Station Astronauts Grapple, Berth 3rd SpaceX Dragon Supply Capsule

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Astronauts aboard the International Space Station successfully grappled and berthed the SpaceX Dragon resupply capsule early Sunday, using the six person orbiting science laboratory's Canadian built robot arm to complete the delivery of 2.4 tons of scientific research gear and other supplies.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, the station's commander, and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, carried out the grapple and berthing to the U. S. segment Harmony module, working from a robot arm control post in the station’s Cupola observation deck.

The berthing, at 10:06 a.m., EDT, capped a two day journey for the Dragon capsule, which was launched Friday at 3:25 p.m., from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Dragon is slated to remain berthed for 20 to 30 days on what is the third cargo mission for Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX under a $1.6 billion, 12 mission NASA agreement signed in late 2008.

Dragon lingers at 10 feet from the International Space Station robot arm, awaiting capture by Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.  Photo Credit/NASA TV

At the end of its stay, the Dragon capsule will aim for atmospheric re-entry and parachute descent into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast, where recovery teams will be waiting. Dragon is to return to Earth with 3,600 pounds of scientic research, crew equipment and space station hardware.

On Sunday, the capsule moved within view of the ISS crew at 4:44 a.m., advancing incrementally to a 100 foot "hold point" at 6:14 a.m. for a checkout of the spacecraft and its control systems.

"Everything looks fine," Mastracchio reported.

Rendezvous operations coped with a 10 second lag in UHF communications with the spacecraft, which was prompted by serial switches to a backup transmission channel on the capsule. The lag, however, cleared during final capture operations.

"The crew is ready for the Dragon approach when you are," Mastracchio reported at 6:23 a.m. NASA's Mission Control approved the final approach 17 minutes later. A final "go" from flight controllers to carry out the capture came at 7:03 a.m., as Dragon moved within range of the 58 foot long robot arm.

Wakata grappled the capsule at 7:14 a.m., EDT, as the two spacecraft flew 260 miles above the Middle East." The spacecraft was solid, very stable," said Wakata. "Great work capturing the Dragon," NASA's Mission Control told the ISS crew.

The station's U. S. segment crew, Wakata, Mastracchio and NASA's Steve Swanson, were to begin cargo activities with Dragon on Monday.

The Dragon berthing has cleared the way for a spacewalk on Wednesday by Mastracchio and Swanson to replace a failed backup computer controller on the station's solar power truss as well as the start of a two day undock and redock by Russia's Progress 53 cargo capsule. The exercise is intended to validate Russian updates to the capsule's KURS-NA automated docking system.

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