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Endeavour docks at space station

THE NATION

March 13, 2008|From the Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. — Space shuttle Endeavour pulled up to the International Space Station and docked Wednesday, kicking off almost two weeks of demanding construction work.

Before the late-night linkup, Endeavour's commander, Dominic Gorie, guided the shuttle through a 360-degree back flip to allow for full photographic surveillance.

It's one of the many safety-related procedures put in place after the Columbia disaster in 2003.

The space station crew used cameras with high-powered zoom lenses to photograph Endeavour from nose to tail, especially all the thermal tiles on its belly.

The pictures -- as many as 300 -- will be scrutinized by engineers on the ground to see whether the shuttle suffered any damage during Tuesday's launch.

Something, perhaps a bird, may have struck Endeavour's nose nine or 10 seconds after liftoff. The launch images are inconclusive. NASA expects that images collected during the astronauts' laser inspection of the nose and wings will reveal any damage, if it's there.

LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team, said the launch video suggests to some that Endeavour's nose took a hit. Still photos, on the other hand, show no impact.

Also, something appeared to fall off the tail end of the shuttle at liftoff, possibly part of a thermal tile. Later, at the 83-second mark, a piece of debris, possibly fuel-tank foam insulation, appeared to miss the shuttle's right wing.

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