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‘Dragons everywhere’: SpaceX launches new supply ship to International Space Station

Click to play video: 'SpaceX Dragon cargo craft launches to International Space Station' SpaceX Dragon cargo craft launches to International Space Station
WATCH: SpaceX Dragon cargo craft launches to International Space Station – Dec 6, 2020

SpaceX launched a newer, bigger version of its Dragon supply ship to the International Space Station on Sunday, marking the first time the company has two capsules aloft at the same time.

The Dragon — packed with Christmas treats and presents — should reach the space station on Monday, joining the Dragon that delivered four astronauts last month.

“Dragons everywhere you look,” said Kenny Todd, NASA’s deputy space station program manager.

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NASA’s astronauts welcomed aboard International Space Station – Nov 17, 2020

Read more: SpaceX capsule containing 4 astronauts docks at International Space Station

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With NASA’s commercial crew program officially under way, SpaceX expects to always have at least one Dragon capsule at the space station.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted off with the latest Dragon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where coronavirus precautions kept staff to a minimum. The first-stage booster — making its fourth flight — was aiming for a touchdown on an ocean platform several minutes after liftoff. It was first used back in May for the first astronaut launch by Elon Musk’s company.

The 6,400-pound shipment includes billions of microbes and crushed asteroid samples for a bio-mining study, a new medical device to provide rapid blood test results for astronauts in space, and a privately owned and operated chamber to move experiments as big as refrigerators outside the orbiting lab. Forty mice also are flying for bone and eye studies, two areas of weaknesses for astronauts during long space stays.

Todd said all this research is “the ultimate Christmas present” for NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, a virus hunter who performed the first DNA sequencing in space a few years ago.

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SpaceX launches astronaut crew in 1st operational mission for NASA – Nov 15, 2020

As for more personal presents for the four Americans, two Russians and one Japanese on board, “I don’t like to get out in front of Santa Claus. I fear it might mess up my own Christmas,” Todd said late last week. “Let’s see what happens when they open the hatch … I’m optimistic.”

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For the astronauts’ Christmas feast, the Dragon is carrying roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, shortbread cookies and tubes of icing.

This updated cargo-carrying model — as large as the SpaceX crew capsule — will dock to the orbiting lab by itself. Previous SpaceX cargo ships needed the station’s robot arm for anchoring.

Read more: ‘This is another historic moment’: SpaceX launches 2nd crew to ISS after delay

The capsule will remain at the space station for about a month as usual before undocking with experiments and old equipment, and splashing into the Atlantic.

That’s another change from SpaceX’s older cargo ships, which parachuted into the Pacific. Returning closer to Cape Canaveral will save recycling time.

This is SpaceX’s 21st station supply run for NASA since 2012. The flight was delayed a day by rough weather in the booster-recovery area offshore.

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

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