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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

SpaceX Launches Fifth Resupply Mission to ISS

By Phil Plait

The good news is that this morning, SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule on board. It’s headed to the space station, loaded with more than 2.5 tons of supplies.

The not-quite-as-good news is that the attempt to land the first stage booster on a floating barge wasn’t 100 percent successful. It found the barge and was able to land on it but had too high a velocity at touchdown, so it crashed.

I’ll note that a lot of venues are playing up the fact that it was a “failure,” but that’s unfair. A lot of things had to go right for it to do what it did, and it wasn’t expected to work flawlessly. It’s disappointing it didn’t land softly but heartening that so much of the attempt did work. It was too foggy and dark to get footage from the rocket cams on board, but note even that: It found the barge despite those conditions. Pretty amazing.

As for the primary mission, the Dragon is on its way to the ISS and will rendezvous with it in a couple of days. It’s loaded with food and scientific supplies; the SpaceX press kit has more info. Dragon will stay berthed to the ISS for about a month, during which time it will be loaded back up with supplies no longer needed by the astronauts. It’ll undock and, about six hours later, come back down to Earth.

After the Orbital Science Antares rocket explosion late last year, I’m glad to see SpaceX with another success under its belt. The astronauts weren’t in any real danger of running out of food—they have plenty, and the day after the Antares mishap a Russian Soyuz was launched to ISS—but it’s good to see more than one lifeline to space. I’ll be honest: Relying on Russia has always made me nervous, but Putin’s behavior lately, together with other Russian political shenanigans, makes me want to see the American effort redoubled.

Space exploration is important. I’m happy to see another solid American step taken in the right direction.

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