A few minutes ago, Elon Musk shot apples into space. That's an oversimplification, to be fair. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX — the private space company of which Musk is CEO — contained a lot of other items destined for the International Space Station. In total, the cargo is some 1,200 pounds worth of fruit (picked from an employee's family orchard), scientific experiments, and, for some reason, a song by Jared Leto.
Slate's Bad Astronomy blog, a key source of information for such events, explains the mission.
This is the second of 12 SpaceX missions to the ISS; the first operational flight was in May 2012, which carried supplies to the station. Today's flight will carry 550 kilograms (1200 pounds) of supplies to the astronauts in orbit. The Dragon capsule is planned to return on March 25, carrying well over a ton of cargo back to Earth, including scientific experiments, supplies, and hardware no longer needed on orbit.
The rocket moved to the launchpad yesterday
It's not clear, though, that the rocket will make it. Shortly after launch, there were indications that the vessel's solar array didn't deploy as expected.
Musk tweeted some clarification prior to a press conference later today.
Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 1, 2013
Holding on solar array deployment until at least two thruster pods are active— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 1, 2013
A major error could have broad repercussions for the company. Musk has been pushing hard for expansion of private space travel. Last month, he outlined his ongoing battles with major aerospace firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing in his efforts to secure government contracts to run missions like the one launched today. If today's mission encountered a significant problem -- as one did last October -- it hands Musk's opponents a ready-made critique to use on Capitol Hill.
With everyone watching today's flight, this could be a hard one to explain away with data.
Update, 11:51 a.m.: Good news -- the solar array has deployed. The crisis appears to have been averted, for now.