CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX launched a 3-ton shipment to the International Space Station on Thursday, including “mighty mice” for a muscle study, a robot sensitive to astronauts’ emotions and a miniature version of a brewery’s malt house.
The Dragon capsule also is delivering holiday goodies for the six station residents. NASA’s Kenny Todd isn’t giving any hints but said, “Santa’s sleigh, I think, is certified for the vacuum of space.”
The recycled capsule should arrive Sunday.
The Falcon rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral a day late because of high winds. SpaceX recovered the new booster on a barge just off the coast in the Atlantic several minutes following liftoff so it could be reused. SpaceX employees in Southern California cheered when the booster landed, and again a few minutes later when the capsule reached orbit.
This is SpaceX’s 19th supply run for NASA.
Forty mice are aboard, all adolescent females with black fur. Eight are “mighty mice,” with twice the muscle mass of ordinary mice, according to the experiment’s chief scientist, Se-Jin Lee of the University of Connecticut and Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, Connecticut.
Researchers plan to bulk up some of the non-mighty space mice during or after their month-long flight in an attempt to build up muscle and bone. This therapy could one day help astronauts stay fit on lengthy space trips, Lee said.
In addition, there are barley grains for a beer-malting experiment by Anheuser-Busch.
The shipment also includes a large, plastic 3-D printed robot head with artificial intelligence, according to its German creators. It’s named Cimon, pronounced Simon, the same as the prototype that flew up last year. This upgraded version is designed to show empathy to its human colleagues in orbit.
Cimon will spend up to three years at the space station, three times longer than its recently returned predecessor. The goal, said IBM’s Matthias Biniok, is to provide astronauts with constantly updated robotic helpers, especially at the moon and Mars.
The space station currently is home to three Americans, two Russians and one Italian.
Russia plans to launch its own cargo ship to the outpost Friday.
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