By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Space shuttle Endeavour reached the International Space Station on Wednesday to deliver a premiere science instrument and spare parts during NASA's next-to-last shuttle mission.
The two-day trip to the orbital outpost ended at 6:14 a.m. EDT as the shuttle and stationed soared 220 milesnortheast of Chile.
Commander Mark Kelly gently pulsed his ship's steering jets to inch Endeavour onto a docking port on the station's Harmony module. After making sure the seals between the two ships are tight, Kelly and his five crewmates will board the station to begin a planned 12-day joint mission.
Endeavour blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on its 25th and final flight. NASA plans one last cargo run to the station in July aboard shuttle Atlantis to close out the 30-year-old shuttle program.
The shuttles are being retired due to high operating costs and to free up funds to develop new ships that can travel beyond the station's orbit.
Endeavour carries the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector, designed to analyze cosmic rays for signs of dark matter, antimatter and other exotic phenomena that cannot be detected by ordinary telescopes. The instrument, a multinational project of 600 physicists, will be attached to he outside of the station on Thursday.
Endeavour also is delivering a pallet of spare parts to tide over the station after the shuttles are retired.
Once Endeavour's cargo is installed on the station, the crew will turn its attention to four planned spacewalks and maintenance chores.
The shuttle is due back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 1.