AP Aerospace WriterOctober 8, 2012 

CAPE CANAVERAL -- A commercial supply ship is on its way to the International Space Station.

The California-based SpaceX launched its unmanned Falcon rocket from Cape Canaveral on Sunday night. Aboard the rocket was a Dragon capsule holding 1,000 pounds of cargo, including chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream for the three station residents.

This is the first Dragon launch under a $1.6 billion contract between SpaceX and NASA. The contract calls for 12 resupply missions.

A Dragon flew to the space station in May, but it was a test so nothing vital was aboard. The newest Dragon is hauling key experiments and other precious gear.

Dragon will reach the orbiting lab Wednesday. It will remain docked for nearly three weeks before returning to Earth with an even bigger load.

NASA is counting on private business to restock the space station, now that the shuttles have retired to museums.

This newest Dragon will carry up about 1,000 pounds of food, clothes, experiments and equipment. The three space station residents will get a frozen treat when the capsule arrives later in the week: chocolate vanilla swirl ice cream.

Even more cargo will come back when the Dragon parachutes into the Pacific at the end of October.

None of the Russian, European or Japanese cargo ships can bring anything back; they're destroyed during re-entry.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX -- owned by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk -- is working to convert its unmanned Dragon capsules into vessels that could carry astronauts to the space station in three years. Other U.S. companies also are vying to carry crews. Americans must ride Russian rockets to orbit in the meantime, for a steep price.

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