CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A European resupply line to the
International Space Station closed on Tuesday with the arrival
of a fifth and final freighter to the orbital outpost.
Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle 5, known as ATV-5,
blasted off two weeks ago with more than seven tons of cargo for
the station, a $100 billion orbiting laboratory staffed by
rotating crews of Russian, U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian
astronauts and cosmonauts.
The ATV's journey ended slowly with the 32-foot tall
(9.8-m), 13.5-ton (12,247-kg) freighter inching closer and
closer to a docking port on the station's Zvezda module while
the two spacecraft raced around the planet at 17,100 miles per
hour (27,600 km per hour.)
A small metal probe extending from the top of the ATV
slipped into Zvezda's capture cone at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT)
as the ships passed 260 miles (418 km) over southern Kazakhstan,
a NASA Television broadcast showed.
NASA mission commentator Rob Navias called the docking a
"bittersweet moment" for the European Space Agency, a core
member of the 15-nation international partnership that built and
operates the orbital outpost. Europe's cargo runs to the station
began in 2008.
With two U.S. companies now regularly flying freight to the
station along with Russian and Japanese cargo ships, Europe will
turn its attention toward building a power and propulsion module
for NASA's manned Orion spacecraft. The capsule, which is being
developed by Lockheed Martin Corp, is designed to carry
four astronauts to destinations beyond the space station,
including asteroids, the moon and Mars.
The fifth and last ATV, the largest of the cargo ships
currently servicing the station, carries a record load of 7.2
tons (6,532 kg) of fuel, water, science gear, food and other
"It's a big event for us," European astronaut Alexander
Gerst, one of six men currently aboard the station, said during
an in-flight interview last week.
The cargo includes a European-built electromagnetic
levitator, which will be used to suspend and heat metal samples
in weightlessness with the goal of improving industrial casting
Once the crew unpacks the ship, it will be loaded with trash
and equipment no longer needed on the station. In late January,
ATV-5 will be detached from the station so it can fly into the
atmosphere to be incinerated. Its final task will be to record
and transmit images of its demise to help engineers plan for the
eventual removal of the space station from orbit.
The United States intends to keep the station operational
until at least 2024. Russia and the other partners' commitments
currently run through 2020.
(Editing by Susan Heavey)