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SpaceX Payload of NASA Includes 3D Organ Printer, Nickelodeon Slime

Melinda Grenier

(Bloomberg) -- SpaceX’s launches for NASA have at this point become somewhat routine, but the payload on its latest mission to the International Space Station is anything but.

The Elon Musk-led company’s Falcon 9 rocket carried aloft cargo including a 3D biological printer and Nickelodeon’s iconic slime from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center shortly after 6 p.m. local time in Florida. It’s the 18th delivery mission that closely held Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has performed for NASA to resupply the orbiting lab.

The rocket is carrying dozens of scientific experiments to the station’s microgravity laboratory. The 3D printer will test the possibility of fabricating human organs such as capillary structures that are difficult to create in Earth’s gravity. Another experiment will compare mosses grown in space with those formed on Earth to help determine their use as food and oxygen on the Moon or Mars.

The mission also is transporting materials to test the limits of silica on behalf of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which may inform the company’s tire designs. And the slime from Nickelodeon will help the children’s television network show kids how fluid behaves in microgravity.

SpaceX recovered Falcon 9’s first stage on a landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Dragon spacecraft was used in two previous resupply missions in 2015 and 2017.

The launch took place five days after the 50th anniversary of NASA’s moon landing, and as SpaceX looks to overcome setbacks in the effort to fly its first crewed mission for the agency.

Boeing Co. and SpaceX have contracts to ferry American astronauts to the space station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and both were expected to conduct two test flights -- crewed and uncrewed -- by year’s end. But that schedule now appears to be slipping into 2020.

SpaceX just finished an analysis of a fire that destroyed one of its Crew Dragon capsules during an April 20 test. The company said last week that investigators traced the cause to a leaky valve within the launch-abort system, and design changes will be required to fix the problem.

(Updates with first-stage landing in fifth paragraph)

--With assistance from Dana Hull.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melinda Grenier in New York at mgrenier1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Trudell at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net, Melinda Grenier

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