UPDATE: 9:20 p.m. EDT -- SpaceX on Friday night tweeted video of its rocket booster landing in high winds on an ocean barge.
Onboard view of landing in high winds pic.twitter.com/FedRzjYYyQ
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 9, 2016
Earlier, President Barack Obama tweeted his congratulations to those involved in the project:
Congrats SpaceX on landing a rocket at sea. It's because of innovators like you & NASA that America continues to lead in space exploration.
— President Obama (@POTUS) April 8, 2016
UPDATE: 4:52 p.m. EDT -- The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket landed on the ocean barge Of Course I Still Love. This is the first ever ocean landing for a rocket booster. For SpaceX, it was its fifth attempt at such a feat.
The 1st stage of the Falcon 9 just landed on our Of Course I Still Love You droneship. Dragon in good orbit pic.twitter.com/SYyUCDZE3k
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 8, 2016
SpaceX will launch Friday for its first resupply mission to the International Space Station since the June 2015 launch failure of the Dragon spacecraft. The eighth commercial resupply mission is another big test for the commercial spaceflight company as it prepares for three more years of cargo missions, the return of manned launches to the U.S. and launching commercial contracts. On Friday, SpaceX will launch 7,000 pounds of cargo — ranging from mice to an inflatable habitat — to the space station. The launch window opens at 4:43 p.m. EDT, with the NASA live stream beginning at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
SpaceX was grounded for close to six months following the explosion of the Dragon spacecraft just two minutes after launch. Then in December, a commercial satellite launch saw the successful ground-based landing of the first stage, containing the Merlin 1D rocket engines and propellant tanks, of the Falcon 9 rocket. It was a historic feat, the first rocket to return after the completion of a launch. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company, accomplished the successful return of a space vehicle during a test flight at the end of November 2015. SpaceX followed that up with two more successful launches in January and March, but had yet to return to delivering cargo and science investigations to the space station.
"Commercial resupply missions enable NASA, private industry and other government agencies to continue the extensive scientific research taking place aboard the space station," Kirk Shireman, NASA's International Space Station Program manager, said in a statement.
The bulk of the cargo will be BEAM, an expandable habitat from Bigelow Aerospace that will be attached to the space station, weighing in at 3,115 pounds. Science investigations weighing 1,410 pounds, crew supplies at 1,205 pounds and vehicle hardware weighing 674 pounds account for the majority of the cargo within the Dragon spacecraft. Spacewalk equipment, computer resources and Russian hardware are other line items for the mission.
Following the success of space lettuce with the VEGGIE investigation (March 2014-March 2016), 18 packets of Chinese cabbage and romaine lettuce will be sent to the space station to continue the study of how plant growth is affected by microgravity. Fungi will be sent to space as part of the investigation to preserve drugs in future deep space exploration missions. Eli Lilly will send 20 mice to the space station to study bone loss due to microgravity. The study could lead to new insights into diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), according to the Planetary Society.
Interestingly, this will be the first time Dragon and Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft will be docked at the space station at the same time. SpaceX and Orbital are the two commercial partners contracted by NASA to deliver cargo to the space station.
While SpaceX has returned a rocket to Earth, the company has yet to land a Falcon 9 on a rocket barge. Completing an ocean landing would let SpaceX attempt to recover more rockets in its attempt to create a reusable rocket. Friday will mark another attempt at accomplishing the challenging feat after the Dragon spacecraft is sent into orbit.
You can watch NASA's live stream of the SpaceX launch below.
The full SpaceX broadcast with ocean landing attempt can be viewed below.