Space Trucks! A Pictorial History Of These Mighty Machines

Cargo resupply ships are vital for space exploration. These days they bring food, experiments and equipment to astronauts on the International Space Station. And in recent years, it hasn’t just been government agencies sending these things up; SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and (just this week) Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft brought up cargo of their own to station in recent months.

NASA just published a brief timeline of (real-life) cargo spacecraft, so we thought we’d adapt that information in pictorial form. Here are some of the prominent members of that elite group. Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

SpaceX’s Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. It was the first commercial spacecraft to resupply the space station, and since 2012 has completed resupply missions. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield
Space shuttle Discovery heads to space after lifting off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin its final flight to the International Space Station on the STS-133 mission. The shuttle was NASA’s main human spacecraft between 1981 and 2011. Credit: NASA
Progress 51 on final approach to the International Space Station. The Russians have been flying versions of this cargo spacecraft since 1978. Credit: NASA TV (screencap)
JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) during a mission in July 2012. The first demonstration flight took place in 2009. Credit: NASA


The ATV Johannes Kepler docked at the International Space Station. Versions of this spacecraft have flown since 2008. Credit: NASA
A line drawing of the TKS (Transportnyi Korabl’ Snabzheniia, or Transport Supply Spacecraft). It was intended to send crew and cargo together in one flight, but delays and a change in program priorities never allowed it to achieve that. According to NASA, versions of TKS (under the Cosmos designation) flew to the Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space station. The cargo part of the spacecraft was also used for Russian base modules in the Mir space station and International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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