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SpaceX to make Easter delivery of station supplies

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida--A SpaceX supply ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Friday, setting the stage for an Easter morning delivery and urgent spacewalking repairs later in the week.

Following its midday launch through cloudy skies, the Dragon cargo carrier was shown drifting away in the blackness of space, against the blue backdrop of Earth.

It's transporting two tons of goods, including a new spacesuit, spacesuit replacement parts, much-needed food, legs for NASA's humanoid, Robonaut, a bevy of mating flies and germs gathered from sports arenas and historic sites across the U.S.

Neither NASA nor SpaceX packed any Easter goodies, but the families of the six astronauts sent private care packages.

“It will be a surprise for all of us when they open the hatch,” said NASA's human exploration chief, Bill Gerstenmaier.

The Dragon will reach the orbiting lab on Sunday morning. That pushes urgent spacewalking repairs to Wednesday; NASA wants a bad backup computer replaced before something else breaks.

This was the second launch attempt this week for SpaceX after a month's delay.

On Monday, NASA's commercial supplier was foiled by a leaky rocket valve. The valve was replaced and the company aimed for a Friday liftoff despite a dismal forecast. Storms cleared out of Cape Canaveral just in time.

SpaceX's billionaire chief executive officer, Elon Musk, was delighted with the successful launch for NASA, the customer. “This was a happy day,” he told reporters from company headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Last Friday, a critical backup computer failed outside the space station and NASA considered postponing the SpaceX flight. The primary computer is working fine, but numerous systems would be seriously compromised if it broke, too. A double failure also would hinder visits by the Dragon and other vessels.

“It's imperative that we maintain” backups for these external command-routing computer boxes, also called multiplexer-demultiplexers, or MDMs, said flight director Brian Smith said Friday. “Right now, we don't have that.”

NASA decided late this week to use the gasket-like material already on board the space station for the repair, instead of waiting for the Dragon and the new, precision-cut material that NASA rushed on board for the computer swap. Astronauts trimmed their own thermal material Friday to fit the bottom of the replacement computer and inserted a fresh circuit card.

The space station's crew watched the launch via a live TV hookup; the outpost was soaring 418 kilometers above Turkey at the time of ignition. Video beamed down from Dragon showed the solar wings unfurling.

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