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SpaceX Capsule by NASA Carries tons of Science Experiments, Ice Cream to the International Space Station

This is the 13th delivery by the Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, one of two private shippers hired by NASA

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International Space Station
A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket launches from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Aug. 14, 2017. The mission of the spacecraft is a cargo and supply delivery to the International Space Station. VOA
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  • SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral shortly after liftoff, a key to its long-term effort to recycle rockets and reduce costs.
  • Experiments make up most of the 6,400 pounds of cargo, which should reach the orbiting lab Wednesday
  • The space station was zooming 250 miles above the Atlantic, just off Nova Scotia, when the Falcon took flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, August 14, 2017: A SpaceX capsule rocketed to the International Space Station on Monday, carrying tons of scientific research, plus ice cream.

As has become customary on these cargo flights, SpaceX landed its leftover booster back at Cape Canaveral shortly after liftoff, a key to its long-term effort to recycle rockets and reduce costs.

“Gorgeous day, spectacular launch,” said Dan Hartman, NASA’s deputy manager of the space station program.

Experiments make up most of the 6,400 pounds of cargo, which should reach the orbiting lab Wednesday. That includes 20 mice that will return alive inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule in about a month.

ALSO READ: To Save Earth, NASA plans to Crash a Refrigerator-Sized Spacecraft

Ice cream aboard

The Dragon is also doubling as an ice cream truck this time.

There was extra freezer space, so NASA packed little cups of vanilla, chocolate and birthday cake ice cream, as well as ice cream candy bars. Those treats should be especially welcomed by U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, in orbit since November. She’s due back at the beginning of September. Newly arrived U.S. spaceman Randolph Bresnik turns 50 next month.

The space station was zooming 250 miles above the Atlantic, just off Nova Scotia, when the Falcon took flight.

It was the 14th successful booster landing for SpaceX and the sixth on the giant X at the company’s touchdown spot at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just a few miles from its NASA-leased pad at Kennedy Space Center.

“It’s right on the bull’s-eye, and a very soft touchdown,” said SpaceX’s Hans Koenigsmann.

The experiments

The mice on board are part of a study of visual problems suffered in space by some male astronauts. Scientists will study the pressure in the animals’ eyes, as well as the movement of fluid in their brains. Thirty days for mice in space is comparable to three years for humans, according to Florida State University’s Michael Delp, who’s in charge of the experiment. The study may help explain why female astronauts don’t have this vision problem, which can linger long after spaceflight, he added.

The Dragon also holds an instrument to measure cosmic rays from the space station. This type of device has previously flown on high-altitude balloons. The Army has an imaging micro-satellite on board for release this fall from the station. It’s a technology demo; the military wants to see how small satellites like this, with low-cost, off-the-shelf cameras and telescopes, might support critical ground operations. It’s about the size of a dormitory-room refrigerator.

Also going up on behalf of the Michael J. Fox Foundation: protein crystals that, in space, might shed light on Parkinson’s disease. The mission got a televised plug from Fox, an actor who has the disease.

Three Americans, one more than usual, and an Italian will tackle all this scientific work in orbit. The station also is home to two Russians; that number will go back up to three in a year or so.

SpaceX delivery

This is the 13th delivery by the Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, one of two private shippers hired by NASA. The other is Orbital ATK; its next supply run is in November from Wallops Island, Virginia.

The SpaceX Dragon is the only supply ship capable of returning items to Earth. It parachutes into the Pacific; the others burn up during re-entry.

This particular Dragon is brand new, as is the Falcon rocket. In June, SpaceX launched its first reused Dragon, and in March, its first reused Falcon. From now on, the company said it may only fly used Dragons.

SpaceX is also developing a crew Dragon for NASA astronauts, set to debut next year. Boeing is working on its own capsule to ferry space station astronauts.

In the meantime, SpaceX is aiming for a November debut of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which will feature three first-stage boosters and 27 engines, versus the single booster and nine engines on the Falcon 9. It will have two-thirds the thrust of NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which was used during the Apollo moon program. All three of the Falcon Heavy’s first-stage boosters are meant to fly back to a touchdown. (VOA)

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SpaceX Delivers AI Robot With Ice Cream And Brown Mice

SpaceX's capsule reached the station three days after launching

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SpaceX Dragon is pictured about 30 meters from the International Space Station before being captured minutes later at its capture point of 10 meters from the station.
SpaceX Dragon is pictured about 30 meters from the International Space Station before being captured minutes later at its capture point of 10 meters from the station. VOA

The International Space Station got its first robot with artificial intelligence Monday, along with some berries, ice cream and identical brown mice.

SpaceX’s capsule reached the station three days after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Station astronaut Ricky Arnold used a large mechanical arm to grab the Dragon capsule as the spacecraft soared above Quebec, Canada.

The nearly 6,000-pound (2,700-kilogram) delivery includes the round robot Cimon, pronounced Simon. Slightly bigger than a basketball, the AI robot from the German Space Agency is meant to assist German astronaut Alexander Gerst with science experiments. Cimon’s brain will constantly be updated by IBM so its intelligence — and role — keep growing.

There are also genetically identical mice for a study of gut bacteria, and super-caffeinated coffee aboard the Dragon to go with the fresh blueberries and ice cream.

“Looking forward to some really exciting weeks ahead as we unload the science and get started on some great experiments,” Arnold told Mission Control minutes after snaring the Dragon.

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Artificial Intelligence. Pixabay

When informed it was the 30th cargo ship to be captured by the station’s robot arm, Arnold said, “It’s hard to believe … how far we’ve come. It’s quite an accomplishment.”

Most of those visiting vessels have been provided by private U.S. companies hired by NASA to keep the space station well stocked.

Mission Control said it was fitting that the latest capture occurred over Quebec; the station’s robot arm is Canada’s contribution.

Also read: Scientists Track Chinese Space Station as It Falls to Earth

Besides Gerst, the 250-mile-high (400-kilometer-high) lab is home to three Americans and two Russians. (VOA)