A Russian cosmonaut used a joystick to guide a modernized cargo ship to the international space station Sunday after problems with an automated system prompted a last-minute switch to a manual docking.
The Progress M-01M craft docked safely with the station on schedule, Russian Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said. It delivered thousands of pounds of propellant, oxygen and water as well as equipment, hardware and holiday gifts for cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov and his two American crew mates.
But the docking was the first for a new model of Russia's the long-serving Progress line of cargo ships — equipped with a fully digital telemetric system — and Lyndin said problems with the automatic docking procedure prompted the switch to manual docking.
Mission Control staff "didn't like" some of the data relayed by the automatic system, he said.
Vladimir Solovyov, Russian Mission Control's flight director for the international space station, said problems emerged in the final stages of the docking procedure, including the loss of frequency information and unexpected toggling of the automatic system's tracking displays, Russian news agencies reported.
Lonchakov, who was in place at the manual controls as a precaution, took over from the automated system when the Progress was about 30 yards from the station and guided it to the docking port in a few minutes.
"Yuri, excellent work," a NASA officer helping with the docking said after the linkup.
Russian space officials had doubled the time of the Progress' flight up from Earth to four days, instead of the usual two, to test systems including a new computer and improved avionics. State-run RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Solovyov as saying other problems, apparently minor, had been recorded earlier in the flight.
One of the antennas associated with the Kurs automated system failed to deploy on schedule after the Progress entered orbit, but it did eventually unfurl and it was not clear whether the delay had anything to do with the decision to conduct a manual docking.
The cargo ship delivered more than 2.5 tons of fuel, oxygen and equipment along with water, food and gifts for the crew — Lonchakov and NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus.
Magnus arrived on the U.S. space shuttle Endeavor for a 3 1/2 month stay aboard the decade-old station, which is being renovated to double its permanent crew capacity to six as of next year.
Fincke, the station's current commander, arrived with Lonchakov in October aboard a Russian Soyuz craft, and both are to stay on the station for six months.