Shortly after the Discovery orbiter docked with the International Space Station (ISS), the commanders of the two spacecraft weightlessly exchanged enthusiastic hugs. It was an historic occasion. Never before have women served as the commanding officers of two ships in space. For Pamela Melroy and Peggy Whitson, though, it was business as usual, more than 200 miles above the earth.
According to NASA, the crews of the two vehicles opened their docking hatches at 10:39 a.m. EDT today. One of the first significant tasks was the ISS crew rotation. STS-120 Mission Specialist Daniel Tani switched places with Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Clayton Anderson, who wrapped up a four-month tour of duty on the space station. Tani will stay on the ISS until he returns with mission STS-122 in December.
Tani officially became a member of Expedition 16 when his custom-made seat liner was swapped out with Anderson''s in the Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station. Discovery also delivered the Harmony module, which will be attached to the station Friday as part of STS-120's record five scheduled spacewalks.
Prior to the docking procedure today, Whitson rang a ship's bell onboard the space station, following a long naval tradition of greeting another ship approaching. "Discovery arriving," she announced, as the two vessels sailed 212 miles above the Pacific Ocean.
[See our recent posts in Tech Talk on the space shuttle and space station commanders.]