A commercial cargo ship loaded with
nearly 1.5 tons of supplies and equipment was captured by the International Space
Station's robot arm early Sunday and attached to a docking port, wrapping up a complex but problem-free rendezvous.
The Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft,
launched Thursday from Wallops Island, Va., was captured by arm operator Mike
Hopkins at 6:08 a.m. EST (GMT-5) as the two spacecraft sailed 260 miles above
the Indian Ocean. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata then maneuvered the
spacecraft to the Earth-facing port of the forward Harmony module where
motorized bolts locked it into place at 8:05 a.m.
Named after the late astronaut and test
pilot C. Gordon Fullerton, the Cygnus cargo ship is packed with 2,780 pounds of
spare parts, crew supplies and experiment hardware, including 23 experiments
involving more than 8,600 elementary, junior high and high school students in
the United States and Canada.
An "ants in space" payload
will give students and opportunity to study behavioral differences between ants
in normal gravity and those in the weightless environment of space. Other
experiments will study the biology of drug-resistant bacteria and how liquids
simulating rocket fuel slosh around in weightlessness.
Along with on-board science, the Cygnus
is delivering more than two dozen small "cubesat" satellites,
including a fleet of 23 "Dove" satellites built by Planet Labs of San
Francisco that will monitor the global environment.
A crowd-funded cubesat provided by
Southern Stars, also of San Francisco, will allow the public to send
"tweets from space" that can be picked up by amateur radio operators.
Users also will be able to request Earth images from the satellite.
Also on board: belated holiday gifts for
the station crew. The Cygnus capsule originally was scheduled for launch before
Christmas, but the flight was pushed into January when NASA ran into problems
with the space station's cooling system.
This is the first operational station
resupply mission carried out by Orbital Sciences under a $1.9 billion contract
with NASA calling for at least eight flights and delivery of 40,000 pounds of
cargo and supplies.
The Cygnus captured Sunday will remain
attached to the space station until mid February. At that point SpaceX will
step up with launch of a Dragon cargo ship around Feb. 22. It will be the third
operational resupply flight by SpaceX, which holds a $1.6 billion contract to
deliver more than 44,000 pounds of supplies over a dozen missions.