Christmas delivery finally arrives at space station

5:49 PM, Jan 12, 2014   |    comments
The International Space Station, seen from the space shuttle Discovery on March 7, 2011.
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A fresh batch of supplies and science experiments, including one designed by Florida high school students, has reached the International Space Station.

Expedition 38 astronauts captured Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus cargo freighter at 6:08 a.m. EST, three days after its launch from Virginia on an Antares rocket.

Steering a 58-foot robotic arm, astronaut Mike Hopkins snared the barrel-shaped spacecraft carrying nearly 2,800 pounds of supplies as the two vehicles flew 260 miles over the Indian Ocean, travelling 17,500 mph.

Hopkins radioed congratulations to the ground, noting that the Cygnus was the second he'd seen during his three-and-a-half months living on the station, starting with a maiden demonstration mission last fall.

"I think that's very impressive," he said.

Orbital Sciences Corp. was supposed to make the delivery last month, well before Christmas. But the Virginia company had to wait a month. A space station breakdown in mid-December took priority, and NASA bumped the flight to January in order to repair the disabled cooling system at the orbiting outpost. Then frigid weather at the launch site forced a delay. Then a strong solar storm interfered.

The capture this morning completed the first of eight planned Cygnus trips to the station under a $1.8 billion NASA resupply contract.

Astronaut Koichi Wakata of Japan was set to take over the robotic arm's controls to attach the Cygnus to a Harmony node port within a couple of hours.

The crew might have time to open the Cygnus hatch today, to remove the time-sensitive "Ants in Space" experiment, or it could be done Monday.

Another experiment on board was designed by students from West Shore Jr./Sr. High in Melbourne, Fla., one of 17 projects selected by the Student Spaceflight Experiment Project.

The experiment honors their former teacher, Jason Whitworth, who was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

The Cygnus is expected to stay berthed at the station for about 40 days.

Unlike SpaceX's Dragon, which has completed two resupply missions under a $1.6 billion contract and is targeting launch of a third next month from Cape Canaveral, the Cygnus will not return to Earth.

Instead it will be packed with trash, freeing up valuable space on the station, and burn up in the atmosphere when its mission is complete.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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