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Discovery Docks At Space Station On Final Mission

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The Space Shuttle Discovery

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CAPE CANAVERAL (CBS4) – It was a bittersweet arrival for the Space shuttle Discovery as it docked at the International Space Station Saturday, making its final visit before being parked at a museum.

“What took you guys so long?” asked the space station’s commander, Scott Kelly.

Discovery is three months past-due at the station. It should have docked there in November, but was grounded by fuel tank cracks.

All patched up, Discovery launched on its final mission Thursday.

Discovery linked-up with the station 220 miles above Australia and will spend at least a week at the orbiting outpost.

Stored in its cargo bay are supplies, a cargo storage unit and first humanoid robot to fly in space.

The storage compartment will be permanently attached to the space station early next week.

A dozen people were aboard the joined spacecraft that represent several countries: the United States, Russia and Italy.

Also visiting the Space Station are cargo ships from Japan and Europe, and the space-traffic jam delayed Discovery’s docking. Two crews had to wait for motion to subside between their craft, delaying the opening of the hatches and threatening to put off Saturday night’s planned installation of a platform holding a spare radiator.

Discovery — the first to perform the somersaulting maneuver, back in 2005 — is the first in the fleet to be retired this year. Endeavour and then Atlantis will close out the 30-year shuttle program by mid-summer.

Discovery is the oldest of the three and the most traveled, with 143 million miles logged over 39 flights and 26 years.

The robot launched aboard Discovery — Robonaut 2 or R2 for short — will remain at the space station, all boxed up for at least another few months. It’s an experimental machine from the waist up that will be tested before attempting simple jobs inside the orbiting complex. The idea is for R2 to eventually serve as an astronaut assistant.

“We’re here!” Robonaut said in a Twitter update following Saturday’s docking. It actually was posted by a human colleague on the ground.

(© 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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