Dragon is carrying about 2.5 tons of cargo to the space station for NASA. The mission is SpaceX's fourth of 12 delivery missions for the U.S. space agency under a $1.6 billion deal. Sunday's flawless launch occurred one day after rain and thick clouds forced SpaceX to delay the launch on early Saturday (Sept. 20).
But skies were clear and the stars were out during the pre-dawn launch on Sunday morning. Sam Scimemi, NASA's International Space Station director, told reporters that the Falcon 9 appeared to be soaring though the constellation Orion after it took off.
"It was a beautiful night, " Scimemi said.
Of mice and more
Food, care packages and provisions for NASA's astronauts make up more than a third of the cargo onboard Dragon. But the spacecraft also has experiments and equipment that will eventually help scientists complete 255 research projects in total, according to NASA. In Dragon's trunk, there's an instrument dubbed RapidScat, which will be installed outside the space station to measure the speed and direction of ocean winds on Earth. Among the commercially funded experiments onboard Dragon is a materials-science test from the sports company Cobra Puma Golf designed to build a stronger golf club.
The first critters picked to live in NASA's new Rodent Research Hardware System (shown here) come from a commonly used strain of inbred, black-colored lab mice known as C57 Black 6.
Jeff Sheehy, senior technical officer of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said it is " a certainty" that NASA will eventually rely on 3D-printed tools and replacement parts that are made in space instead of traditional equipment sent up from Earth.
"If we're really going to set up shop on Mars, we have to get there, " Sheehy told reports during a briefing Friday morning. "We really can't afford to bring everything we need."
A new X-ray machine called the Bone Densitometer, developed by Techshot, will arrive at the space station aboard Dragon. The system is designed to measure bone density loss — but not in humans. Instead, it will be used to examine mice.
The 20 female mice inside Dragon will live inside NASA's new Rodent Research Hardware System to be installed on the space station. Before the launch, scientists said the mice would be just fine during the 10-minute trip to low-Earth orbit, even without cushy seats.
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