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SpaceX rocket launches cargo and ‘mighty mice’ headed for space station

After a delay yesterday, SpaceX successfully launched its 19th resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station Thursday.

The unmanned Dragon Spacecraft lifted off on the new two- stage Falcon 9 rocket. It took off at 12:29 p.m. from Cape Canaveral Airforce station carrying the company’s robotic cargo capsule to the orbiting lab. It will be its third supply run to the space station.

“This delivery, SpaceX’s 19th cargo flight to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, will support dozens of new and existing investigations,” according to NASA.

“NASA’s research and development work aboard the space station contributes to the agency’s deep space exploration plans, including future Moon and Mars missions.”

SpaceX delayed the launch yesterday due to dangerous wind gusts. The delay came less than an hour before the Falcon 9 rocket was set to take off. The countdown was halted because of excessive upper-level wind at Cape Canaveral and wind from the Atlantic. Conditions were much better today at the time of the launch.

The Dragon capsule is packed with more than 5,700 lbs. of supplies that include science equipment. Astronauts at the space station hope to use some of the new supplies for experiments on seed germination in space. They also want to conduct physics studies and a new tool storage technique on the space station.

Researchers hope to get a better grasp of how and why different plant genes germinate in the harsh environment of space. They will compare their findings with how those seeds germinate on Earth. Anheuser-Bush and Budweiser have provided the seeds that are part of today’s supply run. 

According to NASA’s website, “understanding how barley responds to microgravity could identify ways to adapt it for nutritional use on long-duration spaceflights.”

Scientists want to see how the seeds germinate in orbit before their growth is halted through malting. They will also study how space effects muscle and bone loss in humans with the use of what are called “mighty mice.” The mice are genetically modified to enhance muscle growth. 

The supply shipment also includes items for NASA’s Cold Atom Lab.  It produces clouds of what are known as Bose-Einstin condensates. They are ultra-cooled atoms just slightly below the temperature of absolute zero. Researchers say that the extreme cold acts like a magnifying glass on the atoms to allow them a better look into the quantum characteristics of the material.

Scientists also hope to study the fundamental theories of physics related to gravity and its affect on matter. 

The trip to the space station isn’t quick, however. It will take about three days to get there. Dragon is expected to berth on December 8. It will return on January 6. Engineers say they expect it to splash into the Pacific Ocean with about 1,800 lbs. of science samples and gear.

The International Space Station is will soon mark its 20th birthday. NASA notes that it has helped make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. Eventually, they hope what they have learned will enable “long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space.”

More than 230 people from 18 countries have visited the station over its lifetime. 

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