The two astronauts aboard the International Space Station(ISS) have a monumental unpacking job ahead of them now that a new supply shipladen with almost three tons of cargo has arrived at the orbital outpost.
After three days of spaceflight, the Russian-built Progress15 cargo vehicle successfully docked at its ISS berth at 1:01 a.m. EDT (0501GMT) today, delivering much needed equipment and spare parts, as well as foodand fuel to space station.
The picture perfect docking occurred as the space stationflew 220 miles above Central Asia, capping a smooth Progress flight and thesecond cargo shipment for ISS Expedition 9 crewmembers Gennady Padalka andMichael Fincke. Some supplies will also be used by their successors, the crewof Expedition 10, NASA officials said.
Russian ISS flight controllers in Moscow oversaw dockingprocedures, while NASA officials at Johnson Space Center kept close watch onthe supply ship's progress. The spacecraft launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome inKazakhstan on Aug. 11.
"We're quite happy your grocery cart has arrived," JuliePayette, 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 openingProgress 15 later today. The astronauts are expected to conduct a series ofleak checks at about 3:00 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT), then open the spacecraft's hatchan hour later. By 8:45 a.m. EDT (1245 GMT), the crew will begin transferringcargo from the Progress to the ISS.
"You can imagine how we feel," Fincke said. "We're lookingforward to all the things inside there, including the spare equipment."
Nestled amongst Progress 15's 1,521 pounds of fuel, 110pounds of oxygen and 926 pounds of water are more than 3,000 pounds of spareparts, 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 himtroubleshoot cooling system problems that have kept the suits unflightworthysince June. "There's a lot of other neat stuff inside too."
Russia's Federal Space Agency's ISS planners also includedDVDs, clothes and chocolates among the precious cargo sent up to the ISS.
With the successful arrival of Progress 15, the Expedition 9crew has cleared one of the final major milestones left in their mission beforethey are scheduled to return to Earth in October.
The two astronauts have one last spacewalk to perform, thefourth of their expedition, on Sept. 3 before preparing for visitors.Expedition 10 astronauts Leroy Chiao and Salizhan Sharipov will arrive at thestation on Oct. 9 to take over ISS operations.
After a 10-day transition period, Padalka and Fincke willreturn to Earth on Oct. 19. They have lived aboard the ISS since April 21.