After a perfect launch this weekend, the Dragon space capsule arrived at the International Space Station earlier today. The most-anticipated item? Mustard, as the station's condiment supplies had run critically low.
Top image: Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Sam Cristoforetti preparing to capture the Dragon. Credit: NASA/Terry W. Virts
The Dragon 1 kilometer out from the station. Image credit: NASA/Terry W. Virts
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This marks the fifth successful cargo run (CSR-5) for SpaceX of twelve required in their commercial supply contract. They launched the Dragon spacecraft launched early on Saturday morning as the primary mission leading up to the secondary mission of a not-so-soft barge landing.
Orbital path for the Dragon's approach to the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA/SpaceX
After a 2-day approach, the Dragon was captured at 5:54 am ET, a few minutes earlier than the estimated 6:12 am arrival time, then berthed to the Harmony node where it will remain bolted until February.
The Dragon station-keeping 30 meters away from the station with a flashing beacon. Cristoforetti commented that it reminded her of an Italian flag. Image credit: NASA/Terry W. Virts
The Dragon space capsule arrived within grappling reach of the station early this morning. As the station was flying over the Mediterranean Sea, NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore captured the capsule using the Canadarm with ESA astronaut Sam Cristoforetti acting as his backup.
Astronauts on the space station captured the Dragon, then handed control over to ground operators to complete the docking. Image credit: NASA/Terry W. Virts
The beast captured, the astronauts handed remote control to ground operators at Houston mission control to complete the installation over the next two hours. As always, the Canadian robotics controllers for the Canadarm in Saint-Hubert, Quebec had their version of the JPL peanuts: an ample supply of maple cream cookies to see them through the operations.
You know what this Dragon needs? More cookies. Image credit: CSA
The ground team preparing with a goodly supply of local dragons. Image credit: NASA/Cady Coleman
This is only the second cargo run to the station since the Antares rocket exploded on launch in October. While the astronauts still had plenty of food and water, they were very excited to finally get new condiments to liven up food and an excuse to break out the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy t-shirts to match their Expedition 42 theme.
Today was spent attaching the Dragon to the station: docking, securing with 16 bolts, checking for leaks, and equalizing pressure. Tomorrow the astronauts will begin unloading.
The hatch reportedly smells of space. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Sam Cristoforetti
Including the much-craved mustard, the Dragon is carrying its 2,300 kilograms (5,000 pounds) of cargo. The supplies include equipment to support 256 experiments, station equipment, consumables (food and water!), and care packages for the crew.
The Dragon safely docked to the space station, enjoying its first sunrise. Image credit: NASA/Terry W. Virts
The experiments include some replacements for those blown up on the Antares, including a student project from Kamloops, BC to look at crystal growth. Another experiment will build on a past discovery that miRNA expression is different in space, checking out if there is a molecular basis for the suppression of T-cell activation in microgravity that might be useful in developing drugs for combatting immune disease.
The Dragon also carried new invertebrate astronauts to the station: fruit flies for assorted experiments, and planarian flatworms to help study wound healing in space.
This makes more sense than the roundworms that will be used to study muscle loss, and, more confusingly, bone loss in astronauts. How studying an animal with no bones is going to accomplish that I have no idea (unless they start deliberately infecting astronauts with parasites, which makes no sense unless we live in a dystopian alternate reality).
CATS with lasers in space! Okay, it's not this dramatic.
This is also the start of the CATS project, the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System to use lidar to study clouds, smoke, and dust from the space station. Along with all the jokes about lasers and cats in space, this also means that the station's self-repairing robotic handyman Dextre will have a whole new challenge:
The station is also getting a new IMAX camera. Alas, it isn't for our benefit: it's to film the outside of the station for planning out the installation of new international docking hatches. Considering how often we've seen the space station full with vessels in every berth, that sounds like a very good idea.
A single light left on on the Dragon overnight, possibly to scare away monsters. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Sam Cristoforetti
Despite being late for both NASA's Christmas celebration in December, and the Roscosmos celebration of Christmas on January 7th, the astronaut care packages include adorable belated Christmas presents. The late presents weren't the result of bad planning: this particular launch was originally scheduled for October and kept being pushed back until ultimately getting scrubbed directly before the holiday break. The care package also included more mundane but just as appreciated items: clean clothes, including socks and underwear.
Visualization of current station configuration. Image credit: NASA
The space station is currently home to several vessels but is far from full. For crew transport, the Russian Soyuz spacecrafts that will carry the astronaut trio from Expedition 41/42 home in March and the astronaut trio from Expedition 42/43 in May are still docked to the station. For cargo tugs, the Russian Progress cargo tug; the final ESA ATV cargo tug Georges Lemaître, and now an American commercial resupply vessel, the SpaceX Dragon are filling assorted berths. The ATV will be the first to leave: Wilmore and Virts have already begun preparations to detach it from the Zvezda service module in advance of booting it from the station on February 27th.
The Dragon against a backdrop of dunes before docking at the station. Image credit: NASA/Terry W. Virts
As the only cargo vessel that can carry materials back to the planet, the Dragon will be repacked to the gills with completed experiments, no-longer-needed crew supplies, and other pieces needing an Earth-return. It'll be coming down lighter than it went up, with just 1,600 kilograms (3,600 pounds) of cargo planned for the returned trip.
The Dragon creeping up on the space station. Image credit: NASA/Roscosmos/Anton Shkaplerov
When it's time to go, mission control will use the Canadarm to pluck the Dragon from the station and dangle it 15 meters away. The craft will make three burns to pull it away from the station, cruise for five hours before making a deorbit burn, then come plummeting through the atmosphere to splash down in the Pacific Ocean. Once back on Earth, it will be picked up by a SpaceX boat (but not the now-iconic drone ship barge) and brought back to land for unpacking.
The Dragon 300 meters from the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA/Terry W. Virts
Welcome to the station, Dragon.