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SpaceX's Falcon 9 lifts off, en route to International Space Station

By Allen Cone
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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches a Dragon 2 spacecraft to the International Space Station from Launch Complex 39A at 11:17 a.m. Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/6e4b9bc595dc798cbd35c64e158a9bdf/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches a Dragon 2 spacecraft to the International Space Station from Launch Complex 39A at 11:17 a.m. Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 6 (UPI) -- SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, with 1.7 million pounds of thrust, lifted off at 11:17 a.m. EST Sunday on clear skies from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida with cargo headed to the International Space Station that include seven astronauts.

The private company's launch was scheduled for Saturday morning, but was delayed because of poor weather in the area designated for recovery of the first-stage booster. The booster, which launched its fourth payload into space, separated at 2 minutes, 45 seconds and six minutes later landed on the drone barge called Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean.

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The flight was SpaceX's first upgraded cargo Dragon capsule. At 1:30 p.m. EST Monday, it is scheduled to join the Crew Dragon, marking the first time two Dragon capsules are docked there. In all there will be seven vehicles, including two Soyuz.

"It's a really big vehicle and takes a lot of cargo up. It has 20% more volume than the previous version," Sarah Walker, SpaceX director of Dragon mission management, said at a press conference Friday.

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The 6,400 pounds of cargo include simulated heart tissue for a medical experiment, a holiday meal and the first privately owned airlock.

The heart experiment includes 192 chunks of tissue engineered from blood cells of six people -- three men and three women -- that will be kept healthy in a small laboratory.

Other projects on board the mission, SpaceX CRS-21, include research on microbes that could be used to break down rocky material on asteroids; a tool being tested for quick and accurate blood analysis in microgravity; and another human tissue study regarding the effects of spaceflight on post-traumatic osteoarthritis and bone loss.

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Holiday meal items include roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, jellied cranberry sauce, potatoes au gratin, macaroni and cheese, French vanilla cappuccino, shortbread cookies and decorative sparkle gel.

Four astronauts arrived Nov. 16 on SpaceX's first operational flight of the Crew Dragon capsule.

Also aboard the SpaceX's storage trunk are a Bishop Airlock, built by Pittsburgh-based space company Nanoracks. Astronauts plan to install the airlock on the exterior of the space station, where it will release science experiments and small satellites into space.

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NASA says the private airlock just for science experiments and small satellites will allow more efficient use of the station's airlocks and allow for more commercial activity.

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Paul Brinkmann contributed to this report.

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