Houston: Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams will soon enjoy delicious ‘chocolate-vanilla swirl’ on board International Space Station (ISS) after NASA’s first contracted commercial cargo capsule was rocketed into orbit to resupply the orbiting laboratory.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, a commercial cargo ship, was blasted off into orbit late yesterday, kicking off a new era of commercial resupply flights intended to restore supply chain that was crippled following the shuttle’s retirement. The spacecraft is now chasing the International Space Station and will arrive on Wednesday morning. The cargo ship has been loaded with 450 kgs of key science experiments crew supplies — including ice cream treats and other precious gear.
There was also a personal touch: chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream tucked in a freezer for the three station residents. The space station’s three-person crew watched SpaceX’s smooth Dragon launch live via a video feed beamed up by flight controllers.
At the time of launch, the station was sailing 362 miles above Tasmania, NASA officials said. “We are ready to grab Dragon!” the station’s commander, Sunita Williams, radioed down to mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston along with congratulations for the SpaceX team.
Though this isn’t SpaceX’s first foray to the station, it’s the first commercial resupply trip under the Commercial Resupply Services agreement between SpaceX and NASA, announced back in 2008. The current mission, CRS-1, is the first of 12 such expeditions specified under that contract. Which also means, as NASA space station director Sam Scimemi put it, “a new era for spaceflight and the International Space Station.”
Flights like this one, Scimemi pointed out, “are critical to the space station’s sustainment and to help begin its full utilization.” They are our newest space shuttles. “We’re very excited,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told reporters.
“This is the first time we are taking powered cargo up. We are taking up a GLACIER freezer, which has refrigerated science samples in it.”
The mission is the first of a dozen supply flights for which NASA is paying SpaceX USD 1.6 billion to fly. The brand of ice cream flying in the Dragon’s GLACIER is Blue Bell Creameries, a Texas dairy that has a strong fan base in Houston, the home of NASA’s astronaut corps.
Williams along with flight engineers Yuri Malenchenko of Russia’s federal space agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will control the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture and attach SpaceX’s Dragon capsule to the station’s Harmony node.
Blue Bell ice cream has been flown to the space station before.