SpaceX on Thursday launched thousands of tiny sea creatures to the International Space Station with a plaque-fighting toothpaste experiment and powerful solar panels.
NS 7,300-pound (3,300-kilogram) shipment — which also includes fresh lemons, onions, avocados and cherry tomatoes for the station's seven astronauts — should arrive Saturday.
SpaceX's A Falcon rocket explodes in the foggy afternoon sky from the Kennedy Space Center. The first stage was new for booster change, landing on an offshore platform several minutes after liftoff so that it could be recycled for a NASA Astronaut flight this fall.
The Dragon cargo capsule - brand new - is providing the first of three sets of high-tech solar panels designed to bolster the space station's old power grid. Astronauts will perform two spacewalks later this month to help install two roll-out panels with solar wings that have been in continuous operation for 20 years.
More power will be needed to accommodate the growing number of ticket-buying visitors, NASA's space station program manager, Joel Montalbano, said Wednesday.
The cargo contains samples of saliva and oral bacteria from dental patients who will be treated with toothpaste and mouthwash in an experiment aimed at keeping the teeth and gums of astronauts healthy.
"There is no guarantee that Earth's methods will work in zero gravity," researcher Jeffrey Ebersol of the University of Nevada Las Vegas said in a statement.
Also headed to the orbiting lab were: 20,000 tardigrades, known as water bears, and 128 bobtail squid, as well as chile pepper plants, and cotton plants.
Tardigrades can survive in harsh environments on Earth and even in the vacuum of space. Launched frozen, these microscopic extremes will be thawed and revived on the space station. By identifying the genes behind the animals' adaptability, scientists hope to better understand the stress on the human body during long periods of living.
Baby bobtail squids are part of a study examining the relationship between beneficial bacteria and their animal hosts.
This is SpaceX's 22nd station supply run for NASA. The space agency turned to private companies to transport cargo and astronauts after the shuttle's retirement a decade ago.