After a three-day trip to the International Space Station (ISS), Orbital ATK’s Cygnus resupply vehicle finally reached Earth’s orbiting laboratory on May 24, NASA announced.
Launched on May 21 from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia atop an Orbital ATK Antares rocket, the Cygnus spacecraft carrying more than 3 tons of cargo was intercepted by the space station’s robotic Canadarm2 on Thursday morning, at 5:26 a.m. EDT (09:26 GMT).
Operated by NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, flight engineer for Expedition 55, the robotic arm secured the unmanned Cygnus cargo capsule to the Earth-facing port of the station’s Unity module three hours later, Space.com reports.
In case you missed NASA’s live coverage of the docking, you can watch it here.
The Cygnus spacecraft brought the ISS astronauts a nearly 7,400-pound (3,350 kilograms) delivery of science gear, food, clothes, and other “goodies” meant to make their long stay in space as comfortable as possible.
“There’s always goodies on board,” said Kirk Shireman, NASA’s space station program manager.
“We try to fly something that each crewmember likes. So, I’m sure there’s something for them to look forward to,” Shireman told journalists after the Cygnus launch.
Among the scientific equipment delivered by the Cygnus spacecraft on Orbital ATK’s ninth supply run for NASA is the space agency’s Cold Atom Lab (CAL), a revolutionary quantum physics experiment that will turn the ISS into the coldest place in the known universe.
“Right there in the name is the word ‘cold’,” Eric Cornell, principal investigator of one of the CAL experiments, said in a statement.
“Way down in the heart of that thing … we hope to get to temperatures of something less than 1 nano-Kelvin, so we intend to get within a billionth of a degree of absolute zero,” explained Cornell, who is a Nobel Prize winner in physics.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, CAL will use lasers and magnets to chill atoms and slow down their movement, thereby creating Bose-Einstein condensates. The experiment aims to deepen our understanding of matter, gravity, and dark energy.
The list of pioneering experiments ferried by the Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS includes a project that will sequence the RNA of the microbes found on board the space station, the unique science lab known as the ICE Cube, and the Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS) experiment, which will study how cement solidifies in zero-g.
The purpose of the MICS project is to uncover how the cement solidification process can be achieved in space, with the long-term goal of one day building housing and research facilities for future manned explorations of the moon and of Mars.
“We are looking into colonizing space,” said MICS principal investigator Aleksandra Radlinska, from Penn State University.
“We want to go to the moon and deep space beyond, and we will need shelters for the human missions. We will need to protect equipment from radiation effects and impacts that these could experience,” she pointed out.
The Cygnus spacecraft will remain attached to the ISS until July when it will be sent back with a 3-ton load of trash and other materials and need to be disposed of. Before burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, Cygnus will deploy nine CubeSats, each tasked with performing its own scientific experiment.
According to Spaceflight Now, these projects range from studying cloud processes (TEMPEST-D mini-satellite) and managing radio frequency interference to improve data storage (CubeRRT) to paving the way for rainfall profiling missions (RainCube) and detecting X-ray gas emissions around the Milky Way (HaloSat).