The two astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have a monumental unpacking job ahead of them now that a new supply ship laden with almost three tons of cargo has arrived at the orbital outpost.
After three days of spaceflight, the Russian-built Progress 15 cargo vehicle successfully docked at its ISS berth at 1:01 a.m. EDT (0501 GMT) today, delivering much needed equipment and spare parts, as well as food and fuel to space station.
The picture perfect docking occurred as the space station flew 220 miles above Central Asia, capping a smooth Progress flight and the second cargo shipment for ISS Expedition 9 crewmembers Gennady Padalka and Michael Fincke. Some supplies will also be used by their successors, the crew of Expedition 10, NASA officials said.
Russian ISS flight controllers in Moscow oversaw docking procedures, while NASA officials at Johnson Space Center kept close watch on the supply ship's progress. The spacecraft launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Aug. 11.
"We're quite happy your grocery cart has arrived," Julie Payette, NASA's spacecraft communicator and a Canadian Space Agency astronaut, told the ISS crew after the docking.
Fincke said he and Padalka are looking forward to opening Progress 15 later today. The astronauts are expected to conduct a series of leak checks at about 3:00 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT), then open the spacecraft's hatch an hour later. By 8:45 a.m. EDT (1245 GMT), the crew will begin transferring cargo from the Progress to the ISS.
"You can imagine how we feel," Fincke said. "We're looking forward to all the things inside there, including the spare equipment."
Nestled amongst Progress 15's 1,521 pounds of fuel, 110 pounds of oxygen and 926 pounds of water are more than 3,000 pounds of spare parts, life support system components and experiment hardware.
"We'd like to get a chance to work on the U.S. space suits," Fincke told Payette, highlighting the spare pumps aboard Progress 15 to help him troubleshoot cooling system problems that have kept the suits unflightworthy since June. "There's a lot of other neat stuff inside too."
Russia's Federal Space Agency's ISS planners also included DVDs, clothes and chocolates among the precious cargo sent up to the ISS.
With the successful arrival of Progress 15, the Expedition 9 crew has cleared one of the final major milestones left in their mission before they are scheduled to return to Earth in October.
The two astronauts have one last spacewalk to perform, the fourth of their expedition, on Sept. 3 before preparing for visitors. Expedition 10 astronauts Leroy Chiao and Salizhan Sharipov will arrive at the station on Oct. 9 to take over ISS operations.
After a 10-day transition period, Padalka and Fincke will return to Earth on Oct. 19. They have lived aboard the ISS since April 21.