"We caught a Dragon," announced the astronauts as the rocket was bolted to the ISS. The cargo ship from company SpaceX was delivering a state-of-the-art inflatable habitat planned for eventual use on Mars.
A SpaceX Dragon freight ship finally arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday after a series of failed and postponed launches. The success means not only the delivery of the first inflatable room for astronauts, but also marked an important moment in the development of commercial space flight as NASA relies more heavily on private industry to help achieve its goal of a mission to Mars.
"It looks like we caught a Dragon," British astronaut Timothy Peake said while announcing the successful grab. It was the first delivery from SpaceX in over a year after technical problems last June put progress on hold.
The Dragon was carrying some 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) of cargo, including the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that NASA hopes will provided the answer to what kind of habitat can last for decades on the red planet. For now it remains mostly off limits to the astronauts on the ISS, as it takes about four weeks to inflate from its tightly-packed launch space to full size - that of a small bedroom.
The US space agency has tentative plans to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. In order to avoid shouldering the burden of this dream alone, NASA has hired companies like SpaceX to deliver cargo, and in the future, personnel, to the ISS.
The ship will stay docked at the space station for about a month before returning to Earth with scientific samples, some from Scott Kelly, who is about to complete his historic one-year turn in space.
es/bw (AP, AFP)