Astronaut Nyberg in the cupola, practicing docking with the Robotic Arm controls. The view from the cupola windows is extraordinary. Images today from NASA, in the Image Gallery for the ISS mission. Good to see my tax dollars at work!
They make it look too easy, but it's not. On August 9, Japan's HTV4 automated cargo spacecraft reached the International Space Station and was carefully guided to docking through a collaborative effort of the astronauts, Japan's mission control, and NASA's mission control. Following a textbook-perfect series of grappling and robotic arm maneuvers, the craft was docked at the Node 2 docking port. That's the same docking port used by SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft (currently on Earth). What doesn't show in the pictures are the thousands of hours of practice, preparations, and troubleshooting that goes into making sure these systems work perfect every time. And the astronauts make it look good.
Just before Docking: Get your cameras ready... Cassidy and Nyberg in the cupola with HTV4 seen floating above Earth yet some distance from the ISS.
And it's also not just a simple matter to get the spacecraft up to the ISS. There's quite a complex dance of maneuvers, thruster firings, communications relays and a myriad of system checks that ensure that the cargo arrives on time. Well, at least safely. NASASpaceFlight.com has a great article on the techniques used to get the HTV4 into position for the astronaut crew just before grappling. You can catch lots of information here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2013/08/japans-htv-4-berths-with-the-iss/
Much closer now. Better get the arm ready.
HTV4 will stay at the station for some time, as the crew removes the cargo and eventually fills the craft with garbage, waste, and broken or discarded equipment. Some months from now the HTV4 will be undocked, and sent to burn up in the atmosphere over an empty ocean. SpaceX's Dragon will be arriving at the same Node 2 docking port early in 2014.