A Russian Progress cargo capsule docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, delivering 2.3 tons (4,600 pounds) of fuel, food, life-support gear and other supplies to the three fliers on board. The unmanned space freighter successfully docked with the station at 2139 GMT Friday as both spacecraft flew 346 km (215) miles above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Brazil.
The automated Progress 29 supply ship had been launched toward the station Wednesday atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket, lifting off from the central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. After a two-day trek, the spacecraft – also known by its Russian designation M-64 – arrived at an open berth on the ISS's Earth-facing Zarya control module.
According to Russia's Federal Space Agency, its cargo had about 350 kg (770 pounds) of rocket propellant, over 45 kg (100 pounds) of oxygen and air, and 420 kg (925 pounds) of water. The freighter was also carrying about 1,292 kg (2,850) pounds of dry cargo, which included 258 kg (568) pounds of food, 126 kg (277 pounds) of medicine and 128 kg (282 pounds) of hygiene items.
A batch of 90 snails also launched to station aboard Progress 29 as part of an experiment that studies the effects of weightlessness on living organisms, Russia's Interfax News Agency has reported.
At present the ISS has a three-member Expedition 17 crew comprising of Russian cosmonauts station commander Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, and American astronaut Garrett Reisman. They are expected to open the hatches separating the station and its new cargo ship at about 2330 GMT tonight. They will begin unloading supplies on Saturday, NASA officials said.
Russia's unmanned Progress cargo ships are similar in appearance to the country's three-segment Soyuz spacecraft that routinely ferry astronauts to and from the space station.
Progress 29 was initially slated to dock at a berth on the station's Russian-built Pirs docking compartment, but that perch is currently occupied by the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft that ferried Volkov and Kononenko to the station last month.
The Expedition 17 crew was originally slated to move the Soyuz to the Zarya docking port, clearing the Pirs berth for Progress 29, in early May. But Russian and NASA flight controllers canceled that short flight due to an ongoing investigation into a previous Soyuz spacecraft's off-target landing last month.
The capsule's safe docking cleared the way for a 31st May launching of the space shuttle Discovery with a crew of seven astronauts and a bus-size Japanese science laboratory. NASA officials will meet Monday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to review preparations for the mission.
The Discovery crew will attach the new lab module over a two-week mission. The astronauts are slated to participate in three spacewalks.