SpaceX has successfully delivered it fifth cargo mission to the International Space Station. Astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Samantha Cristoforetti captured the Dragon, the named of the free-flying space ship, at 7:54 a.m. today January 12th. The ship will remain attached for the next four weeks.
Over the weekend two readers contacted me about seeing an amazing sight Saturday morning around 7 a.m. (CST). They described a hazy, glowing, mushroom-shaped object trailed by three fairly bright stars that first appeared near the moon traveling east. In case you saw it too, you were a lucky viewer of the Falcon 9 S2 booster, two ejected solar panels and the Dragon ship.
Dragon is crammed with a record breaking 5,108 pounds (2317 kg) of cargo to make up for some of the cargo lost on the Antares failure back in October. Its primary payload is NASA’s Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) that will spend between 6 months and 3 years studying the location, composition and distribution of dust, smoke, pollution and aerosols (things like sea salt, dust and volcanic ash) from 250 miles up. CATS will gather data by shooting pulses of laser light into the air using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology.
On a more personal note, the ship will deliver belated Christmas presents to the 6-person crew plus essential food, water, clothing and spare parts. Besides the CATS system, 17 student experiments called the “Yankee Clipper” mission as well as science experiments to be conducted by the astronauts are included in the delivery.
Liftoff of Falcon 9 with the Dragon cargo ship
Among the student experiments, one will analyze the effect of microgravity on the attachment rate of E. coli bacteria to lettuce cells. Another will study whether teeth decay more quickly in microgravity. The list goes on. Smart kids.
All the goodies will be unpacked starting tomorrow when the crew will open the hatch of the Harmony module of the space station, where Dragon is docked. Merry Christmas!