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Space shuttle Discovery successfully docks with ISS

Space shuttle Discovery comes out of its back flip maneuver underneath the International Space Station. PHOTO NASA TV

CAPE CANAVERAL (AP): Space shuttle Discovery successfully docked at the International Space Station early on Wednesday, its astronauts overcoming a rare antenna breakdown that knocked out radar tracking.

Shuttle commander Alan Poindexter and his crew relied on other navigation devices to approach the orbiting outpost.

"You guys are looking beautiful," Japanese space station resident Soichi Noguchi radioed as the shuttle drew within 201 meters, loaded down with supplies.

The two spacecraft came together 346 kilometers above the Caribbean, precisely on time.

It was only the second that a shuttle had to dock with the space station without any radar; the first was 10 years ago.

Poindexter trained for just such an event two weeks ago. As he closed in on the final 46 meters, he radioed, "It's a lot of fun."

One of the first matters of business for the 13 space fliers - once the hatches swung open - was transmitting detailed laser images of Discovery to Mission Control in Houston. The shuttle crew was going to use the station's equipment to send down the wing and nose images that were collected Tuesday. The antenna breakdown prevented their immediate relay to experts on the ground for analysis.

NASA needs to scrutinize the data to make sure Discovery suffered no launch damage that could jeopardize its re-entry on April 18.

On a lighter note, Discovery's arrival also meant that the world finally was going to see the seven shuttle astronauts in space.

The failure of Discovery's dish antenna shortly after Monday's liftoff prevented the astronauts from sending and receiving big packages of information during their first two days in orbit. Video shots also fell by the wayside.

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