The crewmembers of the space shuttle Discovery entered the International Space Station (ISS) Thursday after a smooth docking with the orbiting space lab, Russia's Mission Control said.
The seven astronauts aboard Discovery, led by Commander Eileen Collins, entered the ISS one and a half hours after the shuttle was locked onto the space station, Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin told the Itar-Tass news agency.
The crewmembers of the space station -- Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalyov and US astronaut John Phillips -- greeted the newcomers with bread and salt, a Russian tradition believed to bring good luck to guests.
Discovery docked with the ISS two days after blasting off into space on the first shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster. Columbia disintegrated over Texas upon re-entry to Earth on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
The shuttle brought supplies of water, oxygen and equipment to the ISS. The astronauts of Discovery are scheduled to conduct three space walks to replace a broken-down gyroscope on the station, check for damage to the shuttle's thermal tiles and try to fix crevices, if any, on the shuttle's exterior.
After reaching the doorstep of the ISS, the shuttle performed an unprecedented back flip to allow those aboard the outpost to photograph the shuttle's belly for signs of damage.
Sergei Puzanov, NASA's public relations coordinator in Russia, told Xinhua by telephone from Mission Control outside Moscow that these photographs will be sent back to Earth for experts to examine for any indication of damage to the shuttle's belly and a conclusion is expected over the weekend.
Discovery was just 180 meters beneath the station when Collins manually steered the shuttle's nose upward and slowly flipped the spacecraft over.
The maneuver came after a huge setback Wednesday, when NASA decided to ground future shuttle flights because a chunk of insulating foam fell off Discovery's fuel tank during liftoff, images reminiscent of the liftoff that doomed Columbia.
NASA needs a further study of the insulating foam on the shuttle but has not made a final decision to ground all space shuttles, so it is premature to say the Discovery flight will be the last of shuttle missions, Puzanov said.
The chief of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos)'s manned mission department, Alexey Krasnov, told reporters if US shuttle flights are not resumed this year, Roskosmos will ask NASA to pay for extra services to deliver crews and cargoes to the ISS.
"We are hoping the Discovery's current mission will provide information that will make other shuttle launches possible. If something serious happens to the orbiter after all, we shall stick to the old two-member-crew scenario," Krasnov said.
Roskosmos and NASA will discuss in August or September what services Russia can provide to deliver cargoes and crews and on what terms, he said.