May 24, 2012
Dragon Capsule Ready For Friday Rendezvous
Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com
The Dragon capsule performed a fly-by test Thursday morning, staying at least 1-1/2 miles away from the orbiting laboratory, allowing Mission Control to perform a practice lap and check its communication and navigation systems.
On Friday, the capsule will fly within 30 feet of the space station, shut down its thrusters, and let the crew aboard the floating laboratory grasp the SpaceX vehicle with a robotic crane to hook it up to the docking port.
The space vessels are currently running laps around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour.
"We've been training and practicing for many years, but doing it for the first time with two dynamic spacecraft flying very close together you always want to make sure that you're going to be able to work as you trained," NASA flight director Holly Ridings told reporters after the test.
SpaceX mission director John Couluris told reporters that the successful tests were a "big confidence boost."
“It's exciting to be an American and part of putting an American spacecraft into orbit. We're very proud right now," he said.
Station flight engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers will be using the station's 58-foot robot arm on Friday to grasp Dragon from orbit at about 11:30 a.m. EDT.
"It is a test flight so I don't want to jinx myself and say what I can expect (on Friday) and then see something different," Couluris told reporters. “We fly by the mantra of 'Train like you fly and then fly like you train,' and so far the mission has been proceeding just like a regular simulation."
The capsule has about 1,200 pounds of payload it is carrying with it to the station, including food, water, and clothing, as well as Scotty from the original Star Trek.
Dragon is beaming up actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the original Star Trek and drew on the famous phrase "beam me up, Scotty!"
The crew will have a week to unload the contents of the capsule before releasing the spacecraft for re-entry to Earth. It is the only supply ship designed to return to Earth with experiments and equipment since the space shuttle program's retirement. Dragon will be carrying with it back to Earth food, clothes, batteries and some space station gear.
Upon a successful mission, SpaceX will receive a $1.6 billion contract from NASA for 12 more resupply missions to the $100 billion space station.
Another challenge the Dragon will face on its journey for a successful mission include only having enough fuel to make one docking attempt. Just detailed mistakes in speed or direction could ensure that the capsule not dock with the orbiting lab.