CAPE CANAVERAL — A private company made good on its latest shipment to the International Space Station on Sunday, overcoming mechanical difficulty and delivering a ton of supplies with high-flying finesse.
To NASA's relief, the SpaceX company's Dragon capsule pulled up to the orbiting lab with all of its systems in perfect order. Station astronauts used a hefty robot arm to snare the unmanned Dragon, and three hours later, it was bolted into place.
The Dragon's arrival couldn't have been sweeter — and not because of the fresh fruit on board for the six-man station crew. Coming a full day late, the 250-mile-high linkup above Ukraine culminated a two-day chase that got off to a shaky, almost dead-ending start.
Moments after the Dragon reached orbit Friday, a clogged pressure line or stuck valve prevented the timely release of the solar panels and the crucial firing of small maneuvering rockets. SpaceX flight controllers struggled for several hours before gaining control of the capsule and salvaging the mission.
"As they say, it's not where you start, but where you finish that counts, and you guys really finished this one on the mark," space station commander Kevin Ford said after capturing the Dragon.
The Dragon will remain at the space station for most of March before returning to Earth with science samples, empty food containers and old equipment.
SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to keep the station well stocked. The contract calls for 12 supply runs; this was the second in that series.