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Discovery and Station Crews Join, Make Space History

Seven Discovery astronauts exchanged hugs with six counterparts on the International Space Station Wednesday morning, a union that marked the first time four women have flown together in space.

It also brought together two Japanese astronauts for the first time in orbit.

Discovery docked at the station at 3:44 a.m. Wednesday. After conducting leak checks and pressurizing a vestibule joining the two spacecraft, the shuttle crew floated into the station's Harmony module just after 5 a.m., about a half-hour ahead of schedule.

Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, commander of the stations Expedition 23 crew, soon began a safety briefing for the visitors, who plan to spend the next nine days unloading cargo and performing three spacewalks. Audio of the crews' greetings was not immediately available.

Arriving at the orbiting science complex were Discovery commander Alan Poindexter, pilot Jim Dutton and mission specialists Clay Anderson, Rick Mastracchio, Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Already on board were Kotov and fellow cosmonauts Alexander Skortsov and Mikhail Kornienko, Americans T.J. Creamer and Tracy Caldwell Dyson, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

Caldwell Dyson, Skortsov and Kornienko just arrived at the station Sunday in a Russian spacecraft, so the outpost's population has jumped from three to 13 in less than a week.

Officials also are celebrating the achievement for Japan, which first flew an astronaut in 1992. Yamazaki is the second Japanese woman to fly in space, and the seventh Japanese astronaut overall.

"I cannot help becoming emotional about the remarkable progress that Japan has made in the field of human space activities," Keiji Tachikawa, president of JAXA, said after Monday's shuttle launch.

The meeting was a reunion for some of the crew members: Anderson and Kotov worked together as crew members during Expedition 15, a period during which Mastracchio and Dyson visited as members of the STS-118 crew.

Now that Discovery has arrived, its crew will begin transferring video from Tuesday's heat shield inspection to station computers so it can be downloaded to the ground. The shuttle antenna that would normally have done that job has not been working.

The mission's next big task is the removal of the Leonardo cargo module from Discovery's payload bay and attachment to the station, a job planned late Wednesday after the crews sleep.

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