Japanese Cargo Ship Delivers Fresh Supplies to Space Station

The HTV-4 (Kounotori 4) cargo ship built by Japan's space agency is in docking position at International Space Station in this still from a NASA TV broadcast on Aug. 9, 2013.
The HTV-4 (Kounotori 4) cargo ship built by Japan's space agency is in docking position at International Space Station in this still from a NASA TV broadcast on Aug. 9, 2013. The spacecraft carried just over 3.5 tons of supplies to the station's crew. (Image credit: NASA TV)

A Japanese spacecraft — named after a white stork because of the important delivery it needed to make — safely arrived at the International Space Station Friday (Aug. 9) with a robot and several tons of supplies on board.

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg used the station's robotic arm to nab the cargo ship HTV-4 Kounotori at 7:22 a.m. EDT (1122 GMT). The capture took place as the orbiting complex flew 260 miles (418 kilometers) over waters just south of South Africa.

The Expedition 36 crew then berthed the ship to the station's Harmony node at 11:38 a.m. EDT (1538 GMT).

Kirobo only stands about 13.4 inches (34 centimeters) tall. Image posted June 27, 2013. (Image credit: Kibo Robot Project)

Onboard Kounotori was a talking robotic astronaut, Kirobo, who will be a companion to veteran Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata when he arrives at station in November or December.

"I want to help create a world where humans and robots can live together," Kirobo said when Toyota Motor Corp., a partner in the project, asked the robot what its dream is. The robot is expected to speak on station for the first time in August or September.

One of Kirobo's long-term aims is to help monitor the mental health of astronauts during grueling long-duration space missions. Time on the space station — although rewarding professionally — is sometimes tough on astronauts personally because they are living in an isolated, dangerous environment far from friends and family.

On Saturday, the crew began unloading the 3.6 tons of cargo on the spacecraft. This included fresh food, water and supplies for the humans on station, as well as several components to keep the orbiting outpost's electrical system functioning.

Also on board were several research experiments, a new freezer that can keep samples at temperatures below -90 degrees Fahrenheit (-68 degrees Celsius), four CubeSat satellites and hardware for the station to run more robotic refueling demonstration tests to investigate the feasibility of servicing satellites in orbit.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace