Following a fly-by designed to give NASA a closer look at its heat shield, the space shuttle Discovery successfully docked with the International Space Station late Sunday.
The docking allowed shuttle mission specialist Nicole Stott to trade places with ISS flight engineer Tim Kopra, who spent the past 44 days aboard the space station. Stott is now part of the ISS Expedition 20 crew, while Kopra joined the Discovery team for a ride back to Earth.
Earlier Sunday, shuttle commander Rick Sturckow steered Discovery over the ISS by performing the "rendezvous pitch maneuver," a nine-minute backflip that allows space station crews to photograph Discovery's underbelly. The digital photos were downloaded to NASA controllers so they could inspect the condition of Discovery's heat shields.
Discovery launched in the pre-dawn hours Saturday morning from the Kennedy Space Center in Floriday. NASA aborted several previous attempts due to weather and mechanical issues.
The COLBERT treadmill is among the numerous pieces of equipment that were on board Discovery when it lifted off. The exercise device is named after comedian Stephen Colbert. Discovery also will carry to the ISS the Leonardo supply module, which features refrigerator-size storage racks.
STS-128, as the mission is called, is under the command of shuttle veteran Sturckow. Joining him are six other space goers, including pilot Kevin Ford and mission specialists Patrick Forester, Jose Hernandez, and John Olivas. Christer Fuglesang will represent his native Sweden on the mission.
Discovery crew members are slated to perform three space walks during the mission. The shuttle is expected to return to the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 10.