Updated 02:28 AM EDT, Wed, Sep 03, 2014

SpaceX Mission to Deliver Robot Legs, Lettuce to Space Station Delayed

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International Space Station
Wikimedia Commons

The SpaceX mission that was scheduled to launch Monday afternoon has been delayed due to a rocket leak.

The launch of SpaceX, which was scheduled to take off at 5 p.m. Monday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, was called off an hour before takeoff. Officials believe the problem can be fixed by Friday.

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A helium leak in the unmanned Falcon rocket forced the delay of SpaceX, which will eventually bring supplies to the International Space Station, according to the Associated Press.

This past weekend, NASA almost postponed the launch due to a computer outage at the International Space Station. But mission managers decided Sunday that everything would be safe for the arrival of the Dragon capsule and its supplies.

The critical backup computer failed outside the space station Friday. It was the first breakdown of a space station MDM, or multiplexer-demultiplexers, which are used to route computer commands for a wide variety of systems. SpaceX will bring a gasket-like material to the ISS for a computer replacement.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle will soon send the Dragon capsule into orbit to bring over 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the ISS, Ars Technica reports.

Some of the cargo it's launching into space is a bit unconventional: the cargo includes a set of legs for a robotic astronaut, an experimental mini-farm for space vegetables and microbes collected by cheerleaders.

The robot legs are for NASA's humanoid robot Robonaut 2, which is designed to help astronauts carry out menial tasks while in space. The lower limbs will be attached to the robot and tested in June.

Once attached, the robot's legs will reach about nine feet, and each leg has seven joints. The legs would allow the Robonaut 2 to work both inside and outside the ISS. However, the robot's torso will need upgrades before it can work outside the station, NASA officials said.

The space station will also get a new laser. The SpaceX will bring OPALs, NASA's Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science. The laser will help scientists figure out new ways to transfer information quicker than traditional radio transmission. The new form of communication could help NASA in future missions into deep space.

While most deep-space missions send 200 to 400 kilobits of data per second, OPALS will send info at up to 50 megabits per second.

The SpaceX will also send up 48 microbe samples that were swabbed from historical places by cheerleaders. The cheerleaders are part of a program called Science Cheerleader, a group of science-minded current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders.

The project, which is called Project MERCCURI (short for Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers), the experiment is designed to collect data on how microbes behave in microgravity.

The 48 samples were picked by a team led by Professor Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. The cheerleaders and other program participants collected 4,000 possible samples from the flight. One of the swabs chosen to go into space is from John Glenn's 1962 Mercury capsule, Friendship 7.

Also, a new plant growth experiment called Veg-01 will use a miniature space farm called "Veggie," which will launch to the station so astronauts can start growing lettuce on the ISS.

"Veggie will provide a new resource for U.S. astronauts and researchers as we begin to develop the capabilities of growing fresh produce and other large plants on the space station," Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for Veggie, said in a statement. "Determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test."

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