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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007, 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK
Shuttle docks with space station
Nasa picture of Space shuttle Atlantis docked with ISS 10/6/07
Astronauts from the shuttle will install solar panels on the ISS

The Atlantis orbiter has docked with the International Space Station (ISS), on the first shuttle mission of 2007.

The craft locked on to the station at 1938 GMT, some 350km (220 miles) above the western Pacific Ocean.

Nasa engineers have been examining damage to the shuttle's thermal blanket sustained during take-off on Friday.

The US space agency said it did not consider the damage to be significant. A spokesman added: "We do not see any cause for concern right now."

The docking therefore went ahead as planned.

The seven astronauts aboard Atlantis will continue installation work on the ISS, adding a new pair of solar panels to increase the platform's power generation capacity, paving the way for Europe's Columbus module to join the station later this year.

Delays

The 10cm (4in) tear in the shuttle's thermal blanket raised concerns because damage sustained by the shuttle Columbia in 2003 during its launch led to the vehicle's disintegration as it returned to Earth, killing all seven crew.

Damage to the Space Shuttle Atlantis' thermal blanket
The damage to the blanket did not stop the shuttle docking
Experts analysed pictures of the affected area, gathered by a camera at the end of Atlantis' robotic arm.

Commander Frederick Sturckow also performed a slow-motion back flip as Atlantis approached the ISS, to allow station crew to take further photos of the shuttle's underbelly.

Nasa had hoped to be launching its second flight of the year by now, but an unusual storm passed over the Florida launch site in late February and dropped large hailstones on the shuttle, delaying the mid-March flight.

Despite the delays, managers are confident they will be able to complete the station before the shuttles' 2010 retirement date.

Nasa plans to fly 15 more missions to the station to deliver large components, spare parts and other supplies. In addition, one final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope is planned for September 2008.

Before completion, the station is expected to be able to support six resident crewmembers - twice as many as now.

ISS

Atlantis' crew includes Commander Frederick Sturckow, pilot Lee Archambault, James Reilly, Pat Forrester, John "Danny" Olivas, Steven Swanson and Clayton Anderson.

Cdr Sturckow has two previous spaceflights and Col Forrester has one.

Mr Anderson will not be coming home with the Atlantis astronauts.

His job is to replace Nasa astronaut Sunita Williams, who has been aboard the space station since December. She will return with the Atlantis astronauts.


SEE ALSO
In pictures: Shuttle launch
09 Jun 07 |  In Pictures
Nasa names shuttle launch date
01 Jun 07 |  Science/Nature
European rocket powers to record
04 May 07 |  Science/Nature
In graphics: Space Station
30 Apr 07 |  Science/Nature
Nasa delays Europe's lab launch
18 Apr 07 |  Science/Nature
Space shuttle returns to Florida
22 Dec 06 |  Science/Nature
Europe set for bigger station role
17 Jul 06 |  Science/Nature

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