A Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship, wrapping up a two-day rendezvous, caught up with the International Space Station early Monday and then stood by while astronaut Jessica Meir, operating the lab's robot arm, locked onto a grapple fixture to secure the capsule for berthing.
Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston then took over arm operations and remotely pulled the Cygnus in for berthing at the Earth-facing port of the station's central Unity module, locking it in place with 16 motorized bolts.
Launched Friday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport — MARS — at NASA's Wallops Island, Virginia, flight facility, the Cygnus delivered 3.7 tons of cargo, including 1,500 pounds of crew supplies and 4,370 pounds of science gear and experiment samples.
Included in that total: a compact oven, the first ever launched to the space station, that will be used to to bake DoubleTree chocolate chip cookies, one at a time, to find out how the absence of gravity affects cooking in orbit.
The Cygnus also brought equipment needed for four and possibly five upcoming spacewalks to repair a $2 billion cosmic ray detector that is searching for clues about the nature of unseen dark matter, antimatter and the mysterious dark energy speeding up the expansion of the universe.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer — AMS — is the most expensive science experiment aboard the space station and the repair work, if successful, should keep the instrument operating for the remainder of the laboratory's life.
The spacewalks, by NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, are tentatively planned for Nov. 15, Nov. 22, Dec. 2, Dec. 7 and, if necessary, Dec. 11.
With the Cygnus spacecraft safely berthed, the station crew expects to welcome two more cargo ships in December, along with a Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule making an unpiloted test flight. If all goes well, the Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft will begin carrying astronauts to and from the station next year.