'Easter Dragon' Pays a Visit to the Space Station

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Astronauts aboard the International Space Station on Monday opened the hatch on the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship that arrived Sunday and began unpacking more than two tons of food, science experiments and supplies tucked inside.

The first item out was the T-Cell Activation in Aging experiment, which was quickly set up in the station’s European science module, Columbus, said NASA spokesman Kyle Herring.

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“It’s a unique experiment,” Herring said during the daily Space Station Live update on NASA Television.

The experiment is designed to study how the weakened immune systems of older people compare with the changes observed in astronauts on long-duration spaceflights.

The Dragon cargo ship, built and operated by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX,  reached the station Sunday morning after a 36-hour orbital chase.

“The Easter Dragon is knocking at the door,” astronaut Randy Bresnik radioed to the crew from mission control in Houston as they used the station’s robot arm to anchor the capsule to a docking port on the Harmony module.

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Dragon is one of two privately owned U.S. freighters making supply runs to the station, a permanently staffed research complex that flies about 260 miles above Earth.

SpaceX so far has flown to the station four times — three times as part of its $1.6 billion contract with NASA and once under a separate NASA agreement that partly covered Dragon development and testing.

The capsule arriving Sunday also includes a pair of legs for the station’s experimental humanoid robot, Robonaut, a prototype high-speed laser communications system, high-definition video cameras and a new spacesuit for future spacewalks.

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