Tuesday, September 23, 2014

SpaceX Dragon unmanned spacecraft approaches ISS

A contrail is seen behind the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon supply ship as it flies into space after lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a resupply mission to the International Space Station, on September 21, 2014

SpaceX's unmanned Dragon spacecraft was nearing the International Space Station on Tuesday with a cargo of supplies, including freeze-dried meals, 20 live lab mice and a 3D printer.

Germany's Alexander Gerst, an astronaut from the European Space Agency (ESA), will operate CanadArm-2, the 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) robotic arm attached to the ISS, to capture the Dragon and bring it in to dock with the space station.

He will be assisted by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman.

The berthing operation will be complete when the vessel latches fully onto the research outpost about two hours later.

The Dragon capsule is carrying more than 5,000 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of supplies and material for science experiments, including a tool to measure wind speed at the ocean's surface.

The spacecraft launched early Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and is SpaceX's fourth contracted mission with NASA for supply trips to the ISS and back.

The Rodent Research Hardware System, which will be installed at the International Space Station, includes three modules: the habitat at left, the transporter in the middle and the so-called animal access unit at right. 

Credit: NASA / Dominic Hart

The lab mice are the first live mammals to hitch a ride aboard a commercial cargo ship, and they are enclosed in a NASA-made research cage for studying the effects of weightlessness on their bodies.

This Zero-G Printer is the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity. 

Also on board the SpaceX Dragon capsule is this 3D printer experiment.

The printer was built under a joint partnership between NASA MSFC and Made In Space.

Contracted as the “3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment” this first version of the Zero-G printer will usher in the era of off-world manufacturing.

This initial version of the Zero-G Printer will serve as a test bed for understanding the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing, and how it can enable the future of space exploration.

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