Fri, Dec 07, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Christmas turkey, fruitcake rocketing to space station


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

Christmas turkey on Wednesday rocketed toward the International Space Station, along with cranberry sauce, candied yams and the obligatory fruitcake.

However, the SpaceX booster missed its landing zone on the ground after liftoff and ended up in the sea just a few kilometers offshore.

Groans filled SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, as live video footage showed the first-stage rocket booster spinning out of control, still high above Cape Canaveral, Florida.

It was the company’s first missed ground landing, although it has overshot floating barges plenty of times in the past — a tougher feat to pull off.

A SpaceX commentator called it a “bummer,” but added that it was secondary to the Falcon 9 rocket’s main mission of getting the Dragon capsule to orbit.

SpaceX founder and chief executive officer Elon Musk said the booster seemed to be undamaged.

The hydraulic pump for the landing fins stalled, but the engines stabilized the approximately 49m-tall booster just in time, allowing for “an intact landing in water!” Musk said on Twitter. “Ships en route to rescue Falcon.”

SpaceX’s 12 previous ground landings — dating back to 2015 — were all successful.

Altogether, the company has recovered 32 boosters following liftoff — 33 once this one is towed back, SpaceX vice president Hans Koenigsmann said.

He did not know if this one could be reused.

Koenigsmann said the booster deliberately avoided land after sensing a problem, a built-in safety feature, and even managed to touch down upright in the Atlantic, atop its landing legs.

“Public safety was well protected here,” he told reporters.

The disappointment was offset by the successful flight of the Dragon capsule and its 2,500kg of cargo. It should reach the space station tomorrow.

“What a great day for a launch,” Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana said.

Twenty years ago this week, Cabana commanded the shuttle mission that carried up the first US part of the space station.

Besides smoked turkey breast and all the other fixings for Christmas dinner, the delivery includes 40 mice and 36,000 worms for aging and muscle studies.

Researchers expect a tenfold increase in the worm population. There will be plenty of room on board for all the tiny nematodes.

It turns out their muscles are similar to humans in structure and function, making them perfect lab substitutes, said lead scientist Timothy Etheridge of the University of Exeter in England.

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