CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - Space shuttle Discovery pulled up and docked at the international space station last night, delivering a full load of gear and science experiments.
The linkup occurred as the spacecraft zoomed more than 200 miles above the Atlantic and ended a round-the-world chase of nearly two days.
A thruster failure made the rendezvous all the more challenging for shuttle commander Rick Sturckow.
One of Discovery’s small thrusters began leaking shortly after Friday’s midnight liftoff and was shut down. Sturckow had to use the bigger, more powerful primary thrusters, making for a somewhat bumpier, noisier ride.
Sturckow trained for this backup method - never before attempted for a space station docking - well before the flight.
NASA said everything went well. “Great to hear your voices,’’ station astronaut Michael Barratt called out when the two spacecraft were 4.5 miles apart. “Can’t wait to see you.’’
The head of NASA’s mission management team, LeRoy Cain, said yesterday that a preliminary look at launch pictures and other data indicates that Discovery fared well during Friday’s midnight liftoff. No significant pieces of foam insulation were spotted coming off the fuel tank.
Cain cautioned that more analysis is needed. The shuttle performed a slow backflip on final approach so the space station crew could photograph its belly in a search for damage.
Discovery and its crew of seven are dropping off thousands of pounds of equipment, including a treadmill named for Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. The treadmill was launched in more than 100 pieces, and astronaut Nicole Stott - who’s about to become the newest space station resident - won’t have time to put it together until the shuttle is long gone.
Stott, who will remain at the space station until November, sent “big space hugs’’ to her 7-year-old son, Roman.