Back in May, the private company known as SpaceX carried out a successful test flight to the International Space Station. That cleared the way for the company to launch a regular cargo flight to the station on Sunday.
NASA has contracted with SpaceX and this is the first of 12 planned flights for the Dragon capsule. Rob Navias is a NASA spokesman at the Johnson Space Center.
“We consider this a milestone because it restores a U.S. resupply capability that had not been available to NASA for the space station since the retirement of the space shuttle.”
It may be years before the Dragon capsule carries astronauts, but in the meantime NASA can now use an American company to get food and supplies into low-earth orbit, without relying on space agencies in Russia, Japan and Europe.
There was a small problem during the launch: one of the rocket engines shut down.
But Navias says the Falcon 9 rocket was able to keep flying.
“The Falcon 9 is designed so it was able to compensate for the loss of that one engine by the other eight engines taking over the workload and delivering the Dragon spacecraft into the proper orbit.”
The Dragon capsule will dock Wednesday morning, then return to earth just before Halloween. It will carry back a number of experimental results, including cuttings from plants that have been growing in zero-gravity.
Also, blood samples from astronauts who have been trying out different diets, to see which mix of nutrients is best to keep bones strong in outer space.