Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) jettisoned a Russian cargo ship packed with trash early Monday to clear a parking spot for an incoming crew.
The unmanned space freighter Progress 28 undocked from its Earth-facing berth on the station's Russian-built Pirs docking compartment at 4:50 a.m. EDT (0850 GMT), freeing up the port for the planned April 10 arrival of three new astronauts, NASA officials said.
Three hours later, the Progress 28 spacecraft fired its rocket engine to begin a fiery plunge through the Earth's atmosphere that ended with its intentional destruction over the Pacific Ocean. Russian space officials said some debris survived reentry, but splashed down well away from populated waters.
"The drop zone for spaceship fragments, which did not burn in dense layers of the atmosphere, was located away from navigation routes, about 3,000 kilometers east of the New Zealand capital city of Wellington," Russia's Federal Space Agency spokesperson Valery Lyndin told the Russian Interfax News Agency.
Expedition 16 station commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineers Yuri Malenchenko and Garrett Reisman salvaged the Progress 28's Kurs automated docking system hardware for return to Earth before loading the space freighter with trash and unneeded equipment, Lyndin said.
The astronauts also began unloading their newest cargo ship — the European-built space freighter Jules Verne, which docked last week — early Saturday, NASA officials added.
The disposal of Progress 28 clears the way for the arrival of a new Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft carrying Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov, flight engineer Oleg Kononenko and So-yeon Yi, South Korea's first astronaut.
Yi and the Expedition 17 crew are poised to launch toward the station on Tuesday at 7:16 a.m. EDT (1116 GMT). They will lift off atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Volkov, a second-generation cosmonaut, and Kononenko will relieve Whitson and Malenchenko, who are nearing the end of a six-month mission aboard the station that began last October. Reisman will aboard the ISS to join the Expedition 17 crew.
Yi, a 29-year-old mechanical engineer, will fly a 10-day mission to the station under a commercial agreement between Russia's Federal Space Agency and the South Korean government. She is due to return to Earth on April 19 with Whitson and Malenchenko aboard their Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft.
NASA will broadcast the launch of Expedition 17 toward the ISS live on NASA TV beginning at 6:15 a.m. EDT (1015 GMT). Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed and live ISS mission updates.