Dragon Flies, and Mars Is Near

First off, after a scrub due to bad weather yesterday morning, SpaceX successfully launched the CRS-4 mission to the ISS.  Due to a last-minute stage swap, the vehicle does not carry landing legs, but recovery won’t be attempted anyway (although a flyback and water landing sequence was performed for engineering purposes anyway).  Now begins the chase to the ISS.  Dragon is expected to be grappled and berthed on Tuesday at 6:04 AM CDT (1104 GMT).  Driving the big robot arm will be European astronaut Alexander Gerst.  Cargo includes a 3D printer to test fabrication of components in microgravity, 2 IMAX cameras, fresh batteries for the US spacesuits, a golf club experiment, and some living passengers: fruit flies to investigate behavioral changes in microgravity, and 20 mice.  Ten of the mice will be going into one part of the ISS to study animal handling procedures in outer space.  The other ten will be going into another part of the ISS to investigate physiological changes in microgravity.

In the trunk section of the station is the $26 million ISS-RapidScat instrument to measure wind speeds, particularly in developing hurricanes to improve forecasting.  This is easily the most expensive payload sent up in the Dragon trunk, an option for delivering large unpressurized payloads to the ISS that is now unique since the end of Shuttle.  It will be unpacked later by the DEXTRE robot and installed on the nadir side of the ISS.

Dragon will stay at Station until mid-October, when it will return to Earth loaded with 4,000 pounds of material.

Meanwhile, across the Solar System, the next major planetary mission to reach its destination is getting ready.  Engine firing will commence in just ten minutes; I’ll post later to let you know if the MAVEN spacecraft has successfully entered Mars orbit or not.  😉  India’s Mangalyaan, or Mars Orbiter Mission, is scheduled to join it a few days later.

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