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SpaceX set to launch with cargo for International Space Station

The first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station is set to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center Sunday evening. From the space station crew's standpoint, some of the most precious cargo could well be ice cream.

By Staff writer / October 7, 2012

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule attached on a rollout demonstration test in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Tuesday. On Sunday night, the private space company will attempt to launch another capsule full of food, clothes and science experiments for the astronauts at the space station.

Jim Grossmann/NASA/AP

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The first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station is set to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Sunday evening – kicking off a series of at least 12 resupply missions NASA has ordered up under a $1.6-billion contract with Space Exploration Technologies, based in Hawthorne, Calif.

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The mission, utilizing SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket topped with the company's cargo-carrying Dragon capsule, follows on the heels of a successful test flight to the space station in May.

During that mission, Dragon delivered just over 1,000 pounds of cargo that NASA officials said wouldn't represent a significant set-back for the space-station program if something went wrong during the mission. This time, Dragon is carrying 882 pounds (nearly a ton when packaging is included) of more-precious cargo: experiments and hardware for the US, European, and Japanese laboratories; additional components needed to maintain the station; and crew supplies.

IN PICTURES: Launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket

From the space station crew's standpoint, some of the most precious of all the cargo could well be ice cream Dragon is bringing up – not the freeze-dried kind, but real ice cream, kept in a new lab freezer Dragon will deliver. It's part of a shipment of "bonus food" the space agency periodically sends. The freezer is designed to preserve samples from biology and life-science experiments running on the station for return to Earth.

Indeed, Dragon's ability to return cargo to Earth is unique among the unmanned cargo craft the station's international partners provide. NASA's space shuttles were the only other vehicles able to do this. But NASA flew its final shuttle mission in July 2011, and the orbiters now are museum pieces.

All of the other cargo craft operating, as well as the capsule a second US company is building to supply commercial cargo service for NASA, become trash incinerators once they leave the station. They and the refuse they carry burn up on reentry.

Dragon is slated to return to Earth with 1,673 pounds of cargo, including components from the station's life-support system that failed and were replaced with on-orbit spares.

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