Washington: NASA late Sunday sent a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft skyward laden with 5,000 pounds of scientific equipment and supplies destined for use by the crew of the International Space Station (ISS).
The launch began a two-day wait for the space station that is scheduled to end Tuesday morning when European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman will reach out to the uncrewed Dragon with the station's robot arm and manoeuvre the capsule to latch onto a port of the station.
The station crew will unload the equipment and supplies inside the Dragon, including a glovebox-sized habitat holding 20 mice that will be used for microgravity research into bone density.
"This launch kicks off a very busy time for the space station," said Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS.
Lifting off from Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft etched a yellow and white arc across the sky as it flew on a path roughly paralleling the East Coast of America.
"There is nothing like a good launch, it is just fantastic," said Hans Koenigsman, vice-president of Mission Assurance for SpaceX
The Dragon is carrying elements needed for some 255 scientific investigations the crew members of Expeditions 41 and 42 will conduct.
A device called ISS-RapidScat that will measure the winds on the Earth's ocean made the trip bolted inside the unpressurised trunk of the Dragon.
It will be connected to the outside of the Columbus module on the space station to make its observations.
The readings are expected to improve weather forecasting and hurricane monitoring.
Along with the mice and RapidScat, the Dragon's payload includes the first 3D printer taken into space.
The experiment is to demonstrate the potential to produce parts in orbit cheaply and on-demand instead of having to wait for them to be made on Earth and shipped into orbit on a cargo craft.
The technology could be invaluable for future trips into deep space. The microgravity findings are also expected to refine 3D printing on Earth, NASA reported.