When Dragon Met Harmony
May 26, 2012 -- On Saturday morning at 5:53 a.m. EDT, astronauts aboard the International Space Station unlocked the Dragon hatch and ventured into the first commercial spacecraft in history to be attached to the orbiting outpost.
The Dragon, built and operated by the private space company Space Exploration Technologies (or SpaceX), was launched on May 22 and successfully carried out a complex series of orbital maneuvers before berthing with the space station on May 25.
Throughout Dragon's rendezvous with the Harmony module of the station, European astronaut and flight engineer André Kuipers -- who is currently on board the space station as a member of Expedition 30/31 -- captured some key moments in high-resolution through the lens of his camera. Here are the highlights.
Dragon Over Namibia
During one of the Dragon's "fly-unders," Kuipers snapped the private spacecraft as it passed over the Namibian desert.
10 Meters and Closing
The Dragon moves toward the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm.
On Friday at 9:56 a.m. EDT, NASA astronaut Don Pettit radioed Mission Control in Houston, Texas, to say: "Looks like we've got us a Dragon by the tail."
Using the space station's Canadarm2, Pettit grappled the Dragon to begin the gentle process of berthing the unmanned cargo capsule with the station's Nadir port on its Harmony module.
"Like this it looks a bit like a model from a 70's sci-fi film," Kuipers remarks on his Flickr page.
Teamwork in the Cupola
NASA flight engineer Don Pettit (front) and André Kuipers work in the space station's Cupola during the Dragon berthing.
The Dragon capsule and Canadarm2 reflect lights from the space station as sunlight catches the Earth's horizon.
The docking camera shows the Dragon's hatch as it nears berthing.
Kupers: "And the Dragon is in its lair! Task accomplished."
"The gate to the Dragon's lair"
Kuipers' reflection can be seen the Dragon's hatch window.
"Of course it is from Los Angeles."
Once the hatch was opened on Saturday morning, Don Pettit remarked that the Dragon's interior smelled "like a brand new car."
Kuipers went even further, saying: "Inside of the Dragon module. Beautiful. Spacious, Modern. Blue LEDs. Feels a bit like a sci-fi filmset. Of course it is from Los Angeles."
Now the Dragon is attached to the station, the astroauts will unload the cargo and then reload the capsule with equipment and experiments to be returned to Earth. Undocking is scheduled for May 31 before the capsule will reenter and splash-down off the coast of California.
For more incredible space station photographs and high-resolution versions of the photos shown here, be sure to browse André Kuipers' Flickr photostream.
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