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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 23:45 GMT
Shuttle docks with space station
Discovery in orbit  Image: Nasa
Discovery hurtled into orbit over the weekend
Space shuttle Discovery has docked with the International Space Station (ISS) after an inspection showed no visible damage on lift-off.

Astronauts used the shuttle's robotic arm and its cameras to check Discovery's heat shield and upper surfaces after reaching Earth orbit.

The US orbiter linked-up with the ISS at 1706 EST (2206 GMT).

Discovery blasted off from Florida at the weekend in the first night launch of a space shuttle in four years.

Poor weather delayed the launch from Nasa's Kennedy Space Center for two days.

The shuttle headed to the International Space Station (ISS), which Nasa is racing to complete before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

Wiring job

The space agency's confidence has been boosted by two nearly flawless missions this year. While shuttle flights in July 2005 and July 2006 focused on improving safety, the last one in September marked the resumption of construction on the ISS.

View of the Discovery launch from near Cape Canaveral  Image: AP
Discovery's launch left a fiery trail in the Florida sky
While in orbit with the space station, Discovery astronauts will wire new solar arrays into the ISS power grid. This will need to be done without interrupting the station's life-support and other critical systems.

Half the outpost will be powered down while astronauts make the new electrical connections during two separate spacewalks. It will be a tense time, with little back-up power if other problems arise.

In addition, this mission will attach a small truss, or backbone, connector to the existing structure, and retract an old solar array into a safe position to allow future work to be completed unhindered.

Nasa has described the construction mission as one of the most complex to date.

Rookies

There were no reported complications on launch as Discovery soared away from the Kennedy Space Center.

A British-born astronaut, Nicholas Patrick, is among Discovery's crew. Five of the astronauts on the mission are going on their first shuttle flight.

One of the seven, US astronaut Sunita Williams, will stay on at the ISS when Discovery heads home, taking German Thomas Reiter back to Earth.

At least 14 more missions are needed to finish the $100bn (50bn) station.

Discovery's flight is scheduled to last 12 days, with a landing targeted for 21 December back at the Kennedy Space Center.

Discovery's crew consists of Commander Mark Polansky, pilot William Oefelein and mission specialists Robert Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick, Sunita Williams and the European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Discovery docks with the ISS



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