Dragon launch to ISS

SpaceX to deliver mice to the ISS and return them safely

Image credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX Dragon capsule has been sent to the International Space Station (ISS) carrying cargo including 20 mice, equipment for research, and ice cream.

Dragon is the world’s first commercially available reusable spacecraft, and was developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX in an attempt to reduce the cost of launches, making them more accessible to researchers and businesses.

In 2010, Dragon became the first commercially built spacecraft to be successfully recovered from orbit, and in 2012, the first to successfully attach to the ISS. It has been contracted to deliver cargo to the ISS by Nasa – a highly unusual arrangement for a private space enterprise.

A Falcon 9 rocket launched the Dragon from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, carrying 2900kg of cargo.

Following the launch, SpaceX landed its leftover rocket booster nearby at the company’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in a 14th successful booster landing.

The rocket’s cargo includes 20 live mice, which SpaceX will attempt to return alive to Earth in approximately a month’s time; this is comparable to three years in space for a human.

The mice are subjects in an Florida State University experiment attempting to better understand how living in space can cause visual problems in some male astronauts. Researchers will monitor the pressure in the mice’s eyes, and the movement of fluid in their brains.

It is still unknown why women in space do not suffer from this problem.

The SpaceX rocket carried equipment and materials for other research projects, including protein crystals which could be used to understand some aspects of Parkinson’s disease, an instrument for measuring cosmic rays from the ISS, an Hewlett Packard supercomputer, and a microsatellite for the US Army to release later this year, named the Kestrel Eye.

This low-cost satellite, which is approximately the size of a fridge, could provide satellite images to soldiers without relaying the data through the US first.

The Dragon cargo capsule also carried cups of chocolate, vanilla and ‘birthday cake’-flavoured ice cream and ice cream bars for the four astronauts currently inhabiting the ISS.

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