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SpaceX launches 5,800 pounds of supplies to International Space Station

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, 11:06 p.m.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Christmas turkey rocketed toward the International Space Station, along with cranberry sauce, candied yams and the obligatory fruitcake. (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Christmas turkey rocketed toward the International Space Station, along with cranberry sauce, candied yams and the obligatory fruitcake. (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP)

ORLANDO, Fla.—As 5,800 pounds of supplies successfully headed to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Wednesday, SpaceX’s rocket booster zoomed back to Earth, making an unexpected splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

The mission, from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, took off at 1:16 p.m. Wednesday after a last-minute rodent-related delay this week. On Tuesday, mold was found on food bars for an experiment on the ISS involving about 40 mice that was set to analyze how space and aging relate.

Teams were able to replace the bars before the launch.

Shortly after takeoff Wednesday, the booster that powered SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which was carrying the supplies in its Dragon spacecraft, separated and started to chart a return. It was projected to land back at Landing Zone 1 in the Cape.

But one of the booster’s grid fins malfunctioned, SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday, causing the booster to spin erratically. It was able to stabilize before landing in the Atlantic Ocean about two miles offshore.

“Grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, so Falcon landed just out to sea,” Musk tweeted. “Appears to be undamaged & is transmitting data. Recovery ship dispatched.”

The booster may still be reusable, Musk said, indicating on Twitter that the company may use it for an “internal” SpaceX launch.

To prevent the problem in the future, the mogul said the company may add a backup pump to the fins to ensure they work properly.

In a post-launch briefing, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, Hans Koenigsmann, said the booster’s safety mechanism worked as planned.

“It actually targets a landing point in the water if it loses control, so in other words it tries to stay away from land, it tries to stay safe,” he said, adding that the booster also knows where buildings are and to avoid them.

The failed landing was a first for a return-to-launch-site landing. The company has had 11 successful land landings — with Wednesday’s being the first unsuccessful one. SpaceX also lands boosters on its drone ships in the ocean.

In space, the Dragon spacecraft performed as expected and should reach the ISS on Saturday morning before docking there for about five weeks. Then, it will return to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off California. Wednesday’s mission was SpaceX’s 16th to resupply with space station.

Apart from the mice, worms, too, made the trip to space for a study on muscle loss in space, with the hope of helping treat muscular conditions on Earth. The six crew members at the ISS will also get some holiday food when Dragon arrives: candied yams, turkey, corn, green bean casserole and cookies are on the way.

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