Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette takes a moment for a photo on the flight deck of Endeavour during post-launch activities on Wednesday. Astronaut Doug Hurley, pilot, is visible in the background. ((Reuters/NASA))

Two Canadian astronauts took part in a historic meeting Friday afternoon, after the space shuttle carrying Julie Payette docked with the International Space Station, the orbiting platform where Robert Thirsk has been stationed since May.

After a two-day chase in orbit, Endeavour docked at the space station at 1:47 p.m. ET.

NASA officials described the docking manoeuvre as "just about as smooth as they come."

Hatches between them were opened at 3:48 p.m., and astronauts on either side waved vigorously at each other before station commander Gennady Padalka rang the ship’s bell signalling the Endeavour's arrival as part of a welcome ceremony.


Julie Payette (right) floats through the International Space Station shortly after her arrival Friday afternoon. She joins fellow Canadian Bob Thisk as part of a record 13-member crew. ((NASA TV))

Thirsk and five other astronauts already on the station greeted Payette and six other Endeavour astronauts with hugs as they entered one by one, swelling the station's crew to a record 13.

It was to be the first time two Canadian astronauts have ever worked in space together.

Payette said during a news conference in May the meeting of two Canadians in space was inevitable.

"It's historic, but I see that as a normal evolution for a country which has always been an important player in the exploration of space," she said at the time.


Robert Thirsk, left, and Julie Payette, right, look over a model of the International Space Station alongside then-industry minister Jim Prentice during a news conference in February 2008 in Montreal announcing their missions. On Friday, the two astronauts reunited at the space station. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Montreal-born Payette is one of seven astronauts who launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday aboard Endeavour on a 16-day mission to install a new component to the Japanese space lab, called Kibo.

Thirsk, from New Westminster, B.C., travelled to the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, which lifted off from a launch pad in Kazakhstan on May 27. Thirsk, who is living on the station for six months, is the first Canadian to stay aboard the station for an extended period of time.

American to swap places with Japanese crew member

The reunion in space also included a swap of astronauts between the crews of the shuttle and space station.

Japan's Koichi Wakata, in orbit at the space station since March, will now join the Endeavour crew and return to Earth aboard the shuttle when it leaves. His replacement, American Timothy Kopra, was more than a month late because of launch delays.

The joining of the seven-person shuttle crew with the six-person station crew will also mark the first time more than 10 astronauts have been aboard the station at the same time. The space station crew was expanded to six astronauts for the first time in May.

Endeavour performed a backflip before connecting to the station to allow the station crew to photograph the shuttle's entire surface. A number of chunks of foam insulation from the shuttle's fuel tank appeared to strike the shuttle during liftoff, though NASA said preliminary investigations show the damage to be minor.

With files from The Associated Press