Shuttle Atlantis Docks with Space Station to Attach Solar Panels

The shuttle launched Saturday after several delays due to threatening weather and a liquid hydrogen fuel sensor problem.

Flight commander Brent Jett oversaw the linkage of Atlantis to the space lab 218 miles above Earth, and Jett and his five crew mates floated inside to greet commander Pavel Vinogradov, flight engineer Jeff Williams and the European Space Agency’s Thomas Reiter, according to Reuters.

The other members of the shuttle crew are pilot Chris Ferguson, and mission specialists Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Joe Tanner, Dan Burbank, and Steve MacLean, representing the Canadian Space Agency.

The shuttle’s robotic arm handed the 35,000-pound truss to a similar arm attached to the space station.

Shuttle crew members on Tuesday plan to attach the truss with a new set of solar panels to the space station. The new solar arrays are expected to double the electricity for the half-complete station, according to Reuters.

The disintegration of the shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003 halted construction of the space station. But NASA hopes 14 more missions will complete the job before 2010, when the shuttles are scheduled to retire and eventually be replaced by a different crew vehicle.

On Sunday, the space station photographed the belly of the shuttle to look for damage to the heat shield and found none.

After reviewing launch tapes, NASA managers saw one piece of debris fall at a critical time during liftoff that could potentially cause damage, but it didn’t hit the orbiter. Other pieces of foam and ice fell, but later in the ascent when the debris wasn’t moving fast enough to cause problems, reported the Associated Press.

The next shuttle mission is planned for December.