A new unmanned cargo ship loaded with tons of supplies successfully docked at the International Space Station Saturday despite a last-minute failure that forced a Russian cosmonaut to take control and guide the robotic freighter in manually.
Russian space station commander Oleg Kotov took manual control of the automated cargo ship, called Progress 37, while it hovered about 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) away from the orbiting lab with 2.6 tons (2,359 kg) ?of supplies onboard.
Kotov, a colonel in the Russian Air Force, used a remote control station set up inside the station to guide the 24-foot (7.4-foot) long spacecraft into a Russian docking port on the Earth-facing side of the orbiting laboratory. With deft hands, Kotov flew the Progress 37 in to a 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT) docking as the space station flew 220 miles (354 km) over southern Russia.
"I found the station and I?m going to bring it into the center of the field of view," Kotov told Russian Mission Control in Moscow. Flight controllers kept close tabs on Kotov's progress. "I'm just going really slow and taking it very easy," the cosmonaut said.
Kotov took control of Progress 37 after it failed to return to the proper docking orientation following a series of thruster firings. Kotov and two other Russian crewmates monitored the cargo ship's approach using the station's Telerobotically Operated Rendezvous Unit (TORU) system.
NASA officials called Kotov's manual docking "flawless." He even docked it five minutes earlier than planned.
Russian Mission Control gave the station crew hearty congratulations and said Kotov's Progress 37 rendezvous work may have set a new record.
"You brought it in from close to 1,000 meters," Mission Control said. "That's a first time in history."
The Progress 37 cargo ship, also known as M-05M, is the latest in a series of robotic Russian spacecraft to haul vital supplies to the International Space Station. The spacecraft blasted off from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
Progress spacecraft are made up of three different modules and resemble Russia's Soyuz spacecraft ? which ferry astronauts and cosmonauts to and from the station. Both are designed to fly and dock autonomously. But instead of the Soyuz's crew capsule, Progress vehicles carry a tank of propellant to feed the space station's rocket thrusters. ?
Progress freighters are also expendable, and are routinely intentionally destroyed at the end of their missions. Last week, the Progress 35 spacecraft undocked from the station's Pirs docking port ? where the new Progress 37 parked today. That older spacecraft burned up over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday.
NASA officials have said Progress 37 is hauling 1,918 pounds (870 kg) of propellant, 110 pounds (50 kg) of oxygen and air, 220 pounds (100 kg) of water, and about 3,301 pounds (1,497 kg) of experiment hardware and spare parts.
Progress 37's arrival marks the start of a busy May for the International Space Station.
In upcoming weeks, another old unmanned cargo ship, Progress 36, is due to depart the space station. Soon after, NASA's space shuttle Atlantis is due to launch on its final spaceflight ever on May 14 to deliver a new Russian science module to the space station.
It will be one of NASA's three final shuttle missions before the three-orbiter fleet retires in November.
Progress 37 carried more than just standard supplies and food for the station crew. It also delivered much-anticipated personal items for the space station's six-person crew. In addition to Kotov, there are two other Russian cosmonauts, two American astronauts and Japanese astronaut living on the station today.
Candy, books and movies are just some of those goodies, according to Russian news reports.
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