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Laser-guided cargo spacecraft docks at the International Space Station

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A spacecraft bearing essential supplies for the six astronauts based at the International Space Station successfully landed on July 16, early this morning at 6:36 a.m. Eastern time.

The ship bore food, experiments, and other supplies necessary for the International Space Station's ongoing success.

The spacecraft was a commercial Cygnus cargo craft designed by the company Orbital. It flew 250 miles above the Earth to land on the Space Station, guided by a laser.

Once the craft was close enough to the space station, Space station commander Steve Swanson used the lab's 58-foot-long robotic arm to reach out and capture the Cygnus spacecraft.

The spacecraft, named after astronaut Janice Voss, will be staying aboard the Space Station for some time. The spacecraft will depart from the space station around August 15. Controllers from the ground will guide the craft to a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean a few days later. It will carry back with it the space stations trash and things they don't need when it comes back to Earth.

"We now have a seventh crew member," Swanson said moments after he had successfully maneuvered the Cygnus spacecraft aboard with the robot arm. "Janice Voss is now part of Expedition 40."

Janice Voss was a previous employee of Orbital who died in 2012 of cancer at age 55. She ran five shuttle missions to the International Space Shuttle but never made it on board. Orbital wanted to honor her work by naming the new spacecraft after her.

"Janice devoted her life to space and accomplished many wonderful things at NASA and Orbital Sciences, including five shuttle missions," Swanson said. "And today Janice's legacy in space continues. Welcome aboard the ISS, Janice."

With the help of ground controllers based in Houston, 16 bolts were fastened into the new spacecraft to securely affix it to the Space Station.

The supplies delivered include food for astronauts, research experiments to learn how the human body changes in space, equipment to repair the ship and keep their gear maintained, and 32 small CubeSats to be ejected from the space station's Japanese science module. It also included new outfits designed to be odor-resistant -- something which the astronauts aboard the space station will surely appreciate.

The space station weighs 450 tons. According to a statement from NASA, the spaceship delivered 1,684 pounds of crew supplies -- such as care packages, provisions and food -- 783 pounds of vehicle hardware and spare parts for the space station, and 721 pounds of science experiments.

The private company Orbital currently has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to run eight missions through 2016. NASA also has a contract with SpaceX, to take up cargo with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, then carry things back to Earth like samples from experiments.

"Every flight is critical," said Frank Culbertson, executive vice president of Orbital's advanced programs group and a former space shuttle and space station commander. "We carry a variety of types of cargo on-board, which includes food and basic supplies for the crew, and also the research." 

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