SpaceX has delivered more than three tonnes of equipment, supplies and some ice cream to the International Space Station (ISS) via its Dragon cargo early on Wednesday (16 August). Following a successful launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, perched on top of a Falcon 9 rocket and a two-day flight to the ISS, the Dragon capsule was captured by the space station's 58-robotic arm, operated by Nasa astronaut Jack Fischer and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Paolo Nespoli.
The spacecraft was berthed to the ISS's Harmony module as the orbiting laboratory was travelling over the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand.
The Dragon's pressurized cabin was packed with 6,400 pounds of cargo including crew supplies, space station hardware, 20 mice for studies, a supercomputer by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, research equipment and science experiments, including a cosmic ray study, a small microsatellite prototype, a protein crystal experiment to better understand Parkinson's disease and research to explore ways to grow lung tissue.
The cargo ship also included sweet frozen treats for astronauts onboard as well - freezers filled with small cups of chocolate, vanilla and birthday cake-flavored ice cream. These freezers will later be reloaded with research samples to be sent back to Earth when the Dragon returns next month.
The Dragon will remain docked at the ISS for about a month before it departs the space station in mid-September. It will return to Earth reloaded with over 3,300 pounds of science, unneeded equipment and crew supplies and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.
The CRS-12 mission is SpaceX's 12th resupply flight for Nasa under its $3bn (£2.31bn) contract with the space agency.
"Nice work. Congratulations on a job well done," ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen radioed from mission control in Houston. "You guys have just won yourselves some fresh food."
"Sounds like a plan," Fischer said from the ISS. "Houston, I really love the honor of being able to catch the cargo vehicle because of what it represents," Fischer said. "Today has special significance because SpaceX-12 is the last flight on the original cargo resupply contract. And this, the 36th flight of a Dragon, stands as a testament to a burgeoning commercial industry that has become a pillar of support to NASA's — and really all of humanity's — quest to explore the universe."
The CRS-12 mission also marks the last time SpaceX plans to use a first-generation Dragon spacecraft for a flight. The Elon Musk-owned company will only use recovered and refurbished Dragon capsules going forward as part of its space hardware reusability goals to slash spaceflight and launch prices.
This move will help allow SpaceX to focus its efforts on the development of its next generation Dragon V2 spacecraft designed to carry both crew and cargo for Nasa beginning in 2018. Nasa has used SpaceX along with Virginia-based Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada Corp to make commercial resupply deliveries to the space station.