Shuttle skipper Jeffrey Ashby gently pulsed Atlantis' steering jets to align his ship's docking ring with the station's port, completing a two-day journey that began with the shuttle's launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Monday. Ashby and his five crewmates then floated through the shuttle's hatch and into the welcoming arms of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and two Russian cosmonauts living aboard the outpost.
"The crew did a great job of flying," NASA flight director Phil Engelauf said at a news conference after the 11:17 a.m. ET docking.
The shuttle crew is the first group of visitors to arrive at the station since the Expedition Five mission began in June. Station commander Valery Korzun, flight engineer Sergei Treschev and science officer Whitson are scheduled to remain aboard the outpost for another month.
After a safety briefing and tour of the station, the shuttle crew began preparing for a busy day Thursday to install the S1 truss. The 14-ton span, which will serve as the mast for additional solar array panels and radiators, includes electronics, plumbing and cables for the station's power, cooling and communications systems. Three spacewalks by shuttle astronauts David Wolf and Piers Sellers are planned during the mission, with the first scheduled to begin about 10:40 a.m. Thursday.
Before Wolf and Sellers leave the station's airlock, Whitson, assisted by Atlantis' flight engineer Sandra Magnus, is to use the station's robotic crane to lift the truss out of the shuttle's airlock and attach it to the single truss segment already in place on top of the U.S. laboratory module, Destiny.
The S1, for starboard or right-side, is the first of nine truss segments that have been designed to serve as the station's backbone. By the time the station's initial phase of construction is complete in 2004, the truss assembly is expected to span 365 feet. The station's laboratories, living modules, solar arrays, heat radiators and other components all will be attached to the truss. The shuttle crew also is delivering a second cart that can be moved along truss like a rail car to help spacewalkers build and maintain the station.