- The SpaceX Dragon is bringing a 3-D printer and other supplies
- The printer could allow astronauts to print some things they need
- The Dragon is the only spacecraft that can bring back experiment samples
- 3 new crew members will travel to the ISS this week
A spacecraft that launched early Sunday is transporting a 3-D printer that could change life on the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Dragon lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 1:52 a.m. ET. It will arrive on Tuesday, bringing other cargo as well, including 20 mice and elements for 255 scientific experiments aboard the ISS.
"There's nothing like a good launch, it's just fantastic," said Hans Koenigsman, vice president of Mission Assurance for SpaceX. "From what I can tell, everything went perfectly."
It marks the first time a 3-D printer will be used in space, testing the ability to produce parts cheaply and on demand instead of waiting for them to arrive on a cargo ship. This technology would save time and money in future deep space missions.
Also coming along is a device called ISS-RapidScat that will measure the winds on the Earth's oceans.
"This launch kicks off a very busy time for the space station," said NASA's Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS.
On September 25, three new crew members for the ISS will arrive aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. Barry "Butch" Wilmore of NASA and Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency will launch from Kazakhstan and are expected to arrive six hours later.
This is the Dragon's fourth cargo flight to the Space Station, including the test flight on May 2012. In addition to bringing supplies, it is the only spacecraft that can bring back cargo experiment samples.
NASA recently announced it was awarding $6.8 billion contracts to Space X and Boeing to shuttle cargo and astronauts to and from the ISS. Since NASA's space shuttle program was retired in 2011, astronauts have been hitching rides on the Soyuz spacecraft, at a cost of $70 million per seat.
Both Boeing and SpaceX's crafts will go through a certification process first. The target date to begin manned missions is 2017.