Dragon is packed with 4, 387 lbs. (2, 015 kilograms) of food, scientific experiments and other supplies for this trip, including a technology demonstration called ISSpresso, which should allow astronauts to make coffee, tea and other hot drinks aboard the orbiting lab.
If all goes according to plan, Dragon will arrive at the space station early Wednesday morning (April 15), then zip around Earth with the 0 billion orbiting complex for about five weeks before returning to Earth with a load of "down cargo, " NASA officials have said.
But more eyes around the world may well be on the Falcon 9's first stage than on Dragon during Monday's launch. SpaceX will try to land the stage softly on the company's "autonomous spaceport drone ship" in a reusable-rocket test. Fully and rapidly reusable rockets could slash the cost of spaceflight and help open up the heavens to exploration, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said.
SpaceX has tried the daring rocket landing once before — during the last Dragon cargo launch, which occurred on Jan. 10 — and almost pulled it off: The rocket stage came down on target but hit too hard, exploding on the ship's deck.
The Falcon 9 stage's stabilizing "grid fins" ran out hydraulic fluid during that attempt, SpaceX representatives have said. They've taken measures to make sure that won't happen again, and have also upgraded the drone ship to be able to tolerate higher winds and ocean swells.
The various improvements, as well the experience gained during the Jan. 10 attempt, have SpaceX optimistic about a successful landing.
"I would up my probability to 75 percent at this point in time, maybe 80, " Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of mission assurance, said during a prelaunch press briefing Sunday.
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