Washington, July 11 (IANS/EFE) The space shuttle Atlantis, on its final journey in orbit with four US astronauts aboard, successfully docked Sunday with the International Space Station on the 12-day mission that will bring NASA's shuttle programme to an end.
The docking occurred at 1507 GMT, one minute later than scheduled, after a precise reorientation maneuver was performed during which the shuttle was only moving at 3 cm per second, relative to the ISS.
The 12th rendezvous of Atlantis with the ISS was completed with the two craft traveling about 386 km above the eastern coast of New Zealand, according to the US space agency.
Two days after its liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Atlantis became the 37th shuttle to dock with the ISS.
The four astronauts on board the shuttle entered the ISS at 1647 GMT to greet the three astronauts residing there, who had prepared their traditional welcoming ceremony for them.
Being ferried up to the ISS by Atlantis is an experiment to develop vaccines against gastrointestinal diseases such as that caused by salmonella, with the aim of researching on the behaviour of the bacteria in microgravity.
Atlantis is also carrying enough replacement parts to keep the space station operating once the shuttle programme is shut down.
Finally, it is carrying the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) experiment, designed to test tools, technologies and techniques needed to mechanically refuel or otherwise resupply satellites in space.
Heading the historic mission is retired US Navy Capt. Chris Ferguson, on his third flight into space, and pilot Doug Hurley, a Marine colonel, on his second space mission.
Rounding out the crew are mission specialists Sandra Magnus, an engineer, and Rex Walheim, a retired Air Force colonel. Magnus has spent a total of four months in space on three past missions and Walheim also has been in space three times and has performed five spacewalks.
Atlantis, the fourth shuttle to be put into service, has made 32 space flights in its 26-year operating history, has been in space for more than 293 days and has flown more than 194 million km.