The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

March 1, 2013

SpaceX on verge of third supply run to station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The International Space Station is about to get another commercial shipment.

The California company known as SpaceX is set to launch its unmanned Falcon rocket this morning, hoisting a Dragon capsule containing more than a ton of food, tools, computer hardware and science experiments.

There won’t be any ice cream, though, for the six-man station crew. The freezers going up are filled with mouse stem cells, protein crystals and other research items. On the previous Dragon delivery in October, chocolate-vanilla swirl was tucked inside.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said snacks straight from the orchard of an employee’s father are on board — and not just apples.

“It’s a little bit healthier, I think, than the one that NASA sent last time,” she told reporters on the eve of the flight.

Forecasters put the odds of good weather at 80 percent. Launch time is 10:10 a.m.

This will be the third space station visit for SpaceX, or more formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the creation of Elon Musk of PayPal and Tesla electric carmaker fame.

NASA is paying the company to supply the orbiting lab; the contract is worth $1.6 billion for 12 delivery runs.

If launched today, the Dragon should arrive at the space station Saturday morning. Astronauts will use the station’s robot arm to grab the Dragon and attach it to the orbiting complex.

A variety of plant life is going up, including 640 seeds of mouse-ear cress, a small flowering weed used in research. Other experiments involve paint; high school students want to see how it will adhere and dry in space.

Russia, Europe and Japan also provide delivery services to the space station, but none of those cargo craft can return goods like the SpaceX Dragon. This latest Dragon will spend more than three weeks at the space station before departing and parachuting into the Pacific with a full load of medical specimens, fish, plants and old equipment.

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