(Editor’s Note: Ken Kremer is in Florida for Universe Today covering the upcoming Endeavour launch attempt.)
A Russian cargo robot carrying 2 ½ tons of food, fuel and essential supplies carried out an automated docking at the International Space Station (ISS) late Thursday at 11:26 PM EST following a 2 day orbital chase. The unmanned Progress 36 resupply vessel arrived at the aft port of the Zvezda service module under the watchful eyes of Cosmonuats Oleg Kotov and Maxim Suraev who were ready to swiftly intervene and perform a manual docking if necessary. Astronaut Soichi Noguchi tweeted this live account; “Progress just docked to ISS! We felt the impact!!!”
This marks the first time that four Russian spaceships are simultaneously attached to the orbiting outpost — two Soyuz manned capsules and two Progress cargo vehicles.
The Progress cargo vessel blasted off atop a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday at 10:45 p.m. EST loaded with 1,940 pounds of propellant, 106 pounds of oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 2,683 pounds of science equipment, spare parts and supplies. The resident five man crew of Expedition 22 stayed up late to open the hatch and quickly begin unloading the valuable stash of provisions.
ISS Commander Jeff William tweeted that, “Progress docking went well. Max opened the hatch to the smell of fresh fruit. Rarely enjoyed an apple as much as today-simple gifts!”
After all the cargo is removed, the accumulated station trash will be transferred into the Progress. In May it will undock and deorbit by firing its thrusters in a preprogrammed manner where it will burn up as a flaming fireball in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Progress resupply vehicle is an automated, unpiloted version of the Soyuz manned capsules that is used to bring supplies and fuel to the ISS. The Progress also has the ability to raise the Station’s altitude and control the orientation of the Station using the vehicle’s thrusters.
The Expedition 22 crew has been diligently preparing the station for the arrival of shuttle Endeavour as well as checking out the operation of the stations robotic arm and packing up science samples to return to earth aboard Endeavour for analysis by waiting scientists on the ground. The Progress docking also caps an extremely active month of external station activity. The ISS crew conducted a spacewalk, flew a Soyuz capsule to a new docking port, and cleared the intended berthing port for the new Tranquility module by detaching Pressurized Mating Adapter 3 (PMA-3) and relocating it to a new port.
Meanwhile at Friday’s press briefing at The Kennedy Space Center NASA officials stated that everything remains on track for the Feb 7 launch of Endeavour at 4:39 AM. Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach said, “The launch countdown of Endeavour is going extremely well. We’re not tracking any technical issues at all. The team is energized and excited about the countdown. Looking forward to getting Endeavour off the ground Sunday morning.”
Mike Moses, shuttle launch integration manager, said, “We’re really looking forward to this launch carrying up node 3 [Tranquility] and the Cupola. We are greatly excited. There was a unanimous GO for launch.
Weather officer Kathy Winters reported that the weather outlook has increased to “80 Percent GO”.
Bernardo Patti, ESA’s International Space Station program manager, said “These are the last two European built elements for the ISS, Node 3 and Cupola. We are very happy and proud of Europe for providing this equipment. It’s a great example of cooperation between NASA and ESA.”
The giant Rotating Service Structure (RSS) which protects Endeavour at the pad will be retracted at about 8 AM Saturday. Nancy and myself will be there to witness this beautiful event and the final preparations leading up to the 4:39 AM EST launch.
The brilliant spectacle of the final nighttime shuttle launch will be visible from much of the US East Coast for Endevaour’s 8 ½ minute climb to orbit.
We are now at T Minus 1 day to launch !
Earlier STS 130/ISS articles by Ken Kremer