A reused SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully docked to the International Space Station on Monday, becoming the first privately built spacecraft in history to make a repeat delivery to the orbiting laboratory.
The Dragon capsule, which lifted off on Saturday, is filled with 6,000 pounds of supplies and science experiments for the Expedition 52 and 53 astronauts aboard the ISS.
Included in the cargo are a group of fruit flies to test out how the cardiovascular system functions in microgravity, as well as a group of mice to study bone loss in the space environment. This in addition to an instrument called NICER, which will eventually be mounted to the outside of the space station to look for neutron stars, as well as a specialized solar panel called ROSA which can be unfurled a bit like a flag.
Inside of the station’s Cupola module, NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer operated the Canadarm2 robotic arm to take command of the Dragon capsule on Monday.
With Dragon officially captured, NASA officials at mission control in Houston will assume control of the robotic arm to install the spacecraft at its docking port on the space station’s Harmony module, where crewmembers will then unload the cargo.
This marks for the 11th mission under SpaceX’s commercial contract with NASA. But this mission was special — in 2014, SpaceX flew the same Dragon capsule for its fourth cargo mission. After the Dragon splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, SpaceX retrieved it and refurbished it so it could be reused.
“These people have supplied us with a vast amount of science and supplies, really fuel for the engine and innovation we get to call home, the International Space Station,” Fischer said shortly after capture was confirmed. “We also want to note the special significance of the SpaceX-11, which if we follow the naming convention of the artist Prince, could be called the SpaceX formerly known as SpaceX-4.”
This SpaceX Dragon will stay at the station for about a month and is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean in early July, returning with about 3,400 pounds of science, hardware and other supplies.