Nov 18, 2009 12:59 PM by Associated Press

Cargo-laden shuttle arrives at space station

After making a 360-degree inspection flip in orbit, the space shuttle Atlantis delivered tons of supplies to the International Space Station on Wednesday.

Astronaut Nicole Stott, a space station resident for the past two and a half months, was thrilled to see her ride home. She spotted Atlantis from three miles out, a couple of hours before its arrival.

"I have my ticket all ready and stamped, waiting for you guys when you get here," Stott radioed to shuttle commander Charles Hobaugh.

"Who is this?" Hobaugh teased.

"It's your favorite passenger," she replied. "You look beautiful out there."

Just before docking, Hobaugh guided Atlantis through a pirouette for the space station cameras, for a final check to make sure there's no damage to the thermal tiles on its belly.

So far, all indications are that the shuttle made it through Monday's liftoff just fine, NASA said. The astronauts surveyed their ship Tuesday for any signs of launch damage. A quick look at the laser images shows everything in good shape. Experts will continue to analyze the data, as well as all the photos that were taken of Atlantis before the docking.

Atlantis will remain at the orbiting outpost for a week, enough time for the two crews to unload nearly 15 tons of spare parts.

The six astronauts on the shuttle and six on the station will make for one big crowd.

"We're crashing the party," Hobaugh called out as the shuttle drew to within a mile.

Atlantis is loaded with pumps, tanks, gyroscopes and other huge spare parts for the orbiting outpost, as well as some small, fragile science experiments. Perhaps the most delicate of all are four butterfly larvae, a student experiment. The plan is for the larvae to develop into Painted Lady butterflies over the next week or two and return on the next shuttle flight in February.


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