Christ­mas treats rocket to­ward as­tro­nauts

The Mercury News - - News -

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 as live video showed the first-stage 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.

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

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.

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