Cape Canaveral, Fla. — Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew arrived at the international space station on Wednesday for a weeklong visit, delivering a giant girder and a big supply of salsa.
After four months of bland, canned food, the space station's lone American, Peggy Whitson, had requested some spice.
"We've got your salsa," Atlantis' skipper, Jeffrey Ashby, radioed as the shuttle drew near.
"OK, we'll let you in then," Whitson replied.
Two hours after linkup occurred more than 240 miles above central Asia, the hatches between the two spacecraft swung open, and Whitson and her two Russian crewmates welcomed their first guests. Cheers, shouts and laughter filled the orbiting complex. "You guys look great!" one of Atlantis' crewmen said.
Besides salsa, the six shuttle astronauts brought onions, garlic, fresh fruit and a pecan pie.
The festivities end and construction work begins today.
Whitson and shuttle astronaut Sandra Magnus will use the station's robot arm to lift the 14-ton girder out of Atlantis' payload bay. As soon as the aluminum frame is clamped tightly onto the station, two of Atlantis' crewmen will venture out on a spacewalk to hook up cables.
Three spacewalks will be needed to make all the connections.
The $390 million girder is equipped with three radiators and 15 miles of wiring. It also has more than one-third mile of fiber optic cable and 426 feet of stainless steel tubes for ammonia, which will serve as a coolant, and nitrogen, which will maintain the ammonia pressure.
The cooling system will not be activated until next year.
Another girder with another set of radiators will be delivered next month by space shuttle Endeavour, which will also be the ride home for Whitson and cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Sergei Treschev. The three moved into the space station in June.
NASA's shuttle fleet was grounded all summer by cracked fuel lines; Atlantis ended the standstill with Monday's launch.
"It does feel good to be back in the saddle," lead flight director Phil Engelauf said. "The crews are happy to be flying again, and certainly I know the station crew is happy to see their visitors show up at their door."