Station Crew Greeted by 'New Car Smell' as Dragon Hatches Opened

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NASA astronaut Don Pettit, left, and Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko check air quality in the SpaceX Dragon capsule after opening the the freighter's hatches. Photo Credit: NASA TV

The International Space Station astronauts opened the hatches to the SpaceX Dragon supply capsule early Saturday and began to off load the first cargo delivered by a U.S. commercial provider.

NASA astronaut Don Pettit, station commander Oleg Kononenko of Russia and Andre Kuipers, of the European Space Agency, led the way, installing ventilation lines and sampling the air inside Dragon for contaminants.

The astronauts and cosmonauts wore masks and eye protection as they entered, standard procedure to prevent injury from dust or debris that may have floated free following the launch of the SpaceX Falcon9/Dragon spacecraft on Tuesday. The first U.S. commercial supply mission capsule rendezvoused with the station on Friday, enabling Pettit, Kuipers and Joe Acaba to grapple Dragon with Canadarm2, the station's robot arm, and berth the spacecraft to the U.S. segment Harmony module.

On Saturday, the station crew opened the Dragon hatch at 5:53 a.m, EDT, with a round of compliments to SpaceX for their preparation of Dragon.

"There is no sign of any kind of FOD (foreign object debris) floating around," Pettit reported to Mission Control. "We think it's safe to remove dust masks. My general thoughts going inside -- it kind of reminds me of the cargo container I could put inside my pickup truck. The smell inside reminds me of a brand new car."

"Glad you guys are enjoying the new car smell," responded Megan McArthur, Mission Control's station communicator.

However, she directed the astronauts to keep the dust masks on until an air filtration  period had passed.

Dragon, the first U.S. spacecraft to reach the station since orbiter Atlantis docked on the final NASA space shuttle mission in July 2011, carries just over 1,000 pounds of food, clothing, a NanoRacks student experiment package and computer equipment. The capsule will be re-loaded with nearly 1,400 pounds of research material, space station hardware in need of refurbishment, unneeded crew items and space suit gear.

During regular re-supply missions to the station, Dragon will deliver up to 7,300 pounds of supplies and return to Earth with up to 5,500 pounds of equipment.

Dragon is scheduled to remain docked to the space station until early Thursday, when it will be unberthed with Canadarm2 and released. Mission plans call for the capsule to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and spash down under parachute in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California.

SpaceX crews will be standing by for recovery.

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