|The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon space freighter rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Credit: NASA TV
SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule is hauling a lot of science gear up to the International Space Station, including experiments for the orbiting outpost's first one-year crew.
The unmanned Dragon launched into space Tuesday (April 14) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which lifted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It is due to arrive at the space station at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) Friday, April 17. Astronauts will grapple the capsule using the station's huge robotic arm, then begin offloading its 4, 300 lbs. (1, 950 kilograms) of cargo.
Some of this equipment will help NASA examine the nature of eye problems that have plagued several astronauts on long-term missions. Scientists suspect these issues may be caused by an increased buildup of fluid in the head in microgravity conditions, but more study is needed to confirm the idea, said Marshall Porterfield, NASA's life and physical sciences division director. [SpaceX Launches Dragon to Space Station (Video)]
Other payloads aboard Dragon will support genetic comparisons between one-year mission crewmember Scott Kelly and his twin brother, Mark, who is being studied on Earth as a control. (Scott Kelly and fellow one-year crewmate Mikhail Kornienko of Russia arrived at the orbiting lab late last month.)
"It's allowing us to make a leap from [missions of] six months to a year and project out what we need to do to protect humans over longer periods of time, " Porterfield said during a prelaunch news conference Sunday (April 12).
Dragon was originally supposed to fly parts to change a docking port to prepare the orbiting lab for commercial vehicles, but that payload was shifted to a later flight to give astronauts more time for science, said Kirt Costello, deputy chief scientist for the International Space Station.
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