Cygnus cargo ship attached to space station after smooth rendezvous


A Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship caught up with the International Space Station early Thursday, bringing more than four tons of equipment and supplies to the outpost, including ice cream and other treats for the lab’s seven-member crew.

Astronaut Loral O’Hara, operating the lab’s Canadian-built arm from inside the space station, latched onto a grapple fixture at the base of the cargo ship at 4:59 a.m. EST to wrap up a two-day rendezvous. Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston then took over to pull the craft in for berthing at the central Unity module.

“We’d like to congratulate the Northrop Grumman and NASA team on a successful launch and capture,” O’Hara radioed. “We know it takes a huge amount of dedication and effort to make these missions possible, and we appreciate all that you do to ensure success.”

A camera aboard the International Space Station captures a stunning image of the lab's robot arm locking onto a grapple fixture at the base of a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship as the two spacecraft passed 260 miles above Turkey and southern Russia. / Credit: NASA

A camera aboard the International Space Station captures a stunning image of the lab’s robot arm locking onto a grapple fixture at the base of a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship as the two spacecraft passed 260 miles above Turkey and southern Russia. / Credit: NASA

Launched Tuesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center, the cargo ship brought 2,490 pounds of crew supplies to the station, 3,017 pounds of science equipment, 2,493 pounds of space station hardware and about 185 pounds of computer gear and spacewalk equipment.

With the Cygnus safely berthed, four commercial astronauts currently wrapping up a two-week research visit will proceed with plans to undock Saturday, weather permitting, and return to Earth aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to close out the third such “private astronaut mission” funded by Houston-based Axiom Space.

The next day, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, launched to the station last September, will set a new space endurance record, logging a combined 879 days in orbit over five missions and moving past cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who previously held the record. Kononenko, working through a year-long mission with crewmate Nikolai Chub, will mark 1,000 days in space over his career in early June.

The Ax-3 crew’s departure this weekend will clear the way for NASA to launch four fresh long-duration crew members to the station later this month, after the planned launch of a privately built moon lander from the same Kennedy Space Center pad.

If the moon mission is delayed, Crew 8 commander Matthew Dominick, astronaut-physician Michael Barratt, astronaut Jeanette Epps and cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin will take off Feb. 22. If the lunar flight stays on track, Dominick and company would fly about a week later.

Either way, they will replace Crew 7 astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese flier Satoshi Furukawa and cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov, who were launched to the outpost last August. They plan to head home in early March.

That will set the stage for another crew-rotation flight, this one mounted by Russia.

The Soyuz MS-25/71S spacecraft is scheduled for launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 21 to carry veteran cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Belarus guest flier Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA veteran Tracy Dyson to the lab complex.

If all goes well, Novitskiy, Vasilevskaya and O’Hara will return to Earth on April 2 aboard the Soyuz MS-24/70S spacecraft that carried Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara into space last September.

Dyson will stay behind on the ISS with Kononenko and Chub. She will join them for return to Earth in September aboard the Soyuz MS-25/71S ferry ship.

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