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Astronauts Welcome SpaceX Dragon Aboard Space Station


NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, foreground, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide nab SpaceX Dragon with space station's robot arm. Photo Credit/NASA


Astronauts aboard the International Space Station hauled SpaceX’s Dragon re-supply craft aboard early Wednesday, successfully ending the outbound leg of the Hawthorne, Calif., based company’s first contracted re-supply mission to the orbiting science lab.


Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and U. S. astronaut Sunita Williams teamed up to capture and berth the freighter with the station’s Canadian robot arm is Dragon  rendezvoused and crept within 35 feet.

“Looks like we tamed the Dragon,” joked Williams, who assisted as Hoshide grappled the supply craft with the 58 foot robot arm just before 7 a.m., EDT.  After reversing roles, Williams berthed the Dragon two hours later.

The astronauts as well as the SpaceX and NASA flight control teams in the Los Angeles suburb and Houston earned the praise of Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, who watched from NASA’s Mission Control.

“The control center team here and the team out in Hawthorne just did a phenomenal job of making a pretty complex ballet in space look pretty easy,” he said. “It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and they just did a great job.”

Dragon locked in grip of Canadian robot arm. Photo Credit/NASA

SpaceX carried out a successful test flight to the station in May under NASA’s six year old Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program. The achievement paved the way for Sunday’s launch of the Dragon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the first in a series of cargo deliveries to the station under a $1.6 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract.

The unfolding mission is restoring two capabilities to U. S.s oil lost as NASA’s shuttle program was retired in mid-2011. In addition to delivering supplies, the Dragon is alone among Russian, European and Japanese supply craft in its ability to return station cargos to Earth.

The SpaceX capsule arrived Wednesday  with nearly 1,000 pounds of food, clothing spare parts and gear in support of the 166 science investigations and engineering demonstrations under way on the orbital outpost. It’s scheduled to depart Oct. 28 for a same day descent to Earth with more than 1,600 pounds of biomedical specimens, including frozen blood and urine, as well as station hardware in need of refurbishment.

The specimens are an irreplaceable part of research into how humans adapt to long duration spaceflight.

Ship borne SpaceX recovery teams will be positioned in the Pacific Ocean off the Southern California coast ready to bring Dragon ashore. Meanwhile, a second NASA Commercial Resupply Services contractor, Orbital Sciences Corp., of Dulles,Va., is preparing for a 2013 demo mission to the station, followed by regular supply runs to the station.

“They are making good solid progress,” Gerstenmaier said of Orbital’s development efforts.

The U. S. led 15 nation space station partnership plans to keep the six-person lab  active through at least 2020.




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