Russian space controllers have completed the delayed mating of a supply ship to the international space station, a maneuver that will allow the launch of a replacement crew. Two Russian cosmonauts removed a piece of rubber debris that had prevented the unmanned cargo rocket from making an airtight fit.
Cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin left the station on a three-hour spacewalk and found that the obstruction around the docking port for the Progress rocket was a rubber gasket. It was a seal that a previous Progress craft had apparently left behind when Russian flight controllers jettisoned it nearly two weeks ago.
U.S. space agency spokesman Rob Navias says the two crewmen had no difficulty removing the obstruction.
"Russian flight controllers extended the docking probe on the Progress vehicle a few inches, essentially backing the Progress away from the docking interface to provide some clearance for Dezhurov, who then used a cutting tool to cut away a portion of that rubberized O-ring," he said. "The rest of it stripped away very easily."
Russian flight controllers then commanded the Progress rocket back into place for a tight mating so that the station crew, including U.S. commander Frank Culbertson, can begin unloading the supplies.
The cargo benefits the next U.S.-Russian crew, which has been waiting on the ground in Florida for the space shuttle Endeavour to ferry them to the outpost. The U.S. space agency had delayed Endeavour's liftoff from last Thursday because it wanted the cargo ship to be firmly docked first.
Endeavour is set to lift off Tuesday. The new Russian commander and two U.S. astronauts will become the fourth station crew since the outpost was first occupied 13 months ago.