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Atlantis docks with space station

The space shuttle Atlantis has linked up one last time with the International Space Station on the final voyage of the 30-year shuttle program.

Emotions ran high Sunday among NASA staff as the space shuttle Atlantis linked up with the International Space Station for the last time.

The shuttle docked with the space station a few minutes after 11 a.m. ET.  Atlantis is on the final mission of the space shuttle's 30-year program. The five space shuttles have ferried 355 astronauts in space in 135 missions.

Mission Control's lead flight director Matt Abbott declared, "This is it!" as he gave the OK for the historic linkup.

"Atlantis arriving," called out space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. "Welcome to the International Space Station for the last time."

"And it's great to be here," replied shuttle commander Christopher Ferguson.

Atlantis lines up with the International Space Station. The shuttle has brought a year's worth of supplies. ((NASA/Getty))

On Saturday, the crew spent its first full day in space using the Canadian robot arm to examine the heat shields for any damage that might have occurred during the shuttle's Friday launch. No problems were detected.

Atlantis is delivering more than 3,600 kilograms of food, clothes and other space station provisions, an entire year's worth, to keep the space station going.  The shuttle's astronauts will spend about a week on the station helping to unload the provisions.

Sunday's linkup marked the 46th docking by a space shuttle to a space station.

Spending one week at space station

Besides shuttle commander Ferguson, Atlantis carries pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus.  It is the smallest astronaut crew in decades.

NASA kept the crew to a minimum to allow the astronauts to stay on the space station in the event of an emergency. 

Officials say Atlantis is sailing smoothly two days into its 12-day voyage.

In fact, Mission Control was so pleased that it made a 10-centimetre image of a shuttle made entirely of exclamation points in its Sunday morning mail up to Atlantis.

NASA is donating the three remaining shuttles to museums, so it can start working on ferrying people to asteroids and Mars.  After its voyage, Atlantis will go on display at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The two other retired shuttles are heading to museums in Los Angeles and Virginia.

Private companies are expected to take up the job of space station delivery runs and, later on, astronaut flights to the station.

Thousands of NASA employees are set to lose their jobs.

Rocket scientist Gerry Mulberry, who worked for the space program for 30 years, said in an interview with CBC News Network that it was a "sad thing" to watch the final launch at Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Friday.

"[I was] trying to take it all in, enjoy it, the beauty of it and then realizing that it will never be seen again. It is a little hard to take," he said in an interview on Saturday from his home in Florida.

With files from The Associated Press

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