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Shuttle Discovery's astronauts and NASA cooperate in doing biggest construction job

Astronauts aboard space shuttle Discovery and NASA rallied to link their ships and kick off the biggest construction job ever attempted by a single team in orbit.

Digital pictures taken of Discovery as it closed in for the docking were hurriedly beamed down so NASA could determine if a small patch of ice did any damage when it shook loose from fuel tank plumbing and hit the shuttle.

The ice - which almost held up the launch - struck the fuel-feedline hatch on the bottom of Discovery when the engines ignited Tuesday. Flight director Rick LaBrode said NASA was not second-guessing its decision to press ahead with the launch, noting that controllers suspected the ice would fall off, just as it did, and cause no trouble.

History was made with the 215-mile(346-kilometer)-high linkup: It was the first time two female commanders met in space.

Retired Air Force Col. Pamela Melroy steered Discovery in for the docking and was the first to enter the space station. She was embraced by Peggy Whitson, the station's skipper.

Laughter and shouts of "How you doing?" filled the space station as the seven shuttle astronauts floated in one after the other and greeted the three station occupants.

"Hey watch out now, don't be messing up my walls," joked station resident Clayton Anderson.

A half-hour later, Anderson relinquished his space station position to Daniel Tani, who will spend the next two months there. "I have to send out my 'I have moved' card," Tani radioed to Mission Control.

"He's behind already one month in rent," said Anderson, who moved into the space station in June. Discovery will bring him home.

The first of a record-tying five spacewalks is set for Friday.

Astronauts Scott Parazynski and Douglas Wheelock will be outside as a bus-sized compartment named Harmony is unloaded from Discovery's payload bay and attached to the space station by the station's robot arm.

Harmony, which was made in Italy, will serve as the docking port for the European and Japanese laboratories that will be delivered on the next three shuttle flights.

The two spacewalkers will remove an antenna from the station and pack it aboard Discovery for the ride back, and prepare a space station girder for relocation later in the flight.

Melroy, 46, earned praise from Mission Control for her precise parking at the space station. She is only the second woman to command a shuttle.

Right before the docking, Melroy guided Discovery through a 360-degree backflip so the station crew could photograph the entire shuttle. The pictures will help NASA ascertain whether Discovery's belly sustained any launch damage from ice or insulating foam from the fuel tank.

Whitson, 47, a biochemist, is the first woman to command a space station.

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