SANTA MONICA -- An experiment from Santa Monica High School will be among the payload items on a rocket and spaceship -- built in Hawthorne -- that was to be launched from Cape Canaveral tonight.

The science project is one of 11 student research projects to be carried aloft by a Falcon spaceship and Dragon launcher, both built in the South Bay by Space Exploration Co. The rocket was fueled on Launch Pad 39-B today, and readied for launch at 5:34 p.m. PDT.

Cloud cover in Florida was breaking, but if today's launch is cancelled, back-up launch windows are on Monday evening and midday Tuesday.

Tonight's launch will be the first payload-carrying commercial flight to link with a manned spacecraft, the International Space Station. The privately- built rocket is one of two intended to replace the retired fleet of Space Shuttles, one of which is due to creep across Los Angeles starting next Friday.

Among the cargo heading up is freezers for scientific specimens to be sent back to Earth, and the spaceship will return with almost twice as much stuff as is going up this time. Extra space in the freezers has been loaded with ice cream for the astronauts, cosmonauts and other space explorers onboard the Iinternational Space Station.

"What Is The Effect of Microgravity On The Formation of Silly Putty And How Do The Characteristics of That Silly Putty Differ From Silly Putty Made On Earth?" is the formal description of the Samohi science project.


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The interest is not merely playful, as the ISS crew will mix up a batch of Silly Putty in microgravity to measure how a "non-Newtonian dilatant fluid" behaves differently from a mix on Earth.

The Hawthorne-based SpaceX firm has a $1.6 billion NASA contract to launch 12 cargo missions to the ISS. An earlier test flight last spring worked flawlessly, and NASA officials are watching SpaceX's performance as a competing firm, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia, has a test launch in the works.

Dragon is carrying 734 pounds of scientific materials that will be used by the ISS's 33rd crew of scientists, who were launched into space from the Russian launch center in Asia.

On Wednesday, Dragon will approach the ISS. NASA Cmdr. Sunita Williams and Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will use the Canadian- built grappler arm to move the California-built ship up to the ISS, the first time an American supply vessel other than a Space Shuttle has docked there.

Once unloaded and reloaded, Dragon will be guided to a splashdown 250 miles off the Southern California coast late this month.