Today's robotic arm work marked the first time SpaceX has ever delivered gear meant for the outside of the space station using the Dragon's trunk, company officials have said. SpaceX built the support hardware holding the grapple bars in place on the Dragon capsule, they added.
The six astronauts living aboard the space station unloaded the pressurized cargo section by Monday (March 4), leaving only the grapple bars to be retrieved.
"These bars, which together weigh about 600 pounds [272 kilograms], can be used to remove failed radiators on the station’s S1 and P1 truss segments, should that ever be deemed necessary, " NASA officials said in a statement.
With the Dragon capsule empty, the station crew will soon start loading the capsule with 2, 668 pounds (1, 210 kilograms) of experiments and unneeded items for the spacecraft's return to Earth on March 25. The Dragon is expected to splash down off Baja California in the Pacific Ocean so it can be retrieved by recovery teams.
Various space agencies are expecting items to return to Earth on board Dragon. For example, stem cells and hair that are currently being used in experiments on the station will be sent down with Dragon for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Residents of the International Space Station removed the two grapple bars delivered by SpaceX's Dragon to the orbiting laboratory today.
Credit: NASA TV
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX is one of two companies with billion-dollar contracts to supply cargo missions to the space station for NASA. The other company, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia, has a $1.9 billion contract with the agency for eight resupply missions to the station using the new Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.
NASA is relying on privately built spacecraft to ferry cargo — and ultimately astronaut crews — to and from the International Space Station. With the retirement of its space shuttle fleet in 2011, NASA is currently dependent on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to launch American astronauts to the space station.
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