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SpaceX Cargo Craft Is Now In Space Station's Grip, One Day After Aborted Docking

SpaceX's Dragon cargo ship is captured by astronauts aboard the International Space Station early Thursday, one day after its initial docking attempt was aborted.

With a nudge of a robotic arm, astronauts aboard the International Space Station captured a space capsule carrying 5,500 pounds of cargo early Thursday.

"Capture confirmed," NASA TV's announcer stated at 5:44 a.m. ET. The capture took place as the space station and the SpaceX capsule flew in orbit 250 miles over Australia's northwest coast.

The safe rendezvous should help soothe the nerves of NASA and SpaceX teams that have seen this mission encounter delays at crucial moments. In NASA's timetable that was released last week, the agency had planned for the Dragon craft to reach the space station three days ago.

On Saturday, the craft's launch was aborted just seconds ahead of rocket ignition, due to an anomaly in its steering system.

The actual launch one day later went perfectly, but when the Dragon craft was less than a mile from its space station dock early Wednesday, its computer automatically aborted the maneuver due to an error in its GPS software. That set up today's meeting, which comes just a day before a Russian resupply rocket is slated to arrive early Friday.

It will take the ISS crew about a month to unload the spacecraft, NASA says. In late March, it will splash down in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California.

NASA describes some of the experiments Dragon is carrying along with crew supplies:

"Science investigations launching on Dragon include commercial and academic research investigations that will enable researchers to advance their knowledge of the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts face during long-duration spaceflight.

"One experiment will use the microgravity environment to grow stem cells that are of sufficient quality and quantity to use in the treatment of patients who have suffered a stroke. A Merck Research Labs investigation will test growth in microgravity of antibodies important for fighting a wide range of human diseases, including cancer."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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