Space Station Crew 'Tames' SpaceX Dragon

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Astronauts aboard the International Space Station snared themselves a Dragon cargo capsule early Wednesday.

The freighter, launched Sunday evening by manufacturer Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, flew itself to within 10 meters (about 33 feet) from the station, then shut down its rocket thrusters to let the station crew take over.

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Working from a control station inside the station’s Cupola module, a small room with windows on seven sides, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide gently steered the station’s 58-foot long robotic crane over to the Dragon cargo capsule and latched on to a grapple fixture at 6:56 a.m. EDT. The two spacecraft were flying in tandem at 17,500 mph about 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California in northwest Mexico, at the time.

“Looks like we tamed the Dragon,” station commander Sunita Williams radioed to Mission Control in Houston.

“We’re happy she’s on board with us. Thanks to everybody at SpaceX and NASA for bringing her here to us. And the ice cream,” she said.

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Dragon launched with a freezer to ferry medical research samples to and from the outpost. It was launched with ice cream inside, a rare treat for an orbiting crew.

Once the capsule is attached to the station, astronauts will begin unpacking the food, clothes, science experiments and science gear inside and filling it up with about a ton of cargo and experiments that needs to be returned to Earth.

Dragon is due to remain berthed at the station for 18 days, then parachute down into the Pacific Ocean for recovery. It will be the first large load of items to come back from the station since the space shuttles were retired last year.

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SpaceX is one of two firms hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station, restoring a U.S. supply line to the orbital outpost following the end of the shuttle program. The second company, Orbital Sciences Corp., plan to start flights to the station next year.

Image: SpaceX Dragon arrives at the space station. Credit: NASA Television