Progress arrival yesterday was a highly anticipated event here on the Station. In spite of the fact that we had just over a month ago received a Progress as a Christmas present, or maybe because it was so recently here, we were really anticipating this arrival.
Image at right: These photographs show the Progress 28 cargo craft approaching the International Space Station before docking on Feb. 7, 2008. Credit: NASA
The initial phase of the Progress approach was during darkness, but I did manage to spot the speck of light when it was about 30 kilometers away, station aft and a bit starboard. Once we passed into insolation, however, we lost sight of it…even though we could “see” the Station from the Progress camera view! Yuri commented that the Station view looked just like it did on the simulator…not quite real. As the Progress approached in the fly-around to a distance of about 200 meters, however, the details of the Station from the Progress “eyes” were much better than any simulator. I could make out the struts in the truss where Dan and I had recently performed an EVA, and I marveled once again, at the size of the structure that we have built up here, orbiting at 17,500 miles per hour.
The Progress patiently waited, unlike us, at a station-keeping distance of about 150 meters off of the docking compartment approach lane. Its orientation shifting occasionally from the starboard antennae at the end of one Service Module solar array to the port antennae off the opposite solar array, hunting for the strongest signal. Finally, the ground team, satisfied with the Progress readiness, sent the command that allowed the Progress to perform the automated final approach.
Yuri “sat” with his knees tucked under the hand controller brackets to hold himself in position (so that he wouldn’t float away) in front of the TV-data display of the view of the Station, just in case he had to take over (pretending to be in a virtual Progress “cockpit” and flying remotely). I watched the data over his shoulder and on a laptop. At our feet, we could easily look out through a nadir window and see the Progress as it approached…from the “real” Station perspective. It is odd seeing the view of your home (the Station), and at the same time seeing the view out the window of the approaching vehicle.
As the Progress approached, some roll angle error became evident, but Yuri calmly watched, reported the discrepancies to the ground, and waited for the automated system to correct itself. The Progress did manage to correct the roll error, and then appeared to “over-correct.” In the meantime, we lost the Progress camera view of the Station. It was at a distance where the procedures called for us to head for the Soyuz (i.e., too late to try and take control without video). Before we had a chance to react, the image reappeared…and for the second time the thought crossed my mind that this was a bit more like a simulation than I thought it should be.
As we felt the gentle nudge to our Station, Yuri called “SEPKA” (contact) and Dan called, “The onion express has arrived!” I told Yuri he could have easily flown that approach better than the automated system did, and I would have been less stressed too.
The big decision for dinner last night was what we should eat with our onions! We decided on BBQ beef brisket in a tortilla. I am not sure why onion tastes so fabulous up here, but we celebrated Progress arrival and Shuttle launch on the same day! Company will be here in another day…