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Science

Launch day for NASA spacecraft Cygnus - again

Remember Cygnus's last launch? The rocket with the spacecraft exploded moments after lift-off. Thursday night sees the second attempt to get the cargo capsule up to the International Space Station.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again! That's exactly what NASA is doing when they launch the Cygnus spacecraft from Cape Canaveral in Florida Thursday night. The lift-off is scheduled for 5:55 pm local time.

Cygnus will be headed for the International Space Station (ISS). The launch is a first in one respect: the cargo delivery mission marks the first time that an enlarged version of Cygnus has been sent into space.

Supply run for the ISS

The spacecraft is supposed to take the supply capsule of private business Orbital Sciences to the ISS. Crew members Kjell Lindgren and Scott Kelly are to capture Cygnus with the ISS's own robotic arm upon arrival on Sunday.

Cygnus will stay at the ISS for more than a month before returning to Earth. When it re-enters our planet's orbit, it will burn up and turn into 1,500 kilogram (3,307 pounds) of space junk.

If that happens only after Cygnus has done its duty, everyone responsible will probably be relieved. The last time NASA tried to launch the spacecraft,

the carrier rocket exploded

just seconds after lift-off.

For years, private companies commissioned by NASA have taken care of getting cargo up to the ISS, while astronauts have been hitching rides with Russian Soyuz spacecraft. NASA discontinued its own shuttle program in 2011, mainly for financial reasons. But now they want to get back in the game - in part also to end the dependency on Russia when it comes to space travel with astronauts on board.

cb/jm (nasa.gov)

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