Shuttle Endeavour arrives at space station

Endeavour and its six astronauts showed up at the International Space Station today with the most expensive payload ever carried by a shuttle, a $2 billion magnetic device scientists hope will unravel the mysteries of the cosmos.

Shuttle commander Mark Kelly — the husband of wounded US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — carried out Endeavour's final docking. The lead flight director described the linkup as "really silky smooth" and noted Kelly has been performing "unbelievably" well in orbit.



Giffords was supposed to undergo surgery in Houston today, two days after attending her husband's launch. Doctors planned to replace part of her skull with a plastic implant. She was shot in the head in early January during a political event in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona.



"If you didn't know any of that was going on, you wouldn't have any idea that those kinds of things are going on in his personal life," flight director Gary Horlacher told reporters. "The surgeons are keeping him informed appropriately."



Now that he's at the space station, Kelly can use the Internet-protocol phone there. He also has access to the Internet aboard the orbiting outpost, and can speak privately with Nasa's flight surgeons via Mission Control whenever he wishes.



The two orbiting crews will attach the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the space station Thursday.



Endeavour — making its final journey and the next-to-last flight of Nasa's shuttle era — docked with the space station as the two vessels soared more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) above the planet, near Chile.



Kelly was the first to float into the space station. He was greeted with handshakes and hugs.



"Hey, you guys wore coordinating shirts," Kelly told the six space station residents, all dressed in blue polo shirts and tan slacks. "We didn't do that."



The combined crews include seven Americans, three Russians and two Italians.



The space station occupants rang the ship's bell to mark Endeavour's arrival. It is the 12th and final visit by Endeavour to the space station; after this mission, the baby of Nasa's shuttle fleet will be decommissioned and sent to a museum in Los Angeles.



Atlantis will carry out the final shuttle trip in July.



Kelly and his crew will spend nearly two weeks at the space station. Their main job is to install the 7-ton Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an international collaboration representing 16 countries and led by Nobel-winning physicist Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.



At the heart of the spectrometer is a 3-foot (one-meter), doughnut-shaped magnet. The instrument will seek out invisible dark matter as well as antimatter; whether any of this is found or not, the results will help explain what the universe is made of and how it formed.



As soon as the spectrometer is installed, it immediately should begin working. Ting expects to start receiving data within an hour or two.



The AMS will remain anchored to the space station for the rest of its life. The outpost will continue to operate until at least 2020.



Endeavour's crew also will unload spare parts for the space station and carry out four spacewalks, the first one scheduled for Friday.



Horlacher said he doesn't dwell on the fact that the AMS constantly seems to be overshadowed by attention on Kelly and Giffords.



"I know folks are kind of focused on Mark and his situation," he said. "But AMS is going to be around talking to us for a long, long time. So I'm very much looking forward to the results over the years."



For now, 12 astronauts are aboard the shuttle-station complex. On Monday, three of the six space station residents will climb into their Russian Soyuz capsule and return to Earth after a five-month stay. Endeavour's two-week launch delay resulted in the mission interruption.



Nasa will continue to rely on Russia to transport US astronauts back and forth to the space station for the foreseeable future. The space agency wants private companies in America to take over this operation, hopefully within a few years.



The Obama administration wants Nasa focusing on interplanetary travel, once the shuttles are retired.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Sport
Danny Cipriani of England breaks clear to score his second try
rugby
Life and Style
New research says leaving your desk can help you to avoid serious illness
health
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Cloud ERP Solution Provide...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral