A much-needed shipment of groceries and other supplies, including belated Christmas presents, has finally arrived this morning at the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX's supply ship pulled up at the ISS two days after its launch. Station commander Butch Wilmore used a robot arm to grab the capsule and its 5,000 pounds of cargo while they flew over the Mediterranean at an altitude of more than 260 miles.
The six astronauts aboard the station were getting a low on supplies because the previous supply ship — owned by Orbital Sciences Corporation — was destroyed in a launch explosion back in October.
Rocket science isn't easy, however, as SpaceX's Dragon itself was stalled nearly a month by technical issues. It was originally planned to arrive at the space station well before Christmas. Better late than never.
"We're excited to have it on board," Wilmore said. "We'll be digging in soon."
NASA is paying SpaceX and Orbital for shipments, though Orbital's rockets are grounded until next year because of the recent launch accident. SpaceX is working hard and picking up as much slack as it can to deliver the supplies the ISS needs. As the station is an international venture, Russia and Japan are also planing on sending up deliveries later this year.
In addition to the main resupply mission, SpaceX conducted an experiment in return-landing the 1st stage of the rocket safely aboard an autonomous ocean going vessel. SpaceX's team is still poring over data from Saturday's rocket-landing test.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk is optimistic that recovering and reusing rockets will lead to a dramatic reduction is the cost of spaceflight. He asks people to imagine how expensive air travel would be if you had to build a new airplane for every flight.
The "hypersonic fins" on the booster ran out of hydraulic fluid, however, right before touchdown, and the landing was too hard and broke into pieces.
Elon Musk was encouraged regardless and plans another rocket-landing test next month. He had gone into the experiment with an understanding that there was a 50 - 50 percent chance of success, according to a recent Reddit AMA.