SpaceX launches ‘mighty mice,’ beer malt and robot

SpaceX recovered the new booster on a barge just off the coast in the Atlantic several minutes following liftoff so it could be reused.

SpaceX launches ‘mighty mice,’ beer malt and robot
SpaceX launches ‘mighty mice,’ beer malt and robot

SpaceX launches ‘mighty mice,’ beer malt and robot

Space Exploration Technologies, commonly known as SpaceX, on Thursday launched a 2.6-tonne shipment to the International Space Station that included “mighty mice” for a muscle study, a robot sensitive to astronauts’ emotions and a miniature version of a brewery’s malt house.

The Dragon capsule is also delivering holiday goodies for the six station residents. NASA official Kenny Todd was not giving any hints, but said: “Santa’s sleigh, I think, is certified for the vacuum of space.”

SpaceX recovered the new booster on a barge just off the coast in the Atlantic several minutes following liftoff so it could be reused. SpaceX employees in southern California cheered when the booster landed, and again a few minutes later when the capsule reached orbit.

This is SpaceX’s 19th supply run for NASA. Forty mice are aboard, including eight “mighty mice” with twice the muscle mass of ordinary mice, said the experiment’s chief scientist, Lee Se-jin of the Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, Connecticut.

Researchers plan to bulk up some of the non-mighty space mice during or after their month-long flight in an attempt to build up muscle and bone. This therapy could one day help astronauts stay fit on lengthy space trips, said Lee and Emily Germain-Lee of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

In addition, there are barley grains aboard the Dragon for a beer-malting experiment by Anheuser-Busch. It is the third in a series of Budweiser experiments to look at how barley germination is affected by weightlessness. The shipment also includes a large, plastic 3D printed robot head with artificial intelligence, its German creators said.

It is named Cimon, pronounced Simon, the same as the prototype that flew up last year. This upgraded version is designed to show empathy to its human colleagues in orbit. Cimon is to spend up to three years at the space station, three times longer than its recently returned predecessor.

The goal is to provide astronauts with constantly updated robotic helpers, especially at the moon and Mars, IBM’s Matthias Biniok said. The space station is currently home to three Americans, two Russians and one Italian.