A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station early Wednesday (Aug. 16), delivering 3 tons of supplies, experiments and even some ice cream for the orbiting lab's crew.
The uncrewed Dragon spacecraft was captured by astronauts using the station's robotic arm at 6:52 a.m. EDT (1052 GMT) as the two spacecraft were flying over the Pacific Ocean, just north of New Zealand.
"Congratulations on a job well done," astronaut Andreas Morgenson of the European Space Agency radioed the station's crew from NASA's Mission Control in Houston. "You've just earned yourself some food." [Watch SpaceX Launch Dragon, then Land a Rocket]
The Dragon cargo ship is filled with more than 6,400 lbs. (2,900 kilograms) of supplies, science experiments and food - and yes, ice cream - for the space station's Expedition 52 crew. SpaceX launched delivery mission Monday (Aug. 14) on a Falcon 9 rocket, which then returned its first stage to Earth in a smooth landing.
Called SpaceX-12 or CRS-12, this flight is SpaceX's 12th cargo flight for NASA under the Commercial Resupply Service program. NASA initially agreed to buy 12 delivery flights from SpaceX, but has extended the agreement to include 20 flights. SpaceX did lose one mission in 2015 when a Falcon 9 rocket failed during liftoff, but the rest have been a success.
"Today has special significance because SpaceX-12 is the last flight on the original cargo resupply contract," NASA astronaut Jack Fischer said from the station. "And this, the 36th flight of a Dragon, stands as a testament to a burgeoning commercial industry that has become a pillar of support to NASA's — and really all of humanity's — quest to explore the universe."
Fischer and ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli captured the Dragon using the station's robotic arm. At one point, cameras on the space station captured Dragon as it soared high over Italy, Nespoli's home country.
Most of the cargo riding on Dragon is science gear, a massive haul that includes a protein crystal experiment to research a new treatment for Parkinson's disease, an experiment to grow lung tissue from stem cells and 20 live mice to help scientists study the effects of long space missions. The U.S. Department of Defense also has a small microsatellite prototype on board, and the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass for the International Space Station (which has the tasty acronym ISS-CREAM) will study cosmic rays.
The Dragon spacecraft will stay docked to the space station for about a month, after which it will be filled with science experiment results and other items for the return to Earth.
NASA has used SpaceX and another spaceflight company, the Virginia-based Orbital ATK, to make commercial resupply flights the space station since 2012. The space agency has since picked SpaceX, Orbital ATK and a third company —Sierra Nevada Corp. — to make future deliveries under a new agreement.
In addition to cargo delivery flights, SpaceX will fly NASA astronauts to the space station on a crewed version of the Dragon spacecraft. (NASA has also picked Boeing for astronaut trips to space using that company's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.)
The first crewed flights on Dragon and the Starliner are expected in mid-2018, NASA has said.