SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will blast off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:58 p.m. EDT. In tow will be the Dragon cargo capsule, filled with supplies for the International Space Station -- including a new pair of legs for NASA's robot torso Robonaut, or R2.
Rockets typically shed various components as they exit the outer layers of the atmosphere and enter space. Instead of letting discarded rocket parts disintegrate or fall thoughtlessly into the ocean, SpaceX will try to recover and refurbish them. Successfully doing so could help minimize future resupply mission costs and encourage further investment in private space exploration.
One of the lower segments of the Falcon will reignite some of its engines as it separates from the rest of the rocket -- this in order to slow its descent back to Earth.
"I must point out that the entire recovery of the first stage is completely experimental; it has nothing to do with the primary mission," Hans Koengismann, SpaceX's vice president for mission assurance, told reporters yesterday.
"We're really low-balling the probability of success here because this is a difficult maneuver," he said. "If we can pull this off… we'll be super-thrilled."
SpaceX's latest Dragon launch will be streamed live on NASA TV. Launch coverage will begin at 3:45 p.m. EDT.