SpaceX made an early holiday delivery to the International Space Station on Sunday, dropping off super muscular "mighty mice," pest-killing worms and a smart, empathetic robot.
The station commander, Italy's Luca Parmitano, used a large robot arm to grab onto the Dragon three days after its launch from Cape Canaveral. The two spacecraft soared 260 miles (420 kilometers) above the South Pacific at the time of capture.
"Whenever we welcome a new vehicle on board, we take on board also a little bit of the soul of everybody that contributed to the project, so welcome on board," Parmitano told Mission Control.
The capsule holds 3 tons (2,720 kilograms) of supplies, including 40 mice for a muscle and bone experiment. Eight of them are genetically engineered with twice the normal muscle mass — and so are considered "mighty mice."' There also are 120,000 roundworms, or nematodes of a beneficial variety that are part of an agricultural study aimed at controlling pests.
The capsule also has a large, round robot head with artificial intelligence and the ability to sense astronauts' emotions. Named Cimon, it's an improved version of what flew up last year to be tested as an astronaut's helper.
NASA has tucked some Christmas presents in the shipment for the station's six-person crew, as well.
It's SpaceX's 19th delivery to the orbiting outpost for NASA over the past seven years.
The astronauts have another delivery coming Monday — this one launched by Russia from Kazakhstan on Friday.
Chinese consumers are much more likely than people in other major countries to purchase an electric vehicle or hybrid, showed a latest survey.
There is gathering pace behind electric vehicle appetite with over 50 percent of respondents willing to consider an electric or hybrid vehicle next time they replace vehicles, according to the survey released this week by global consulting firm OC&C Strategy Consultants.
"China is the clear leader in the electric and hybrid vehicle field," said the report, which surveyed more than 10,000 respondents across five countries, including the United States, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
About 94 percent of Chinese respondents said they would consider buying that type of vehicle, followed by French consumers, with 77 percent of the people surveyed expressing such an intention.
The report showed Americans lag far behind the consumers in other surveyed countries in embracing electric or hybrid vehicles.
Fifty-three percent of U.S. consumers said they would mull purchasing one, largely due to concerns over access to charging stations away from home. Only 19 percent are likely to buy one.
Government incentives are a key driver in getting consumers to purchase electric vehicles, noted the survey.
China's support policies over the past few years have made it one of the fastest-growing new energy vehicle (NEV) markets. Last year, the country's NEV sales soared 61.74 percent to 1.26 million units, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
SpaceX launched a 3-ton shipment to the International Space Station on Thursday, including "mighty mice" for a muscle study, a robot sensitive to astronauts' emotions and a miniature version of a brewery's malt house.
The Dragon capsule also is delivering holiday goodies for the six station residents. NASA's Kenny Todd isn't giving any hints, but said, "Santa's sleigh, I think, is certified for the vacuum of space."
The recycled capsule should arrive Sunday.
The Falcon rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral a day late because of high winds. SpaceX recovered the new booster on a barge just off the coast in the Atlantic several minutes following liftoff so it could be reused. SpaceX employees in Southern California cheered when the booster landed, and again a few minutes later when the capsule reached orbit.
This is SpaceX's 19th supply run for NASA.
Forty mice are aboard, including eight "mighty mice" with twice the muscle mass of ordinary mice, according to the experiment's chief scientist, Dr. Se-Jin Lee of the Jackson Laboratory in Farmington, Connecticut.
Researchers plan to bulk up some of the non-mighty space mice during or after their month-long flight in an attempt to build up muscle and bone. This therapy could one day help astronauts stay fit on lengthy space trips, said Lee and Dr. Emily Germain-Lee of Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
Before and after liftoff, the couple sang part of the theme song to the mid-20th century superhero TV cartoon "Mighty Mouse"' and even had others joining in at the launch site.
Germain-Lee was too emotional to sing right at liftoff. "I was sobbing so hard that I couldn't even get my breath," she told The Associated Press.
In addition, there are barley grains aboard the Dragon for a beer-malting experiment by Anheuser-Busch. It's the third in a series of Budweiser experiments to look at how barley germination is affected by weightlessness.
The shipment also includes a large, plastic 3-D printed robot head with artificial intelligence, according to its German creators. It's named Cimon, pronounced Simon, the same as the prototype that flew up last year. This upgraded version is designed to show empathy to its human colleagues in orbit.
Cimon will spend up to three years at the space station, three times longer than its recently returned predecessor. The goal, said IBM's Matthias Biniok, is to provide astronauts with constantly updated robotic helpers, especially at the moon and Mars.
The space station currently is home to three Americans, two Russians and one Italian.
Russia plans to launch its own cargo ship to the outpost Friday.
China's lunar rover Yutu-2 has driven 345.059 meters on the far side of the moon to conduct scientific exploration of the virgin territory.
Both the lander and the rover of the Chang'e-4 probe have ended their work for the 12th lunar day, and switched to dormant mode for the lunar night, the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said Wednesday.
Due to the complicated geological environment and the rugged and heavily cratered terrain on the far side of the moon, Chinese space engineers carefully planned the driving routes of the rover to ensure its safety.
Driving slowly but steadily, the Yutu-2 is expected to continue traveling on the moon and make more scientific discoveries, said CNSA.
China's Chang'e-4 probe, launched on Dec. 8, 2018, made the first-ever soft landing on the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3, 2019.
A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, a lunar night is the same length. The Chang'e-4 probe switches to dormant mode during the lunar night due to a lack of solar power.
During the 12th lunar day of the probe on the moon, the scientific instruments on the lander and rover worked well, and a new batch of scientific detection data was sent to the core research team for analysis.
As a result of the tidal locking effect, the moon's revolution cycle is the same as its rotation cycle, and the same side always faces Earth.
The far side of the moon has unique features, and scientists expect Chang'e-4 could bring breakthrough findings.
The scientific tasks of the Chang'e-4 mission include conducting low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure and measuring neutron radiation and neutral atoms.
The Chang'e-4 mission embodies China's hope to combine wisdom in space exploration with four payloads developed by the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.
A school of newborn Red handfish have given Australian scientists hope of saving what they consider to be the world's rarest fish, with less than 100 adults currently surviving in pockets around the remote island state of Tasmania.
On Wednesday, scientists revealed the birth of 50 babies at an aquarium operated by Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS).
While it is disputed whether the Red handfish is the rarest species -- because even small fluctuations in populations can affect the title -- they are certainly one of the smallest known populations of fish species in the world.
IMAS researcher Jemina Stuart-Smith explained that keeping the youngsters in the protected environment of an aquarium away from predators will give them the best chance of survival before being released to boost wild populations.
"These juvenile Red handfish will play a vital role in ensuring the species continues to survive in the wild," Stuart-Smith said.
"We plan to release them back into their remaining habitat when they are around one-year old, to help rebuild the population at one of the two known sites that has been compromised by range of impacts - including habitat loss."
The researchers collected two egg masses from the wild which became just the second egg mass ever to be successfully hatched in captivity.
"The fish at IMAS were just 3-4mm long when they hatched and would be almost impossible to find and study in the wild, where they shelter under seaweed on shallow reefs," IMAS PhD student Tyson Bessell said.
Not much is known about the biology of the peculiar looking handfish, which is so named for the four fins on which it "walks" across the ocean floor.
Habitat loss and changing sea conditions have been blamed for their critically endangered status.