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STS-122 Docks With ISS, Columbus Deployment Delayed

ESA's Schlegel Said To Be Under The Weather

The STS-122 crew entered the International Space Station for the first time after the hatches between the station and space shuttle Atlantis opened at 1440 EST Saturday, kicking off what will now be a 10-day visit to the orbital station.

Atlantis and the STS-122 crew arrived at the International Space Station at 1217 EST Saturday, delivering the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory and a new crew member to the orbital outpost.

Plans to install Columbus to the station Sunday, however, were moved off a day due to a reported illness among the STS-122 crew. The delay will have "no impact to the overall mission objectives," the space agency noted.

Though NASA would only state the delay was due to a non-life-threatening "crew medical issue," news reports indicate it's ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel who is under the weather. Those reports would appear to be confirmed by the fact astronaut Stan Love will fill in for Schlegel on the mission's first spacewalk to attach the Columbus lab to the Harmony module.

Love will join fellow NASA astronaut Rex Walheim on that spacewalk, now scheduled for Monday. As a result of the delay, NASA also extended Atlantis' time at the station by one day, with the shuttle's return now scheduled for February 19.

Prior to Saturday's docking, the orbiter underwent a 'backflip,' so that cameras on the ISS could detect any potential damage to the underside of the orbiter's heat shield from Thursday's launch. Those results will be analyzed in the coming days by engineers on the ground.

Reuters reports shuttle commander Stephen Frick paused during the maneuver, so cameras could focus in on a small tear in a thermal blanket on the shuttle's right orbital maneuvering system pod. Atlantis suffered a similar malady to its left OMS pod during last June's STS-117 mission.

Images taken of the orbiter also show a small area of potential damage to the right-side forward reaction control system, near the shuttle's nose cap. Engineers are currently analyzing if either issue is severe enough to warrant special repair measures.

NASA confirmed Friday three small pieces of foam broke off the external fuel tank during Atlantis' ride into orbit.

In lighter news, Atlantis crewmembers caught site of the station Saturday morning, while approximately 40 miles away. "If the station is off the shuttle's nose, it's hugely bright," radioed Frick.

"We were wondering if it's all those candles on Peggy's birthday cake," replied flight communicator Kevin Ford from Mission Control in Houston, according to Reuters. Saturday was Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson's 48th birthday.

FMI: www.spaceflight.nasa.gov

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