A shipment of ants, avocados and a human-sized robotic arm from SpaceX shot toward the International Space Station on Sunday.
The delivery – due to arrive on Monday – is the company’s 23rd to NASA in just under a decade.
A recycled Falcon rocket exploded in the sky before dawn from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. After hoisting the Dragon capsule, the first-stage booster landed upright on SpaceX’s newest ocean platform, called “A Shortfall of Gravitas.” SpaceX founder Elon Musk continued his tradition of naming booster recovery containers after the late science fiction writer Iain Banks and his Culture series.
The Dragon is carrying more than 4,800 pounds (2,170 kg) of supplies and experiments and fresh food, including avocados, lemons and even ice cream for the space station’s seven astronauts.
The Girl Scouts are sending ants, brine shrimp and plants as guinea pigs, while scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are flying the seeds of watercress, a small weed used in genetic research. Samples of concrete, solar cells and other materials will also be subjected to weightlessness.
Meanwhile, the experimental robotic arm of a Japanese startup company will try to screw items into its orbital debut and perform other mundane tasks normally done by astronauts. The first tests will be done inside the space station. Future models of the Gitai robot will venture into the vacuum of space to practice satellites and other repair work, said Toyotaka Kozuki technology director.
As early as 2025, a squadron of these weapons could help build moon bases and mine the moon for precious resources, he added.
SpaceX had to leave some experiments behind because of delays resulting from COVID-19.
It was the second launch attempt; Saturday’s attempt was foiled by stormy weather.
NASA turned to SpaceX and other US companies to deliver payloads and crews to the space station once the space shuttle program ended in 2011.