Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dragon to ISS: So Far, So Good

Dragon docked with Harmony module.

A new World Record: The first  company to dock a commercially-owned and operated spacecraft to the ISS. After spending some orbits maneuvering the Dragon near and around the station, the final moment came and Dragon began inching toward the ISS. On Friday morning, the Dragon came within grappling range of the station.

Dragon on Approach.

Dragon closing in to ISS. Good view of the solar panels, which were used successfully for the first time in space.

Dragon closes towards the CanadArm for grappling.

As Dragon arrived at the grappling point, the spacecraft and station flew into the shadow of the Earth plunging everything into darkness. Happily, there was enough glow from station lights to proceed with the operation.

View from the camera on the end of the robot arm. the small three-point grappling fixture is visible on Dragon on the lower section.

Astronauts spent less time than I expected using the arm to close in on Dragon. Each step proceeded carefully but correctly.

Hurray! Success!

Once the grapple was completed, astronauts used the arm to move the Dragon to its docking berth on the U.S. Harmony module. Two hours after grabbing the module, it was finally hard docked and operations began preparations for the opening. After all pressurizations and electrical checks were completed, and the astronauts had gotten some sleep, the hatch was finally opened on Saturday morning.
Astronauts in the Dragon hatch, with supplies in Dragon visible behind them.

Astronauts began unloading 1000 pounds of cargo from the Dragon. Once empty, they will carefully load it up with equipment and experiments that need to be returned to Earth. This return capability was lost with the end of the Shuttle flights, so it is strategically important for the return portion of the mission to succeed. The Dragon is expected to return to Earth on May 31st.

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