Christ­mas turkey, fruit­cake rock­et­ing to­ward space sta­tion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Mar­cia Dunn

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. >> Christ­mas turkey rock­eted to­ward the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion on Wed­nes­day, along with cran­berry sauce, candied yams and the oblig­a­tory fruit­cake.

The SpaceX booster missed its land­ing zone on the ground after liftoff, how­ever, and ended up in the sea just a cou­ple of miles off­shore.

Groans filled SpaceX Mis­sion Con­trol in Hawthorne, Cal­i­for­nia, as live video showed the first­stage rocket booster spin­ning out of con­trol, still high above Cape Canaveral. It was the com­pany’s first missed ground land­ing, al­though it has over­shot float­ing barges plenty of times in the past, a tougher feat to pull off.

A SpaceX com­men­ta­tor called it a “bum­mer,” but noted it was sec­ondary to the Fal­con 9 rocket’s main mis­sion of get­ting the Dragon cap­sule to or­bit.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk said the booster ap­peared to be un­dam­aged. The hy­draulic pump for the land­ing fins ap­par­ently stalled, but the en­gines sta­bi­lized the ap­prox­i­mately 160-foot-tall booster just in time, al­low­ing for “an in­tact land­ing in wa­ter!” Musk noted via Twit­ter. “Ships en route to res­cue Fal­con,” he tweeted.

SpaceX’s 12 pre­vi­ous ground land­ings — dat­ing back to 2015 — all were suc­cess­ful. Al­to­gether, the com­pany has re­cov­ered 32 boost­ers fol­low­ing liftoff — 33 once this one is towed back, said Hans Koenigs­mann, a SpaceX vice pres­i­dent. He did not know if it could be reused.

Koenigs­mann said the booster de­lib­er­ately avoided land after sens­ing a prob­lem, a built-in safety fea­ture, and even man­aged to touch down up­right in the At­lantic, atop its land­ing legs.

“Pub­lic safety was well pro­tected here,” he told re­porters.

The dis­ap­point­ment was off­set by the suc­cess­ful flight of the Dragon cap­sule and its 5,600 pounds (2,500 kilo­grams) of cargo. It should reach the space sta­tion Satur­day.

“What a great day for a launch,” said Kennedy Space Cen­ter di­rec­tor Bob Ca­bana. Twenty years ago this week, Ca­bana com­manded the shut­tle mis­sion that car­ried up the first U.S. part of the space sta­tion .

Be­sides smoked turkey breast and all the other fix­ings for Christ­mas din­ner, the de­liv­ery in­cludes 40 mice and 36,000 worms for ag­ing and mus­cle stud­ies.

Re­searchers ex­pect a ten­fold in­crease in the worm pop­u­la­tion. There will be plenty of room on board for all the tiny ne­ma­todes. It turns out their mus­cles are sim­i­lar to ours in struc­ture and func­tion, mak­ing them per­fect lab sub­sti­tutes, said lead sci­en­tist Tim­o­thy Etheridge of the Univer­sity of Ex­eter in Eng­land.

The launch was de­layed a day when NASA dis­cov­ered that the food for the mouse-tro­nauts was moldy. More food had to be rushed in from Cal­i­for­nia.

Just two days ear­lier, three as­tro­nauts ar­rived at the space sta­tion to join the three al­ready there. The crew in­cludes two Amer­i­cans, two Rus­sians, one Ger­man and one Cana­dian. The new­est res­i­dents will re­main on board for six months, while the oth­ers will re­turn to Earth on Dec. 20.

SpaceX has been mak­ing sta­tion de­liv­er­ies for NASA since 2012. The pri­vate com­pany ex­pects to start launch­ing sta­tion crews next year.

The As­so­ci­ated Press Health & Science Depart­ment re­ceives sup­port from the Howard Hughes Med­i­cal In­sti­tute’s Depart­ment of Science Ed­u­ca­tion. The AP is solely re­spon­si­ble for all con­tent.

JOHN RAOUX - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The first stage booster from a Fal­con 9 rocket ex­pe­ri­ences a con­trol prob­lem dur­ing its de­scent, land­ing in the At­lantic Ocean just east of the launch site in­stead of a land­ing zone at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Sta­tion in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wed­nes­day, Dec. 5.

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