CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Christmas turkey is rocketing toward the International Space Station, along with cranberry sauce, candied yams and the obligatory fruitcake.
SpaceX launched the holiday shipment on a Falcon 9 rocket, which pierced the clear, chilly sky. The first-stage booster aimed for a touchdown on land back at Cape Canaveral, once its job was done, but ended up smashing into the Atlantic Ocean instead.
A SpaceX commentator called it a "bummer," but noted it was secondary to the main mission of getting the Dragon capsule to orbit. It was the first missed landing at Cape Canaveral.
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"What a great day for a launch," said Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana. Twenty years ago this week, Cabana commanded the shuttle mission that carried up the first U.S. part of the space station.
Wednesday's Falcon rocket was brand new, while the Dragon cargo carrier was recycled by SpaceX. The capsule should reach the 250-mile-high outpost Saturday; it also visited in 2017.
Besides smoked turkey breast and all the other fixings for Christmas dinner, the delivery includes 40 mice and 36,000 worms for aging and muscle studies, respectively.
Researchers expect a tenfold increase in the worm population. There will be plenty of room on board for all the tiny nematodes. It turns out their muscles are similar to ours in structure and function, making them perfect lab substitutes, said lead scientist Timothy Etheridge of the University of Exeter in England.
The launch was delayed for a day after NASA discovered that the food for the mouse-tronauts was moldy because of contamination. More food had to be rushed in from California.
Just two days earlier, three astronauts arrived at the space station to join the three already there. The crew includes two Americans, two Russians, one German and one Canadian. The newest residents will remain on board for six months, while the others will return to Earth on Dec. 20.
SpaceX has been making station deliveries for NASA since 2012. The company expects to start launching station crews next year.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.