The shuttle performed a backflip before linking up with the ISS at 0744 GMT, 344 km above the Caribbean, NASA said.

上海性息

Discovery’s mission – one of the US shuttle fleet’s last before it is retured at the end of the year, after 30 years’ service – has put more women in orbit than ever before.

The shuttle’s seven member crew includes three female mission specialists while a fourth, American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, is already onbaord the space station.

Dyson arriving at the ISS on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the weekend.

On Wednesday, she was joined by Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, 34, a former high school science teacher; Stephanie Wilson, 43, a veteran of two shuttle missions; and Naoko Yamazaki, 39, an astronaut with the Japanese space agency since 1996.

Antenna damaged in launch

Rounding out the Discovery crew are mission commander AlanPoindexter, 48; co-pilot Jim Dutton, 41; mission specialist and spacewalker Rick Mastracchio, 50; and fellow spacewalker Clay Anderson, 51.

The mission also puts two Japanese astronauts in space simultaneously for the first time, with Yamazaki joining Soichi Noguchi, who arrived at the station in December.

Discovery blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Monday in a launch marred by the failure of an antenna used to transmit television pictures back to Earth that also is part of its radar docking system.

But NASA officials said the shuttle could safely dock without the antenna.

During the mission, Discovery will deliver nearly eight tonnes of cargo, including spare bunks for the occupants of the space station, a large tank of ammonia coolant and seven racks filled with science experiments.

Three space walks planned

Among the gear being hauled into space is a freezer to preserve samples of blood, urine, saliva, plants or microbes used in micro-gravity experiments for later analysis back on Earth.

Discovery is also carrying an exercise machine designed to study the effects of weightlessness on the body’s musculoskeletal system. Muscles can atrophy during long sojourns in space so astronauts have to exercise regularly.

Two astronauts will conduct three space walks lasting six-and-a-half hours each on days five, seven and nine of the mission.

The International Space Station, a 100-billion-dollar project begun in 1998 with the participation of 16 countries, is financed mainly by the United States.

Once the shuttle program ends, the United States will depend on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry their astronauts to the station until a new US launch vehicle is ready to take over around 2015.