After a two-month launch hiatus, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit early Sunday. This marks the company's 23rd supply mission to the International Space Station. This one hauled 4,300 pounds of gear, science materials, food, and other necessities.
The countdown to zero ticked to zero. The nine Merlin engines of the Falcon's first stage fired up on time at 3:14 a.m. EDT, launching the rocket from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center atop 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
Fruits, Vegetables, Science Experiments Made Its Way to Space
The ISS crew's requirements appear to be rather basic this time: fresh foodstuffs to restock the station's food pantry. NASA's ISS program manager, Joel Montalbano, told Space.com that they're sending up a lot of fruit. They have lemons, onions, avocados, cherry tomatoes, and ice cream, according to Montalbano. He added that is a tremendous hit for the crew. Fresh fruits and vegetables are in demand yet the most challenging commodities to provide, according to NASA, due to their short shelf life. Fortunately, astronauts onboard the International Space Station are getting reasonably adept at producing their own lettuce.
According to Space.com, a "treasure trove of science research" is also aboard the Dragon cargo vehicle. The launch included a new robotic arm that will be tested in the station's airlock. And while they are on the subject of that robotic arm, here's the latest on the grab. ClickOrlando said a new autonomous drone ship named A Shortfall of Gravitas was also launched for this voyage. After launching, the Falcon 9 booster took only 8 minutes to reach the ship. The Octograbber robot was responsible for securing the rocket to the spacecraft.
Other innovative science experiments are also being carried out in the capsule, SlashGear said. READI FP is one of the experiments, which aims to see how microgravity and radiation affect bone tissue development. It's also meant to see if bioactive metabolites may help protect bones during spaceflight. Astronauts' long-term health is especially essential as NASA and other space organizations consider long-duration missions to Mars and beyond.
Retinal Diagnostics is another experiment. This project uses light-based technology to record retinal pictures of astronauts in order to document a visual issue known as Space-Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome, which affects astronauts.
A Successful Launch
The capture of the first stage rocket by SpaceX's new droneship was a significant success of this flight, Digital Trends said. The booster is only required for the initial launch stages, supplying fuel for the arduous ascent through the atmosphere against gravity. The booster is no longer needed once the rocket has reached a particular altitude and falls down to Earth. SpaceX has mastered collecting and recycling these boosters after a launch, which should reduce the cost of space missions in the long term.
SpaceX also released footage of the rocket landing on the droneship:
The Dragon will automatically dock with the Harmony module once it arrives at the ISS, connecting to the forward-facing terminal. Two people who are part of the ISS crew, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, will charge the docking. On Monday, the docking will be shown live on NASA TV, with coverage beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET (6:30 a.m. PT).
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