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Robot-Controlled Japanese Spacecraft Brings Supplies to NASA Space Station

A Japanese spaceship navigated by robots reached the International Space Station on January 27. Three more are scheduled to arrive later this month.

The ship has brought not only food supplies to NASA personnel at the station but also scientific equipment and spare parts. It is the second Japanese ship to reach the station. NASA is to remove its shuttle fleet from the site within six months so the arrival of this ship has given the team of scientists from 16 nations the much-needed confidence that supply lines will remain open. The HTV-2 spacecraft, along with Automated Transfer Vehicles from Europe and progress capsules from Russia will form a lifeline for the station once they complete about three shuttle flights. The NASA shuttle is being withdrawn to save growing operational costs and divert funds to developing spacecraft to orbit the earth beyond the station’s 220 miles.

NASA hopes that the commercial spacecraft from Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences Corp will begin regular supplies to the station from December 2011. Already crew members are being flown to the station by Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Meanwhile, the second HTV from Japan named Kounotori, left the previous Saturday from the Tanegashima Space Center situated in southern Japan aboard H-2B, a Japanese rocket.

The spacecraft hovered 33 feet above the station while flight engineer Catherine Coleman worked inside the station's cupola compartment to navigate the robotic arm into place so that it could catch the 35,000-pound vessel, later berthed at a port on the station's Harmony node. The six-member station team is led by astronaut Scott Kelly. It unloaded 3.2 tons of spare parts, food, research equipment, computers, water and other supplies from the craft. More supplies were brought by a Russian Progress rocket. The second automated transfer vehicle from the European Space Agency called Johannes Kepler is scheduled to be launched on February 15, while NASA's space shuttle Discovery will be launching  on February 24 carrying spare parts and a storage room.

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