WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (AP) — A space station cargo ship blasted off Friday carrying a 360-degree camera for spacewalking, radish seeds for growing and a smorgasbord of fancy meats and cheeses for feasting.
Northrop Grumman launched its capsule to the International Space Station from the Virginia coast, providing a nighttime treat for observers from the Carolinas to New England, at least where skies were clear.
The 8,000-pound (3,600-kilogram) shipment should reach the space station Monday.
Stashed aboard the Cygnus capsule: pressurized air tanks to help offset a vexing leak at the space station, a new $23 million titanium toilet custom fit for women, and a virtual reality camera to provide cinematic views of spacewalks and other outdoor shots.
Plus there’s more fresh food than usual, given that the space station population will be expanding from six to seven with SpaceX’s second astronaut launch on Oct. 31.
Among the delicacies requested by the astronauts: proscuitto, Genoa salami, smoked Gouda and provolone, brie, cherry tomatoes, oranges, pecans and chocolate-covered cranberries in plenty of time for Thanksgiving.
The astronauts also will get a chance to enjoy their own harvest. Researchers are hoping for 40 radishes from the seeds going up, within a month.
While growing radishes in orbit may sound trivial, “it is actually a transition from basic plant biology in space to a production system” that could benefit moon and Mars explorers, said Karl Hasenstein, a biology professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who is leading the experiment.
Larger plants like peppers and tomatoes should follow in a few years, adding to astronauts’ diet.
NASA’s new toilet, meanwhile, will be tested at the orbiting outpost before accompanying astronauts to the moon in a few years. It will join two larger, old-style, Russian-built commodes already up there. The new one is designed to better accommodate women, who are expected to have an increasing presence in space exploration.
This particular capsule, in fact, the SS Kalpana Chawla, is named after the first India-born woman in space. Chawla was among the seven astronauts killed in the 2003 shuttle Columbia accident.
The delivery is running a little late. Bad weather at Wallops Island led to a two-day delay earlier in the week, then software issues forced a last-minute launch abort of Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket on Thursday.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam released a statement Friday after the rocket’s successful launch.
“This important mission honors the legacy of Kalpana Chawla, who dedicated her life to advancing the frontiers of science through spaceflight and made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Northam. “The critical equipment and scientific experiments aboard this spacecraft will improve the endurance and safety of astronauts during their long journeys to space and support our efforts to better understand the universe we live in. Strong partnerships are the key to successful missions, and the Commonwealth is proud to work together with our government and commercial partners to help shape the future of space exploration.”
Friday’s launch mission was in partnership of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.
This is the 12th successful Antares Launch from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A, Northam’s office wrote in a news release.
“Over the past quarter century, Virginia Space has built world-class infrastructure on Wallops Island to support critical scientific research and space exploration for generations to come,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “The great collaboration among the Commonwealth, Virginia Space, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and Northrop Grumman continues to expand the potential of this strategic national asset.”
Overall, 19 successful missions have launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, the governor’s office said.
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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