A Falcon 9 rocket blasts off for the
ISS on 18 April(Image: NASA TV)
capsule lifted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida at
3.25 pm local time. It is slated to dock with the ISS on Sunday and deliver the
equipment and experiments, including a set of robotic legs, a collapsible garden
and microbes brushed off a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil.
Following the launch, part of the rocket was also supposed to fire engines as it
fell back to Earth and deploy a set of experimental landing legs, which could
one day enable rockets to be reused. The rocket should have attempted a mock
landing over the Atlantic Ocean, but weather may have complicated the effort.
rocket flight on the way up was perfect, as far as we could tell," SpaceX
founder Elon Musk said during a press briefing. But the seas were very rough in
the Atlantic, with reports of high waves, and Musk thinks this could have
affected the landing. "It was very heavy seas, so I wouldn't give high odds that
the rocket was able to splash down successfully."
Currently, the rockets that send cargo and crew to the ISS are discarded. A
rocket that can return to Earth and safely touch down for reuse could lower the
cost of spacecraft by a factor of 100, according to Musk. A version of the
system could also bring astronauts back from Mars.
member of SpaceX's launch team reports that the rocket reignited its engines
after it separated from the spacecraft, stabilising it and slowing it enough to
survive re-entering Earth's atmosphere. The team was recording video of the
rocket as it came down over the ocean and should know soon whether the landing
matter what happened, the experiment shows that having landing legs on the
rocket didn't affect its flight. "We were able to show on ascent that the legs
don't have a negative impact on the rocket," says Musk. "Even though we probably
won't get the stage back, we're starting to connect the dots about what's
even if the test landing went badly, a robot on the ISS will still get its own
boost. Among the supplies and experiments aboard Dragon is a pair of legs for
the humanoid robot Robonaut 2, which has been lending a hand to astronauts since
the final space shuttle mission in 2011. Until those legs arrive, it will just
be a torso.
it docks to the ISS, Dragon will also deliver the Vegetable Production System,
or Veggie, a plant growth chamber that will test how well red romaine lettuce
seedlings sprout in space.
chamber collapses for easy storage during flight and extends to create a
"garden" that is about 29 centimetres wide by 37 centimetres deep – the largest
plant chamber in space to date. The hope is that such chambers could be used to
grow food on longer deep-space missions, or to provide astronauts with some
Dragon's science haul also includes microbe samples from Project MERCCURI, which
asked people to collect and identify microbes in public spaces such as sports
stadiums and museums. Cultures will be grown on Earth and on the ISS to compare
how low gravity influences the organisms.
48 samples selected to head to the ISS include microbes found on "Sue" the T.
rex at the Field Museum in Chicago and on John Glenn's Mercury space
capsule, Friendship 7, at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in
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