Early on Monday, January 12th, SpaceX’s Dragon Cargo craft safely reached the International Space Station, completing a 48-hour orbital chase from Cape Canaveral. Controlling the station’s 58-foot robotic arm, NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore maneuvered the unmanned spacecraft at 5:54 a.m. EST as it floated over 200 miles above the Mediterranean Sea.
“It’s nice to have it onboard, and we’ll be digging in soon,” Wilmore, commander of the six-person Expedition 42 crew, pronounced to flight controllers on the ground.
The spacecraft launched at 4:47 a.m. on Saturday, January 10th, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket. During the launch, Wilmore was assisted by Samantha Cristoforetti, a European Space Agency astronaut, Italian Air Force pilot and engineer.
The Dragon was loaded with more than 5,000 pounds of food, supplies, and science experiments, including a NASA instrument created to investigate the study of climate change. In addition, the aircraft hauled an experiment that will examine how microgravity affects the wound-healing abilities of flatworms, and two others that will look at how plants grow in space.
After the launch on Saturday, SpaceX attempted to land the Falcon 9 booster on an “autonomous spaceport drone ship” in the Atlantic Ocean, as part of the company’s effort to develop reusable-rocket technology. However, the rocket stage was unable to steady itself and crashed directly into the ocean platform.
On Monday, the Dragon was finally captured, confirming a successful first leg of SpaceX’s fifth of 12 resupply missions under a $1.6 billion NASA contract.
According to reports, the space station’s six astronauts were getting low on supplies – especially condiments. And that’s because the previous supply shipment was destroyed in a launch explosion in October 2014. NASA scrambled to get replacement equipment aboard Dragon, but was further stalled another month by rocket snags. The rocket was supposed to have reached the space station well before Christmas.
According to NASA officials, the aircraft will stay attached to the International Space Station for one month. It will depart back to Earth on February 10th with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, where SpaceX will retrieve the vessel by boat.
For now, the next step for crew-members is to install Dragon on the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony module.