Space shuttle Atlantis docked flawlessly with the international space station today, the AP reports. Atlantis is delivering a $2 billion lab eagerly awaited by European scientists. Before docking, the shuttle performed a giant backflip so station crew members could take images of the shuttle's thermal shield. NASA engineers will examine them to make sure all is well.
Such check-ups have become routine after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated, killing all seven of its astronauts. But NASA insists the scrapes on Atlantis are “not a show-stopper.” The Columbus lab marks a greater European role in space exploration, the AP says. Stalled by station redesigns and shuttle groundings, the facility cost $2 billion and took 23 years to complete.