SpaceX launched thousands of tiny sea creatures to the International Space Station on Thursday, along with a toothpaste-to-plaque experiment and powerful solar panels.
The 7,300-pound (3,300-kilogram) shipment – which also includes fresh lemons, onions, avocados and cherry tomatoes for the station’s seven astronauts – is expected to arrive on Saturday.
SpaceX’s Falcon rocket exploded into the hazy afternoon sky from Kennedy Space Center. The first-stage booster was new for a change, landing on an offshore platform several minutes after take-off so it could be recycled for a NASA astronaut flight this fall.
The also brand new Dragon cargo capsule delivers the first of three sets of high-tech solar panels designed to bolster the space station’s aging power grid. The astronauts will conduct two spacewalks later this month to help install the two deployment panels alongside the solar wings that have been in continuous operation for 20 years.
More power will be needed to accommodate the growing number of visitors purchasing tickets, NASA space station program manager Joel Montalbano said on Wednesday.
The shipment includes saliva and oral bacteria samples from dental patients who will be treated with toothpaste and mouthwash as part of an experiment to keep astronauts’ teeth and gums healthy in space.
“There is no guarantee that Earth’s methods will work in zero gravity,” University of Nevada, Las Vegas researcher Jeffrey Ebersole said in a statement.
Also head to the Orbiting Lab: 20,000 tardigrades, better known as water bears, and 128 bobtail squids, as well as chilli and cotton plants.
Tardigrades can survive in harsh environments on Earth and even in the vacuum of space. Launched frozen, these microscopic extremophiles will be thawed and revived on board the space station. By identifying the genes behind animal adaptability, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the stresses the human body experiences during long stays in space.
Baby bobtail squids are part of a study investigating the relationship between beneficial bacteria and their animal hosts.
This is the 22nd SpaceX Station Supply Race for NASA. The space agency turned to private companies to transport goods and astronauts after the shuttle retired ten years ago.
SpaceX and NASA give “go” for the launch of an astronaut, 3rd for Dragon
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