Video of the SpaceX launch from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Video by Craig Bailey. Posted Sept. 21, 2014
To get your head around the latest news from space, it may help to think about a common earthly scenario. Most UCF students know the routine when getting new roommates. You help unpack the U-Haul, you make room and you awkwardly get to know each other.
Now imagine unpacking and stowing 5,000 pounds of NASA scientific cargo to make room for three new astronaut roommates in your dorm room — otherwise known as the International Space Station.
That's what's happening right now 200 miles above us.
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which was launched early Sunday morning at Cape Canaveral, arrived at the ISS Tuesday at 7:04 a.m. The unmanned cargo capsule was attached to the space station by Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst with the help of fellow astronaut Reid Wiseman and a robotic arm, said Lisa Malone, director of public affairs for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center.
That was a tricky move, considering the space station, which is about the size of a football field, hurtles through the atmosphere at 17,500 mph — or just a bit faster than a late UCF student speeding to class. If you think attaching the capsule was complicated, imagine having to unpack loads of fragile scientific experiments without breaking anything.
"They are most likely unpacking fresh food first," Malone said. "It will take about a month to fully unpack the spacecraft."
Among the list of items to be stored is the first-ever 3-D printer delivered to space. The size of a microwave oven, the printer was developed by UCF engineering alumnus Jason Dunn and can be used to manufacture parts in space quickly instead of waiting for new supplies to come to the orbital laboratory.
"The printer could start the first full machine workshop in space," Malone said.
Set to join Gerst, Wiseman and cosmonaut Max Suraev aboard the International Space Station on Thursday will be three more space travelers: Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore. The six scientists will spend the next weeks and months studying microgravity's effects on animals, specifically mice, as well as how plants grow in space.
"NASA has been working with Russia 20-plus years," Malone said. "We have 15 countries that are partners with the International Space Station. We all communicate and help each other."
That includes taking out the trash, a duty everyone is responsible for on this space dorm.
Once the Dragon capsule is unloaded, the six astronauts will pack it with 3,200 pounds of hardware and crew supplies. The capsule will depart the space station in mid-October and return to Earth, where it will splash down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, according to NASA.
Sounds like the roommates will get along just fine 200 miles above Earth.