Two tons of supplies and research cargo are headed to the International Space Station today following the successful launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. After a one-day delay due to strong high-altitude winds, the rocket lifted off on time at 4:10:11 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 carrying Dragon on its CRS-6 mission for NASA.
Falcon rose into the afternoon’s perfect blue sky before arcing over the Atlantic Ocean on a trajectory matching the 51.6 degree inclination orbit of the space station.
Three minutes after liftoff, the first stage shut down and separated from Falcon’s upper stage and Dragon. The second stage’s single Merline engine fired for approximately seven minutes before it also shut down. Ten minutes into its mission, Dragon separated from its carrier rocket, deployed twin power-generating solar arrays and settled into a preliminary orbit below ISS poised to catch up with the station for rendezvous and berthing.
Today’s launch begins a two-and-a-half day trip for Dragon reach ISS. After rendezvous with the station, it will be grappled by the station’s robotic arm on Friday, April 17 at approximately 7:00 am EDT, with berthing and hatch opening occurring over the following day. ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Dragon while Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA assists.
“Five years ago this week, President Obama toured the same SpaceX launch pad used today to send supplies, research and technology development to the ISS,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Back then, SpaceX hadn’t even made its first orbital flight. Today, it’s making regular flights to the space station and is one of two American companies, along with The Boeing Company, that will return the ability to launch NASA astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil and land then back in the United States. That’s a lot of progress in the last five years, with even more to come in the next five.”
CRS-6 is SpaceX’s sixth cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
The pressurized volume of Dragon is loaded with 4,300 pounds of material. The cargo will support approximately 40 of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will be performed during Expeditions 43 and 44, including numerous human research investigations for NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s one-year mission in space. Kelly is one of two men who recently began a yearlong mission on the orbiting laboratory so they can help determine changes and possible solutions to several dilemmas posed by extended missions. The work is crucial to NASA’s knowledge of the effects on astronauts of missions to distant worlds including Mars.
The Cell Shape and Expression research program will provide for the first time a reliable experimental model able to highlight the relationships between microgravity, cell shape and gene expression, which may also inform pharmacological ways to counteract microgravity-induced cell damages.
Osteo-4 studies the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, which are the most common cells in bone. These cells reside within the mineralized bone and can sense mechanical forces, or the lack of them, but researchers do not know how. Osteo-4 allows scientists to analyze changes in the physical appearance and genetic expression of mouse bone cells in microgravity.
Dragon also will deliver hardware to support an ongoing one-year crew study known as Fluid Shifts. More than half of American astronauts experience vision changes and alterations to parts of their eyes during and after long-duration spaceflight. The Fluid Shifts investigation measures how much fluid shifts from the lower body to the upper body, in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the impact these shifts have on fluid pressure in the head and changes in vision and eye structures.
Robots can perform tasks too repetitive, difficult or dangerous for humans. Robots built with synthetic muscle would have more human-like capabilities, but the material would have to withstand the rigors of space. This investigation tests the radiation resistance of an electroactivepolymer called Synthetic Muscle, developed by RasLabs, which can contract and expand like real muscles.
The spacecraft also will deliver hardware needed for the installation of two International Docking Adapters scheduled for delivery on future SpaceX missions. Once installed, these adapters will enable commercial crew spacecraft to dock to the space station.
After about five weeks, Dragon will depart the space station for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California. The capsule will return more than 3,000 pounds of science, hardware, crew supplies and spacewalk tools.
Meanwhile, Falcon 9’s first stage attempted a precision landing on our autonomous spaceport drone ship named “Just Read the Instructions” as part of an ongoing attempt to land and recover a rocket after it completes its primary mission. The stage made it to the drone ship and landed, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over.
For more information about International Space Station science and research, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station
For more information about the SpaceX resupply mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacex
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