Progress Capsule on approach to ISS, from a previous mission.
On late Friday November 30, the Progress M-21M (NASA designation Progress 53) robotic space cargo delivery spacecraft was finally docked to the Russian-built Zvesda module on the ISS. After it first reached rendezvous with the station, ground controllers had the ship perform a 1-mile flyby of the station to check out the Kurs automated docking system. All systems seemed ready, and the approach was initiated, but the craft suddenly went into station-keeping mode about 60 meters from the docking port.
Expedition 38 commander Oleg Kotov practicing the maneuvers for manual docking of a Progress vehicle. This practice would come in handy just a couple of days later.
Not to worry: Oleg was there. Oleg Kotov is the Expedition 38 commander, having recently taken command from Expedition 37 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin just last month. Just as recently as Nov. 22nd, he and fellow cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin practiced the techniques required to manually dock the Progress in case of a system glitch. Manually in this case means, remote-control from the station, as opposed to allowing the Progress auto-docking Kurs system to perfrom the maneuvers under supervision from Ground COntrollers. On Friday, Commander Kotov took to the laptop-controlled ISS system to pass radio controls to the Progress 53 craft, and docking was completed successfully.
Progress capsules are launched on the Soyuz family of rockets.
This Progress mission lifted off from Baikonur on Monday November 25, and took the normally longer orbital route to the station in order to test upgrades to the automated systems. It carries about 3 tons of neeeded supplies to the station, including water, propellant, atmosphere, and parts. The docking hatches were opened Saturday and the crew will take out supplies as schedule permits. Eventually the capsule will be filled with disposables and trash and then burned up over the ocean next year.