WASHINGTON – Astronauts swiftly docked a U.S. commercial cargo ship to the International Space Station on Friday (May 25) just over two hours after the historic capture of the spacecraft by the station’s robotic arm.
The Dragon spacecraft launched by SpaceX on Tuesday is the first U.S. visitor to the space station since space shuttle Atlantis docked with the station last July during the final flight of the shuttle era.
Earlier Friday, astronauts on the space station reached out and grabbed Dragon in darkness over northwestern Australia at 9:56 a.m. EDT as it drifted about 10 meters from the station. The “berthing” procedure was quickly completed at 12:02 p.m. EDT. “It was a great day today, let’s continue with Dragon,” Expedition 31 commander Oleg Kononenko told mission controllers after Dragon was securely attached to the space station.
The crew will next begin equalizing cabin pressures between the Dragon hatch and the station’s Harmony mode, then complete power and communications links. “Everything has gone very smoothly,” a NASA spokesman said after the docking procedure was completed.
Expedition 31 flight engineer Don Pettit used the space station’s robotic arm to grab the Dragon cargo ship launched by SpaceX on Tuesday. “Capture is confirmed,” Pettit told NASA’s Mission Control in Houston. “We’ve got us a Dragon by the tail!”
Dragon had been flying in formation with the space station since a successful rendezvous on Thursday.
The "grappling" procedure was delayed by almost an hour while flight controllers worked out kinks in Dragon's laser range-finding radar. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said during a celebratory mission status briefing after the successful docking that SpaceX engineers had to recalibrate the laser radar to "tighten the beam, and it worked."
Dragon spacecraft after being captured by the International Space Station's robotic arm (Source: NASA)
If the current schedule holds, the space station's six-man crew will open Dragon's hatch on Saturday, then unload its approximately 1,000-pound cargo of food, clothing and equipment. The crew will then fill Dragon with return cargo such as unneeded space-walking equipment.
NASA is scheduled to hold a status briefing on Dragon's historic mission to the International Space Station later today. Live video from the International Space Station can be viewed here
The Dragon spacecraft as seen from the International Space Station on Friday (May 25) at a distance of about 30 meters. (NASA TV)