Shuttle Endeavour arrived at the International Space Station early Wednesday, delivering a new room and observation deck that will come close to completing construction 200 miles (320 kilometers) above Earth.
The midnight rendezvous occurred as the two spacecraft sailed over the Atlantic, just west of Portugal.
“We’ve got the place ready for you,” space station commander Jeffrey Williams assured the shuttle astronauts. “Looking forward to welcoming you on board.”
Back at Mission Control, meanwhile, NASA said standard checks had not revealed any launch damage so far. All the pictures and information collected during the first two days of the flight indicate Endeavour suffered no serious damage during Monday’s liftoff. But the analysis is continuing, and a few hundred photos taken from the space station during Endeavour’s final approach will yield additional data, said LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team.
Endeavour’s crew of six will spend more than a week at the space station, installing the compartments and helping with space station maintenance.
This represents the last major construction work at the orbiting outpost. Once the room, named Tranquility, and the observation deck are in place, the station will be 98 percent complete.
Five men are living at the space station. That makes for a crowd of 11 with Endeavour’s presence.
Before docking, commander George Zamka guided Endeavour through a 360-degree back flip so two of the space station crew could photograph the shuttle’s belly with zoom lenses. The photos were transmitted immediately to Mission Control so experts can scour the images for any scrapes or holes.
A few pieces of foam insulation came off the external fuel tank during the launch, but none appeared to strike Endeavour.
The only oddity in the pictures from orbit was a protruding seal on the top of the left wing. The seal is part of a door for an access panel; about 4 inches (10 centimetres) of the 2-to-3-foot (60-to-90-centimetre) seal is sticking out.
Mr. Cain said the flapping seal poses no concern, but engineers will look into the matter to find out how it happened. Mission Control asked the station crew to take pictures of the seal, as the shuttle performed its somersault.
As for the rest of the wings and nose – the most vulnerable parts of the shuttle during re-entry – the laser inspection conducted earlier in the day by the astronauts was coming up empty. “Nothing that threw any unusual flags for us,” Mr. Cain told reporters late Tuesday afternoon.
The rigorous checks were put in place following the 2003 Columbia disaster.
Three spacewalks are planned to hook up the 23-foot (7-metre) Tranquility - named after the Apollo 11 moon landing site – and the seven-windowed dome. The first will get under way Thursday night.
The two Italian-built compartments cost more than $400 million.