SpaceX launches resupply mission to International Space Station

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The mission also marks SpaceX's 20th launch of the year.

SpaceX confirmed "an anomaly" in the fins that guide the rocket back to Earth. It marked the first time the same booster flew three separate missions. The Falcon 9 climbed away to the northeast directly into that orbital plane to enable the planned rendezvous.

The rocket hovered just over the water, then toppled out of view - the first failure over land in the last 12 tries, though that's not quite how one of SpaceX's top engineers painted it.

The booster continued to function after it landed in the water, going through its automated safeing process and transmitting data. The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was delayed.

SpaceX launches shipment carrying Christmas cheer to ISS
SpaceX ISS

Forty mice depend on the food for the Rodent Research-8 project, which studies aging.

At the moment of liftoff, the space station was flying 250 miles above the Indian Ocean south of Australia, but the plane of its orbit was sweeping across the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as the Earth rotated under it. The Dragon spacecraft used by NASA and SpaceX to send the supplies to the station is expected to arrive there Saturday.

And the Dragon brings a special treat for one class of spacecraft: It's carrying a satellite deployment system called SlingShot that can fit inside the Cygnus spacecraft's berth to deploy up to 18 cubesats. This is SpaceX's 16th Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA (or CRS-16, for short).

See that small space station? It was also reported that SpaceX and NASA will experience a passenger Crew Dragon capsule. It's the first time that's happened since the groundbreaking launch of the company's Falcon Heavy spacecraft in February. The newest residents will remain on board for six months, while the others will return to Earth on December 20. Newcomers Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will stay until June. According to Space.com, if all goes according to plan, the Dragon will reach the space station three days from now, and the ISS crew can start unpacking the load.

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