Page last updated at 02:32 GMT, Saturday, 18 July 2009 03:32 UK

Shuttle crew welcomed aboard ISS


The arrival of the crew was met with applause

The crew of the shuttle Endeavour has been welcomed aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The hatches between the craft opened to bring together the largest number of astronauts ever assembled in orbit, 13.

A few hours later, the ISS had to be moved into a higher orbit, to avoid a possible collision with space debris.

The seven-strong crew who travelled to the station on Endeavour are delivering the final part of a Japanese-built laboratory, spare parts and food.

They joined six astronauts already at the space station, for an 11-day visit.

Before docking, Endeavour back-flipped so the ISS could photograph it for any sign of damage, after foam peeled off during Wednesday's much-delayed launch.

Shortly after the Endeavour crew boarded, ground control ordered the ISS team to use the shuttle's thrusters to move the station about 1.5km (0.93 miles) higher, to avoid drifting unspecified space junk.

"We've known about it for several days, it's not a concern, and we're doing this only as a precaution," Nasa said in a post on the micro-blogging site, Twitter.

Debris strike

After parking Endeavour on Friday and carrying out safety checks, the shuttle crew floated through the hatches shortly before 1600 EDT (2000 GMT).

Thirteen is a pretty big number, we are just thrilled to be here
Mark Polansky
Endeavour commander

The orbiter docked at the ISS about two hours earlier, some 220 miles (350km) above the Gulf of Carpentaria, off the north coast of Australia.

Although the shuttle moved towards the space station at about 3cm per second during the delicate parking procedure, both spacecraft were travelling at 17,500mph (28,160km/h).

It was the first time representatives from the main station partners - the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada - were brought together in space.

"Welcome," said the station's skipper, Russian Gennady Padalka, at the entrance.

Shuttle commander Mark Polansky said: "Thirteen is a pretty big number. We are just thrilled to be here."

'Minor dings'

Although 13 people have been in orbit before, they were in different spacecraft. The previous highest number of astronauts under the same roof in orbit was 10.

Launch of shuttle Endeavour (Image: AP)
Debris that struck the shuttle during launch is not concerning officials

Shortly before berthing, Endeavour performed a nine-minute back-flip, known as a rendezvous pitch manoeuvre, allowing the ISS crew to capture up to 300 photographs of the shuttle's thermal protection system.

The images were taken after a considerable amount of foam insulation peeled away from the shuttle's fuel tank and struck it during Wednesday's launch.

Apart from "a few minor dings" in some thermal protection tiles, Nasa officials have said there does not seem to be any cause for concern.

But the pictures are being examined by engineers back at mission control to ensure there is no damage that could jeopardise the shuttle's re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere.

Endeavour and its crew of six Americans and a Canadian launched successfully from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday - after five failed attempts.

Previous efforts to begin the 16-day mission had been hampered by bad weather and fuel leaks.

During the mission, five spacewalks - each expected to last 6.5 hours - are to be completed.

The first, scheduled for Saturday, will add a platform to the Japanese laboratory complex, Kibo, which can be used for experiments that require materials to be exposed to the harsh environment of space.

In addition, Endeavour delivered a new long-stay US crew member, Tim Kopra, to the ISS and will bring back Japan's Koichi Wakata, who has lived aboard the platform for more than three months.

The $100bn space station, now about the size of a four-bedroom house, 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 planned before the shuttles retire in 2010.

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