Today at 5:07:38 p.m., a commercial space company called SpaceX launched it’s seventh Falcon 9 launch of the year. The customer SpaceX was launching a payload was for was NASA, as SpaceX used a refurbished “Dragon” capsule (reused from the CRS-4 mission on September 21, 2014) for the first time. The launch occurred on the second attempt, after Thursday’s launch was scrubbed because of lightning in the area of launch pad 39A, violating a flight rule that no lightning strikes could occur within 30 minutes of a Falcon 9 launch. Today’s launch not only was the seventh for SpaceX, but it also marked the 100th launch from Pad 39A, with the first one being Apollo 4 back in on November 9, 1967.
Falcon 9 soared into a mostly cloudy sky, and around 2½ minutes into the flight, the first stage separated from the second stage and began it’s trip back to the Kennedy Space Center for an landing at Landing Zone 1. Coverage by SpaceX webcast and NASA TV showed beautiful camera footage from aboard the first stage and tracking cameras on the ground for some breathtaking imagery of the first stage descending back through the atmosphere from the “entry burn” and “landing burn” to a successful touchdown. This landing marked the fifth time a first stage Falcon 9 landed back at the Kennedy Space Center; the other six occurred on the ocean barges “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean, and one of these ocean landings happened in the Pacific Ocean on the barge “Just Read The Instructions.” NASA’s stockpile of flight-proven first stages are getting larger and larger, with only one launch of a reused first stage as of this writing. The next flight of a reused first stage will come on June 15th when a Falcon 9 will launch the BulgariaSat-1 and will land on the ocean barge OCISLY.
This mission has close to 6,000 pounds of equipment, experiments and supplies heading to the International Space Station. One of the experiments aboard the “Dragon” involves 40 mice in a special transporter that will be used to study bone deterioration in hopes to combating the disease of Osteoporosis, because most men and women over the age of 50 loose around ½ percent of bone per year. If you’re an astronaut and going on a long voyage to Mars or other long duration missions, the space travelers lose 1-2 percent of bone per month! So it’s very important to understand how to combat this disease, and that could have enormous health benefits of men and women over 50 here on Earth.
During the 48-hour delay because of poor orbital mechanics on Friday, the mice were changed out in order to keep the experiments as fresh as possible on the 36-hour trip to the International Space Station. Out of the 40 mice that will make the trip, only 20 will return aboard the “Dragon” when it returns to Earth just off the coast of California in early July, and will undergo treatment and study at UCLA laboratories. When these mice return, it will mark the first time live animals have been returned on the SpaceX “Dragon” capsule. The other 20 mice will continue to stay on the ISS to be compared with the mice returned to Earth, but will eventually be euthanized.
Another experiment of note that will be taken to the International Space Station when it docks on Monday will be about 4,000 fruit fly eggs. The reason why fruit flies are being studied is because their heartbeats are about the same as a human, and scientists want to study the effects of prolonged spaceflight on the human heart. This could be very useful for treatment of returning astronauts or for people here on Earth who are resigned to their beds.
SpaceX will attempt to launch one or two more launches this month. The flight manifest has been changed somewhat since I wrote about it at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, the first test flight of the SpaceX crew “Dragon” spacecraft was delayed from November 11, 2017 to March 2018. No word on why the flight was delayed, but as soon as I get word, I will spread it along.
CRS-11 Pre-launch Press Conference