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Sunita Williams enters her new home

Last updated on: December 12, 2006 22:06 IST

Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams moved to her new home over 350 km above the earth as space shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station, after two days of orbital pursuit.

"Tally-ho on the new home," Sunita called out as Discovery prepared for docking onto the ISS as it moved 354 km above Bangladesh.

Sunita and six other astronauts, who arrived at the ISS, had a hard time moving around in weightlessness compared to their station counterparts. Some of them had to be held down for a group photo so that they did not drift away.

Sunita replaced German astronaut Thomas Reiter on the ISS, who will return to earth after a five-month sojourn in space.

The crew rotation became official when their custom-made seat liners were swapped out in the Soyuz spacecraft docked to the ISS.

The Discovery crew also brought with them the P5 integrated truss structure, which will be installed at the space station in the three space walks. It would help reconfigure and redistribute power generated by the station's newest solar arrays.

Sunita, the second Indian origin woman to undertake a space mission after astronaut Kalpana Chawla, will stay at the ISS for another six months.

"It is beautiful. The solar arrays are golden," she said, as she spotted the massive solar wings of the ISS glimmering against the black void.

An hour before the docking, Discovery commander Mark Polansky guided the spacecraft through a back-flip manoeuvre to allow the station crew to take pictures of the heat shield.

After hugs, handshakes and shooting photographs, the Discovery crew conducted an inspection of the shuttle wing and prepared for Wednesday's space walk.

The crew used a camera on the International Space Station's robotic arm to inspect the reinforced carbon-carbon panels on the wing.

Leading-edge wing sensors registered a minor disturbance in this area of the wing and engineers will analyse the imagery captured during the inspection.

The radar tracking of the shuttle's climb and the debris impact sensors had not detected any major debris strikes.

"There is nothing anyone is excited about so far," Mission Management Team chairman John Shannon said at a briefing.

The team had completed the first review of Sunday's inspection of the orbiter's heat shield and started the analysis of imagery of Discovery's underside, he said.

The crewmembers have transferred to the station spacesuits and tools that will be used during their three space walks.

The first will be mission specialists Robert Curbeam and Christer Fuglesang.

The main objective of this excursion is the installation of the P5 integrated truss onto the station.

Sunita is to remain aboard the station until June.

She will spend six months on the outpost and will become a member of the Expedition 15 crew in March 2007.

Her crewmates are Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin. Discovery is due back at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on December 21.

Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston
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