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Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture has launched unlikely objects into space before. In February 2018, a Falcon Heavy test flight carried a 2008-model Tesla Roadster into space, and it’s now in a year-long orbit around the Sun with a 6% chance of hitting the Earth at some time in the future.
But on Sunday, August 29, the eccentric entrepreneur sent an even stranger payload to the stars. A shipment of ants, avocados, and a human-sized robotic arm was launched towards the International Space Station on Sunday.
The shipment of supplies and experimental materials is expected to arrive onto the ISS some time on Monday morning. It will be the private space agency’s 23rd launch for NASA since 2011.
Included in the payload will be samples of concrete, solar cells, and other items which will be tested to see how they hold up in orbit.
Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have sent plant seeds, a colony of ants has been sent to the space station for research and there’s even a shipment of live brine shrimp on its way to the ISS as part of a science experiment being undertaken by the Girl Scouts of America.
The robot arm is part of a venture by Japanese start-up Gitai Inc. It’s designed to undertake minor repairs in orbit and the hope is that one day the arms will be standard equipment on spacecraft throughout the Solar System.
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Part of the reusable spacecraft has already returned to Earth. Just under eight minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9's first stage made a textbook landing on "A Shortfall of Gravitas", one of SpaceX's massive drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean.
"That is the 90th successful landing of an orbital class rocket and the very first for our newest drone ship, 'A Shortfall of Gravitas,'" Andy Tran of SpaceX announced during a live webcast of the launch.
"What a great way to start today's mission."
Today’s marked the 90th successful recovery of a Falcon first stage since SpaceX landed its first booster in 2015.
- Elon Musk
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