Astronauts 'impressed' with Cygnus space station delivery

11:38 AM, Jan 13, 2014   |    comments
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This NASA TV image shows Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus cargo ship arriving at the International Space Station on Sunday morning.



(Florida Today) -- A fresh batch of supplies and science experiments, including one designed by local high school students, safely reached the International Space Station early Sunday.

Expedition 38 astronauts captured Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus cargo freighter at 6:08 a.m., 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, traveling 17,500 mph.

Hopkins radioed congratulations to the ground, noting that the Cygnus, which was developed privately with NASA support, was the second he'd seen in three-and-a-half months, since a maiden demonstration mission last fall.

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

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

Astronaut Koichi Wakata of Japan attached the Cygnus to a Harmony node port two hours later.

The crew planned to open the hatch Sunday or today to begin removing experiments, including the time-sensitive "Ants in Space."

Another experiment on board was designed by students from West Shore Jr./Sr. High in Melbourne, 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.

Both the Orbital and SpaceX systems were developed under a roughly $800-million NASA program that transferred cargo delivery to commercial providers after the shuttle's retirement in 2011.

A similar program hopes to begin flying astronauts commercially by 2017. NASA last week announced plans to extend station operations at least another four years, to 2024.

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