By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. - A Space Exploration Technologies cargo ship carrying an experimental 3-D printer and a habitat with 20 mice arrived at the International Space Station on Tuesday, ending a two-day journey.
Working from inside the station’s windowed cupola module, flight engineer Alexander Gerst, a European Space Agency astronaut, used the station’s 58-foot-long (18m) robotic arm to pluck the Dragon capsule from orbit at 6:52 a.m. EDT as the ships sailed 262 miles (422 km) over the Pacific Ocean.
“This was, indeed, a great flight of Dragon,” Gerst radioed to NASA Mission Control in Houston. “We're happy to have a new vehicle on board.”
The capsule blasted off on Sunday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, which is built and flown by privately owned SpaceX, as the company is known. Including a 2012 test flight, Dragon cargo ships have now flown to the station five times.
The capsule is loaded with more than 5,000 pounds (2,268 kgs) of food, supplies and science gear, including an experimental 3-D printer designed to work in the zero-gravity environment of space and 20 mice that will be subjects in medical experiments to assess bone and muscle loss during long-duration spaceflights.
Dragon’s unpressurized trunk compartment holds a $26 million instrument called RapidScat that will be robotically attached to the outside of the station to measure wind speeds over the oceans.
California-based SpaceX, which is owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, is one of two companies NASA hired to fly cargo to the station after the space shuttles were retired in 2011. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for the work, which covers 12 flights.
Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp runs a second U.S. supply line to the station under a $1.9 billon contract. Its next flight is scheduled for Oct. 21.
SpaceX last week won a second, $2.6 billion NASA contract to upgrade the Dragon capsules to fly astronauts. A test flight is targeted for 2016.
The U.S. space agency also awarded a $4.2 billion contract to Boeing to develop a second space taxi that launches aboard pricy United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets. United Launch Alliance is a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
(Editing by Bill Trott)