CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –and its crew delivered a sparkling new lab to the on Saturday, smoothly docking after a two-day chase around the world.
The $2 billion European science lab, Columbus, will be unloaded and attached to the space station on Sunday.
The two spacecraft linked up as they passed more than 200 miles above. Just over an hour later, the 10 space travelers — seven shuttle astronauts and three station residents — threw open the hatches, laughing and shouting.
Just before docking, Atlantis did a 360-degree backflip soand her crew could photograph the shuttle’s thermal shielding. Nearly 300 photos were beamed back to so engineers could look for any signs of launch damage.
Mission Control requested extra pictures of a torn thermal blanket on Atlantis’ right orbital maneuvering system pod, back near the tail. The small tear was along a seam, and occurred during the launch, said flight director Mike Sarafin.
Engineers were analyzing the tear and whether it posed a hazard for re-entry at flight’s end. The exact size of the peeled-up section was unknown, but it appeared to be smaller than one that required spacewalking repairs last June….