmonauts in both vessels were to get down to work. Besides shuttling supplies between the craft, the Atlantis crew will prepare for the first spacewalk, slated to begin Thursday morning. Each of the three ventures into space is expected to last more than six hours.

The reason is that the spacewalkers will need that much time to install a 45-foot-long (14-meter) metal truss, loaded with 15 miles (24 kilometers) of wiring, several radiators and a rail cart, which spacewalking astronauts will use on future space station construction jobs.

The shuttle, which lifted off Monday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is the first to fly since June when the entire fleet was grounded for repairs.

The 11-day mission was originally slated for early July. But shuttle managers delayed the flight for weeks as NASA technicians fixed hairline fuel line cracks in all four orbiters.

The six-person crew includes Ashby, making his third space flight; David Wolf, a medical doctor and former occupant of the retired Mir Space Station; and Piers Sellers, an ecologist from Britain making his first trip into orbit.

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