On Sunday, the crew aboard the International Space Station received a unique Easter gift: a cargo ship carrying about 2.5 tons of resupply items, including a pair of robotic legs, microbes gathered by cheerleaders, and lettuce seedlings. The supplies will support more than 150 scientific investigations planned for Expeditions 39 and 40.
The SpaceX cargo ship, dubbed 'Dragon' is expected to spend four weeks attached to ISS, after which it is scheduled to return back to Earth with 1.8 tons of experiment samples and hardware.
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon capsule lifted off Friday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After a two-day trip, Dragon was finally wrangled using a 57-foot robotic arm, at 7:14 a.m. as it flew within about 32 feet of the orbiting complex. "At the time of capture, the orbital laboratory was flying around 260 statute miles over Egypt, west of the Nile River," NASA said in a statement.
According to the Associated Press, as the capsule was secured into place, NASA's Mission Control said, "Gentlemen, the Easter Dragon is knocking at the door."
Commander Koichi Wakata from the ISS tweeted, "Congratulations to the entire ops team for the successful launch, rendezvous and capture operation. The vehicle, the spacecraft was very solid and very stable. And the Canadarm2 was really solid, and it made it easier for us to capture."
The recent SpaceX-3 mission was delayed due to a helium leak on the Falcon 9's first stage.
Prior to that "despite the loss Friday of a backup computer command relay box called a multiplexer/demultiplexer (MDM) that resides in the station’s S0 truss," NASA had decided to go ahead with the launch of what will be SpaceX's third commercial cargo re-supply mission to the ISS. In the next few days, two of the crewmembers aboard the space station will replace the faulty MDM with a spare one from inside the station.
This SpaceX-3 mission will also help in launching a new series of experiments called "The Vegetable Production System (Veggie)" on the ISS aimed to explore how plants grow in space.
In an attempt to reduce the cost of space missions, the Falcon 9 – rocket with its four 25-foot legs is designed in a way that part of it is expected to return back on Earth. The chances of recovering the reusable are between 30 and 40 percent, but, "[i]f we can pull this off … we'll be super-thrilled," a SpaceX vice president had told SPACE.com.