NASA and SpaceX have announced October 7, 2012 as the target launch date for SpaceX's first resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft is scheduled for 8:34 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral, Florida. October 8 is the backup date.
The launch represents the first of 12 SpaceX flights to the ISS under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, and follows a successful demonstration mission in May when SpaceX became the first private company ever to attach to the ISS and return safely to Earth.
The SpaceX CRS-1 mission also represents restoration of American capability to deliver and return cargo to the ISS--a feat not achievable since the retirement of the space shuttle. SpaceX is also contracted to develop Dragon to send crew to the space station. SpaceX's first manned flight is expected to take place in 2015.
On this mission, Dragon will be filled with supplies, which include materials to support 166 experiments in plant cell biology, human biotechnology, and materials technology. One experiment will examine the effects of microgravity on the opportunistic yeast Candida albicans, which is present on all humans. Another will evaluate how microgravity affects the growth of cell walls in a plant called Arabidopsis.
Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams of NASA and Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will use a robotic arm to grapple Dragon following its rendezvous with the station, expected on October 10. They will attach Dragon to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module for a few weeks while crew members unload cargo and load experiment samples for return to Earth.
Dragon is scheduled to return in late October for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California. Dragon will fly back carrying scientific materials and space station hardware.