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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee