(CBS) — SpaceX’s next-generation Dragon 2 cargo ship, loaded with 6,500 pounds of equipment and supplies — including Christmas gifts and fixings for a tasty holiday dinner — caught up with the International Space Station Monday and flew itself in for a picture-perfect docking.
Similar in appearance to the Crew Dragon that carried four astronauts to the space station last month, the unpiloted Cargo Dragon’s docking mechanism engaged its counterpart atop the forward Harmony module at 1:40 p.m. EST as the two spacecraft sailed 260 miles above the southern Indian Ocean.
The linkup, the first using Harmony’s upper port, capped a flawless 26-hour rendezvous that began with launch of the 21st SpaceX cargo mission Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center.
“I would just like to say a huge congratulations to all the teams that worked on SpaceX-21,” astronaut Kate Rubins radioed from the space station. “It’s pretty amazing to think that less than a month ago, you got four crew members to the International Space Station, and now you’re bringing a vehicle full of world-class science for us to execute. Thank you.”
Unlike earlier Cargo Dragons, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus supply ship and Japan’s HTV freighter, all of which require the station’s robot arm to pull the ships in for berthing, the upgraded Dragon 2 was designed to fly itself all the way to docking on its own just like its piloted counterpart.
Joining five other spacecraft already attached to the outpost — two Russian cargo ships, a Soyuz crew ferry craft, a Cygnus supply ship and the Crew Dragon parked just a few feet away — the Cargo Dragon boosted the lab’s total mass to a record 996,828 pounds.
For its maiden flight, the Dragon 2 cargo ship’s pressurized cabin was loaded with 803 pounds of crew supplies; 2,100 pounds of science gear; 265 pounds of spacewalk equipment; 698 pounds of vehicle hardware; 102 pounds of computer equipment; and 53 pounds of Russian hardware.
Included with the crew supplies: roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, cherry blueberry cobbler, potatoes au gratin, cookies and other morsels intended to provide a holiday feast for the station’s seven-member crew.
Stored in the capsule’s unpressurized trunk section was a 2,400-pound airlock developed by Nanoracks, a company that facilitates flights by private industry, university and government-sponsored experiments.
The airlock will be extracted by the station’s robot arm later and attached to the Tranquility module’s far-left port. It is designed to be periodically detached, exposing experiments inside and mounted on its exterior to the vacuum of space.