The latest Russian unmanned Progress supply ship docked with the International Space Station this morning, as the orbiting complex flew above central Asia. The unmanned cargo vessel flew itself up to the Space Station, did a fly around to align itself for docking, then docked. That’s like a delivery truck, minus a driver, coming to your house from another state, pulling up to your garage, opening the door, pulling in and closing the door behind itself. All the while never breaking any traffic laws, causing any accidents, or scraping the paint on the garage walls.
Now the crew aboard the station will unload the supplies, fill it with trash, and in December sometime cut it loose to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
We may have beat them to the Moon, and designed the most complex space vehicle ever, but the Russians have perfected the art of unmanned docking and assembly line spacecraft production. With the impending retirement of the Space Shuttles, we will rely on Russia for many years to come for access to space for our astronauts. We’ll be “spaceship-pooling” with them, and picking up the tab.