10/10/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 12/09/2012 05:12 EST

Dragon Capsule: Canadarm On International Space Station Captures Unmanned Supply Carrier


LONGUEUIL, Que. - Canada's robotic arm on the International Space Station was put to work Wednesday when it grabbed a cargo ship that arrived at the orbiting space lab.

The unmanned capsule, built by California-based SpaceX, brought supplies to the space station — the first official shipment under a billion-dollar contract with NASA.

The SpaceX cargo ship, called Dragon, eased up to the orbiting lab, and station astronauts reached out with the Canadian robot arm and snared it. Then they firmly latched it down.

"Looks like we've tamed the Dragon," reported space station commander Sunita Williams. "We're happy she's on board with us."

Williams thanked SpaceX and NASA for the delivery, especially the chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream stashed in a freezer.

The linkup occurred 400 kilometres above the Pacific, just west of Baja California, 2 1/2 days after the Dragon's launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

"Nice flying," radioed NASA's Mission Control.

It's the second visit by a Dragon capsule to the orbiting lab. The first was a test flight last spring. The $1.6-billion contract between SpaceX and NASA calls for 12 shipments.

The commercial supply ship arrived with more than 450 kilograms of groceries, clothes, science experiments and other gear. But Williams and her crew won't have access to it until Thursday, when the hatch is opened.

The capsule will return with twice as much cargo as it took up, including a stockpile of blood and urine samples from astronauts. The samples — nearly 500 of them — have been stashed in freezers since space shuttle Atlantis made the last shuttle flight in July 2011.

The Dragon will spend close to three weeks at the space station before being released and parachuting into the Pacific at the end of October.

SpaceX — owned by PayPal's billionaire creator Elon Musk — launched Dragon aboard a Falcon 9 rocket Sunday night. One of the nine first-stage engines failed a minute into the flight, but the other engines compensated and managed to put the capsule into the proper orbit. The mishap, however, left a secondary payload aboard the rocket — an Orbcomm communication satellite — in too low of an orbit.

NASA is counting on private business to restock the space station, now that U.S. shuttles have retired to museums.

SpaceX is working to convert its unmanned Dragon capsules into vessels that could carry astronauts to the space station in three years.

The space station currently houses three astronauts from the United States, Russia and Japan. Another American and two more Russians will arrive in two weeks.

— With files from The Associated Press

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