CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Atlantis arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday for what could be its last visit, delivering fresh batteries and other equipment to help keep the outpost running long after the shuttle program ends.

For now, Atlantis’ dance card is empty after this flight, and NASA has just two missions remaining. But there’s a push to keep the space shuttles flying until next June and to give Atlantis one last hurrah.

The rendezvous with the space station was accompanied by considerably more picture-taking than usual, to make up for a curtailed safety survey the day before.

Three of the six space station residents snapped a total of 398 pictures using zoom lenses as Atlantis made its final approach. The shuttle performed a slow backflip so all its surfaces could be photographed. An hour later, it docked flawlessly with the station, 220 miles above the South Pacific.

On Saturday, a snagged cable prevented the six shuttle astronauts from properly inspecting their ship. NASA ordered extra pictures and added an additional space station photographer. The astronauts may try to free the cable during a spacewalk this week.

The photo shoot lasted just a few minutes against a breathtaking backdrop of the Portuguese coast, Spain, France and northern Italy.

Shuttle commander Kenneth Ham and his crew will spend a week at the orbiting science complex, installing a new Russian compartment and replacing six batteries. Three spacewalks are planned, beginning today. If the cable repair is approved, it would be added to the second spacewalk Wednesday or the third Friday.

The cable at the end of Atlantis’ inspection boom is caught on a protruding sensor that’s part of a camera system. Engineers don’t know how the cable became snagged. The problem prevented the astronauts from thoroughly checking the left wing and some other areas of the shuttle Saturday.

Flight director Mike Sarafin said he may ask the astronauts to look at some of the missed sections later in the week, using the robot arm. Shuttle inspections in orbit became mandatory after the 2003 Columbia tragedy.


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