SpaceX Cargo Arrives at International Space Station Complete with 3D Printer

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon supply ship lifts off from the launch pad on a resupply mission to the International Space Station, on September 21.

Copyright Joe Raedle

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SpaceX Cargo Arrives at International Space Station Complete with 3-D Printer

The 3D printer is the first of its kind to demonstrate how the technology can be used in space, even without gravity to assist the process.

WASHINGTON -- SpaceX's unmanned Dragon spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station on Tuesday with a cargo of supplies, including freeze-dried meals, 20 live lab mice and a 3D printer.

>The 3D printer is the first of its kind to demonstrate how the technology can be used in space, even without gravity to assist the process.

Astronauts at the orbiting lab reached out with the space station's robotic arm to grasp the Dragon at 6:52 am (1052 GMT), NASA said.

Germany's Alexander Gerst, an astronaut from the European Space Agency, operated the 57.7-foot  robotic arm to capture the Dragon, and was assisted by NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman.

The berthing operation was completed at 9:21 am (1321 GMT) when the vessel latched fully onto the research outpost.

The Dragon capsule is carrying more than 5,000 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of food, clothing, spare parts, exercise equipment, science experiments, a small satellite and a tool to measure wind speed at the ocean's surface.

The spacecraft launched early Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and is SpaceX's fourth contracted mission with NASA for supply trips to the ISS and back.

The crew is scheduled to begin unloading the capsule on Wednesday.

The lab mice are the first live mammals to hitch a ride aboard a commercial cargo ship, and they are enclosed in a NASA-made research cage for studying the effects of weightlessness on their bodies.

>The spacecraft will stay at the ISS for about a month as astronauts unload its cargo and repack it with 3,200 pounds (1,450 kilograms) of material to return to Earth.

In 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to send a spacecraft to the ISS.

The company is run by Internet mogul Elon Musk, who accumulated his fortune by co-founding PayPal. He also runs Tesla Motors.

Orbital Sciences Corporation has also contracted with NASA to send its Cygnus cargo ship to the space station, but unlike the Dragon, which can return to Earth intact, the Cygnus burns up on re-entry to Earth's atmosphere.

Last week, SpaceX was awarded a $2 billion contract from NASA to continue developing its Dragon V2 vehicle with the goal of sending people to the space station as early as 2017.

Boeing won a larger NASA contract, for more than $4 billion, for the development of its CST-100 crew vehicle.

NASA lost its ability to reach the space station when the shuttle program ended in 2011 after 30 years. The space agency has helped fund private companies in the race to restore U.S. access to the ISS.

In the meantime, the world's astronauts must rely on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to get to the ISS and back, at a cost of $70 million per seat.

-Kerry Sheridan, AFP

Copyright Agence France Presse, 2014

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