This photo taken from NASA TV shows a close up of a capsule loaded with 1.5 tons of trash released from the International Space Station on Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. (NASA via AP)
Astronauts empty the trash
February 25, 2016
The International Space Station just got a whole lot tidier.
A pair of NASA astronauts released a capsule loaded with 1.5 tons of trash. It happened as the space station soared over Bolivia. That country is in South America. The capsule was expected to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up harmlessly over the Pacific on Feb. 20.
NASA supplier Orbital ATK launched the capsule to the space station in December. It was full of food, clothes and other goods. The astronauts removed the precious contents. Then they filled it with garbage and old equipment for incineration.
Commander Scott Kelly and Timothy Kopra are the Americans on board. They sent computer commands to set the Cygnus free. The stunning 250-mile-high view showed the capsule slowly backing away. Its two circular solar wings looked like open umbrellas.
Kelly is close to wrapping up a yearlong mission for NASA. He thanked everyone who worked on the Cygnus.
"It's been a pleasure," he noted.
"A beautiful release," replied Mission Control.
Virginia-based Orbital ATK plans to launch another Cygnus with more supplies from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is expected to blast off in late March. The flight was delayed a few weeks. That was after black mold contaminated some of the cargo bags. Technicians had to disinfect everything.
SpaceX, meanwhile, another commercial cargo carrier for NASA, is aiming to make a delivery in the next few months. The company is working to get back on track following a launch accident last summer.
NASA has handed off space station shipments to private business. That allows NASA to focus on getting astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, namely to Mars. It hopes to do the same with space station crews next year. For now, U.S. astronauts are hitching rides with the Russians.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why doesn't dumping the trash create pollution?
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