Shuttle Atlantis Docks at International Space Station

Atlantis, The U.S. space shuttle, has docked at the International Space Station.

The space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, 16 Nov 2009

Mission commander Charlie Hobaugh successfully guided the shuttle through a flip maneuver Wednesday as it approached the station. The maneuver aimed the belly of the shuttle at the station so that cameras could check for any damage from liftoff.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, says all indications are that Atlantis made it through Monday's liftoff just fine.

NASA says that after a series of checks, the hatches between the two vehicles will be opened and the astronauts will begin unloading equipment, Voice of America reports.

It was also reported, before pulling up, the shuttle performed a pirouette for the space station cameras to check for any damage to the thermal tiles on its belly. NASA says so far, all indications are that Atlantis made it through Monday's liftoff just fine.

Space station resident Nicole Stott was thrilled to see her ride home. She's been at the orbiting outpost for two-and-a-half months. Stott said Atlantis looked beautiful as it approached the space station.

The six astronauts on the shuttle and six on the station will team up to unload the tons of newly delivered spare parts, The Associated Press reports.

News agencies also report, NASA plans to retire Atlantis and two sister ships, Discovery and Endeavour, next year after five more missions to complete construction of the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that began in 1998.

After the fleet's retirement, Russian, European and Japanese cargo ships will keep the station stocked with food, fuel and supplies. Space station crewmembers will fly on Russian Soyuz capsules, a service that will cost the United States about $50 million per seat.

NASA is working on a new spacecraft to replace the 1970s-era space shuttle with the hope of returning U.S. astronauts to the moon sometime in the 2020s.

The Atlantis crew plans to conduct three spacewalks to outfit the station with additional communications antennas, install science experiments and take care of some maintenance chores on the station's robot arm, Reuters reports.

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