Saturday, May 26, 2012

First private spacecraft docks to space station

May 24, 2012 NASA / SpaceX news conference to update Dragon.

(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- Astronauts aboard the International Space Station spent Saturday unloading fresh supplies from the newly arrived commercial spacecraft Dragon.

Constructed and launched by the private company Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX, Dragon arrived at the orbiting complex on Friday loaded with nearly 1200 pounds of clothes, food, water and a computer for the crew.

Flight engineer Don Pettit, who used the station's 57-foot robotic arm to pluck Dragon from space and berth it to Harmony, and two astronauts will begin on Monday unloading the craft.

The trio will then reload Dragon with station experiments, trash and equipment for it's return to earth.

Dragon will stay berthed to the station's Harmony node until Thursday.
"May 31st is our planned departure day," NASA lead flight director Holly Ridings explained to this aerospace reporter. "We've got a couple of days after that to work with, and then the Dragon if needed could stay after that."

The station's crew have bagged up most of what will be loaded and returned to earth.
"We're gonna have plenty of time to get Dragon unloaded and loaded back up," Pettit answered when I asked him about the short timeline.

 "There's about as much stuff in (Dragon) as I can put in the back of my pick-up truck, and I don't think there will be any issue with the three of us working and getting this thing unloaded over the next few days."

The final Dragon mission objective will come with the safe recovery of the payloads the craft returns from the orbital outpost.

Dragon is expected to splashdown in the Pacific waters at about 10:45 a.m. EDT, some 250 miles off the coast of southern California nearly five hours after leaving the space station.

(Charles Atkeison reports on science & technology for Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

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