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Atlas 5 rocket sends cargo ship to space station

151206-launch
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket rises from its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sunday, sending an uncrewed Orbital ATK Cygnus commercial cargo capsule to the International Space Station. Two Microsoft HoloLens headsets were aboard. (Credit: NASA TV)

After waiting out Florida’s weather for three days, United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket lofted supplies to the International Space Station today for the first time ever.

The Atlas rose from its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:44 p.m. ET (1:44 p.m. PT), sending Orbital ATK’s uncrewed Cygnus crew capsule into orbit. The space station’s commander, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, watched the launch from orbit.

Among the record-setting 7,700 pounds’ worth of supplies, experiments and hardware on board are two of Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality headsets. Once they arrive, the station’s astronauts will try them out as wearable aids for in-space operations.

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British astronaut gets set to run space marathon

Image: Tim Peake
British astronaut Tim Peake, shown here at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany, says he’ll run a marathon distance on the International Space Station’s T2 treadmill while thousands of others run the London Marathon on April 24. (Credit: ESA)

British astronaut Tim Peake says he’ll follow in the footsteps of NASA’s Sunita Williams by running a marathon in orbit on the International Space Station.

Peake is due to ride a Russian Soyuz craft to the station for a six-month stint on Dec. 15, which should give him plenty of zero-G training time for the London Marathon on April 24. While more than 30,000 runners make their way through the course’s 26 miles and 385 yards on Earth, Peake will run the same distance on the station’s treadmill, held down by a harness to keep him on track.

He’s running the race to raise awareness for the Prince’s Trust, a youth charity co-founded by Britain’s Prince Charles.

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NASA hails SpaceX’s taxi for future crew

SpaceX Crew Dragon
An artist’s conception shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule en route to the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA has ordered its first mission from SpaceX to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, six months after placing a similar order with Boeing.

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said today in a news release. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Both companies are developing space taxis for NASA’s use as early as 2017, under the terms of multibillion-dollar contracts that were awarded last year.

Even though the first order went to Boeing, it has not yet been determined whether Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule or SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will go first. The contracts required NASA to put in its orders early, but the scheduling decisions and required certifications will be made at a later time.

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After 15 years, it’s time to remodel space station

Image: International Space Station
The International Space Station has been continuously occupied since 2000. (NASA photo)

Today marks the 15th anniversary of that first moving-in day for spacefliers living on the International Space Station – and like many places that have been lived in for 15 years, the ISS is in the midst of renovations.

This isn’t your typical “reno,” however: There’s no other place where the doors have to be replaced while the construction site is moving at 18,000 mph, 225 miles above Earth’s surface. That’s basically what’s involved in getting the station ready for the arrival of Boeing and SpaceX crew transport ships in the 2017 time frame.

“To implement it on orbit is extremely complex, and must be orchestrated very carefully,” John Vollmer, Boeing’s chief engineer for the space station project, says in a video marking the anniversary. Boeing is the prime contractor for the station’s U.S. segment.

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