Fresh Cargo Ship Arrives at Space Station
The Russian space freighter Progress 28 closes in for a Feb. 7, 2008 arrival at the Pirs docking compartment (bottom) of the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA TV.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed a new cargo ship packed with fresh fruit and other supplies Thursday just hours before the planned launch of NASA?s shuttle Atlantis to their orbiting lab.

The unmanned Progress 28 supply ship docked at the station?s Russian-built Pirs docking compartment at 9:30:13 a. m. EST (1430:13 GMT), successfully delivering more than 2.5 tons of fresh food, air, water and other vital supplies to the outpost?s Expedition 16 crew.

?We have contact,? said Expedition 16 flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko, a Russian cosmonaut who watched over the incoming space freighter and stood ready to take remote control should it stray off-course.

But the Russian-built Progress 28 arrived at its orbital berth without incident, completing a three-day journey that began with an early-Monday launch from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Packed aboard the autonomous cargo tug are about 1,165 pounds (528 kg) of propellant and some 2,925 pounds (1,327 kg) of dry supplies like food, clothing and equipment. The spacecraft is also laden with about 100 pounds (45 kg) of oxygen and 925 pounds (420 kg) of water, NASA officials have said.

Malenchenko, Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani are expected to open the hatches separating the ISS and Progress 28 later today to begin unpacking the spacecraft.

The station crew is also preparing for the arrival of space shuttle Atlantis, which is counting down toward a planned 2:45 p.m. EST (1945 GMT) launch today from NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The shuttle is slated to dock at the ISS on Saturday.

Commanded by veteran shuttle flyer Stephen Frick, Atlantis will deliver the European Space Agency?s (ESA) Columbus laboratory to the ISS in the first of up to five planned construction flights to the station this year.

The shuttle is also bringing up ESA astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who will replace Tani as a member of the Expedition 16 crew. Tani has lived aboard the space station since late October, though his stay has been extended by two months following Atlantis? December launch delays.

Tani and his fellow Atlantis crewmates are slated to return to Earth on Feb. 18 if today?s shuttle launch lifts off as planned.

NASA will broadcast Atlantis' STS-122 mission to the International Space Station live on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's STS-122 mission coverage and NASA TV feed.

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