Station commander Koichi Wakata used the outpost's 58-foot
(18-meter) robotic crane to snare the Dragon capsule from orbit at
7:14 a.m. (1114 GMT), ending its 36-hour journey.
At the time, the station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations, was
sailing 260 miles over the Nile River.
About three hours later, the crew bolted the capsule to a docking
port on the station's Harmony module. They plan to start unpacking
"The Easter Dragon is knocking at the door," astronaut Randy Bresnik
radioed to the crew from Mission Control in Houston.
Space Exploration, known as SpaceX, had planned to launch its Dragon
cargo ship in March, but was delayed by technical problems,
including a two-week hold to replace a damaged U.S. Air Force radar
The Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon finally lifted off at 3:25 p.m.
(1925 GMT) on Friday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in
The launch also provided privately owned SpaceX an opportunity to
carry out another test in its quest to develop a reusable rocket.
After the Falcon 9's first-stage section separated from the
upper-stage motor and Dragon capsule, the discarded rocket relit
some of its engines to slow its fall back through the atmosphere and
position itself to touch down vertically on the ocean before gravity
turned it horizontal. The booster also was equipped with four
25-foot-long landings for stabilization.
Data transmitted from an airplane tracking the booster's descent
indicated it splashed down intact in the Atlantic Ocean — a first
for the company.
"Data upload from tracking plane shows landing in Atlantic was good!
Several boats enroute through heavy seas," SpaceX's chief executive,
Elon Musk, posted on Twitter late Friday.
SpaceX hopes to return a Falcon 9 booster to land before the end of
the year. Eventually, it would like to recover and reuse its rockets
to cost launch costs.
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"There are just only a few more steps that need to be there to have
it all work," Musk told reporters after Friday's launch.
"I think we've got a decent chance of bringing a stage back this
year, which would be wonderful."
SpaceX is one of two companies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the
space station after the space shuttles were retired in 2011. The
company is competing to develop a space taxi for astronauts as well.
So far, SpaceX has made one test flight and three cargo runs to the
station under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.
Among the cargo that arrived aboard Dragon on Sunday are a pair of
zero-gravity legs for the station's prototype robot, Robonaut, which
currently consists of a humanoid head and torso.
"The legs are not really for walking. They're used for climbing
around," Andy Petro, with NASA's Space Technology Mission
Directorate in Washington, D.C., told reporters during a prelaunch
Each leg has seven joints and clamping devices where the feet would
be attached to rails and sockets both inside and outside the
station, though it will be some time before software is developed to
allow Robonaut to participate in a spacewalk, program manager Mike
Dragon will be reloaded with science samples and equipment no longer
needed on the station and returned to Earth in about a month.
(Editing by Leslie Adler)
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