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Japan's cargo ship docks at International Space Station

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 18, 2009
Japan's first cargo spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday after astronauts aboard the station grabbed and docked it using a robotic arm.

The docking came a week after the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the unmanned HTV transportation vehicle atop an H-2B rocket.

The HTV is Japan's first freighter spacecraft aiming for a share of space transport after the retirement of the US space shuttle fleet next year.

"I'm so relieved because I was feeling the pressure and responsibility," Koji Yamanaka, the flight director in charge of the cargo mission, told reporters at Japan's Tsukuba space centre.

It was the first time that astronauts operate a Canadian robotic arm at the ISS to dock a spacecraft at the station.

The HTV carried 4.5 tonnes of supplies, including food and daily necessities for the six ISS crew, as well as materials for experiments, such as seeds for growing plants in space.

The 10-metre (33-foot) long cylindrical vehicle, which cost 20 billion yen (217 million dollars), will soon unload the supplies.

It will later take waste materials and return to Earth, burning up as it re-enters the atmosphere.

Japan has spent 68 billion yen developing the vehicle, which could be modified in future to carry humans.

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