SpaceX launches ants, avocados, robot to space station
A SpaceX shipment of ants, avocados and a human-sized robotic arm rocketed toward the International Space Station yesterday.
The delivery – due to arrive today – is the company's 23rd for NASA in just under a decade.
A recycled Falcon rocket blasted into the predawn sky from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. After hoisting the Dragon capsule, the first-stage booster landed upright on SpaceX's newest ocean platform, named "A Shortfall of Gravitas." SpaceX founder Elon Musk continued his tradition of naming the booster-recovery vessels in tribute to the late science fiction writer Iain Banks and his Culture series.
The Dragon is carrying more than 2,170 kilograms of supplies and experiments, and fresh food including avocados, lemons and even ice cream for the space station's seven astronauts.
The Girl Scouts are sending up ants, brine shrimp and plants as test subjects, while University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists are flying up seeds from mouse-ear cress, a small flowering weed used in genetic research. Samples of concrete, solar cells and other materials also will be subjected to weightlessness.
A Japanese start-up company's experimental robotic arm, meanwhile, will attempt to screw items together in its orbital debut and perform other mundane chores normally done by astronauts. The first tests will be done inside the space station. Future models of Gitai Inc's robot will venture out into the vacuum of space to practice satellite and other repair jobs.