18 Jul 2009

Shuttle docks with space station

9:43 pm on 18 July 2009

The space shuttle has successfully docked with the International Space Station.

Before the link, Endeavour performed a back flip, allowing the ISS team to photograph its heat shield for any sign of damage from the launch.

There are now 13 astronauts on the orbiting outpost. During their 11-day visit, the shuttle team will finish work on a Japanese research laboratory called Kibo.

Endeavour was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday after five failed attempts. Previous efforts were hampered by bad weather and fuel leaks.

NASA said it docked at 1347 EDT (1747 GMT) on Friday, some 350km above the Gulf of Carpentaria, off the north coast of Australia.

Detour to avoid space junk

The ISS has shifted out of its orbit to avoid a piece of space junk, ahead of a space walk by Endeavour crew members to complete work on the outpost.

NASA says they have known about the space junk for several days, and the action was taken only as a precaution. It is describing the space junk as simply "number 84180".

Five spacewalks - each expected to last 6.5 hours - are planned.

The first, scheduled for Saturday, will add a platform to a Japanese laboratory complex.

The BBC reports the crew will also install new batteries to one of the solar arrays, which provide power to the space station, and perform other maintenance tasks.

In addition, Endeavour is delivering a new crew member to the ISS and bringing back another who has lived there for more than three months.

The $US100 billion space station has been under construction for more than a decade.

This is the 127th space shuttle flight, the 29th to the station, the 23rd for Endeavour and the third in 2009.

Seven further flights to the platform remain before the shuttles retire in 2010.