Space Shuttle Discovery docked - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Space Shuttle Discovery docked

Discovery docked at the international space station Thursday after performing an unprecedented back flip to allow those aboard the outpost to photograph the shuttle's belly for signs of damage.

The digital camera images will be analyzed by NASA to spot any signs of trouble. It wasn't immediately clear how long that analysis will take.

Discovery was just 600 feet beneath the station when Commander Eileen Collins manually steered the shuttle's nose up and slowly flipped the spacecraft over.

Collins then repositioned the shuttle and locked onto the station just after 7 a.m.

About two hours later, following leak and pressure checks, Discovery's astronauts entered the orbital lab, where they were greeted with hugs and bread and salt - a Russian tradition thought to bring good luck when visiting another's home.

The station's crew then took Discovery's astronauts on a tour. "We're looking forward to seeing you guys," Collins told station Commander Sergei Krikalev when the shuttle was a little more than 5,000 feet from the station. "Your space station looks absolutely beautiful from the outside."

The astronauts' greetings inside the lab weren't picked up by microphones.

The docking came after a huge setback Wednesday, 800 millimeter lens - to snap 100 seconds worth of photos of the shuttle as it flipped backward, exposing its thermal tile belly. The photographs were expected to provide resolution similar to a person standing within a few inches of the shuttle's tiles.

The digital photos, downloaded after docking, are what NASA officials said they're most interested in. A team of special analysts at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston plan to examine them for any indications of damage.

In addition to the chunk of foam that broke from Discovery's external fuel tank during launch, several smaller pieces broke away as well. A thermal tile on Discovery's belly was also damaged soon after liftoff.

One tile near the doors for Discovery's landing gear - a particularly vulnerable spot - lost a 1½-inch piece that was repaired before the flight.

Deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said none of the tile damage looked serious and likely wouldn't require the use of untested repair techniques in orbit designed after Columbia.

"We don't really have a mechanism for knowing why a part of that tile came off," Hale said.

A planned inspection of Discovery's wings and nose using a new 50-foot, laser-tipped extension to the shuttle's robotic arm turned up nothing alarming, he said.

However, analysis will continue for the next four to five days.

Hale and Parsons said despite attention to the agency's decision to ground future missions, NASA's focus remains on Discovery's mission and bringing its crew home at the end of its 12-day mission.

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