Friday, May 25, 2012

Dragon Berth!


They came! They saw! They caught a Dragon by it's tail! Another rousing block of hours on NASA Television and other multiple live feeds from the International Space Station, whereupon the Spacetweep crowd once again gave up what was left of our sleep schedules to watch the Dragon capsule capture!

We just love it when space milestones are the top news stories of the day. SpaceX Hawthorne Software Engineer Boris Lipchin (@lenorin) posted this wonderful set of screen captures:

SpaceX Dragon Capture by the ISS
ISS Captures the SpaceX Dragon Capsule

On the west coast, I rose at 3:00am to watch what I hoped would be about an hour of coverage prior to capture. A slight retreat gave us a bit of a cardio workout, but both NASA and SpaceX mission control monitored and solved issues easily (at least, they sure make it look easy!), and we didn't care how long we had to wait so long as we never heard the word ABORT.

With both the ISS and the Dragon traveling at 17,500 miles per hour (about 5 miles per second), we watched with fingers crossed as the capsule drew nearer. Finally, at 6:56am Pacific time for me, NASA Astronaut Don Pettit used CanadArm2 (thank you, Canadian Space Agency) to reach out to the SpaceX Dragon, completing a successful grapple over northwest Australia.

Pettit (@astro_pettit) quipped to Mission Control, "Looks like we caught a Dragon by the tail!" Ha, funny guy.

Dragon and Solar Arrays
All morning, we were treated to breath-taking views of our oceans and continents, waiting for the right conditions and lighting for the long-awaited rendezvous. It doesn't matter how many times I see Low Earth Orbit maneuvers, I always get chills. It is truly astonishing what we clever hairless monkeys undertake in, on and around our planet... in a place where we aren't really designed to exist!

As the morning progressed, all went smoothly as first stage of berthing brought the visiting cargo ship to Harmony Node's nadir Earth-facing port. The second stage of berthing, an actual connection of hatches, was completed at 9:02am Pacific time. Cheers & tears!

Dragon officially became part of the ISS orbiting complex, making it the very first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. Lots of tears, lots of cheers, and newfound hope for Americans in space!

May 25th, 2012
Happy Berthday Dragon! SpaceX is victorious, the naysayers are quieted, and you've joined some pretty hearty company in space exploration and cultural history.

Next up... hatch opening...