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Japan Launches Critical Supplies (and Mice) to the ISS

A robotic Japanese cargo vessel launched toward the International Space Station this morning, embarking on a five-day journey to the orbiting lab to deliver tons of supplies and experiment gear, including a rodent crew of 12 mice.

A robotic Japanese cargo vessel launched toward the International Space Station this morning, embarking on a five-day journey to the orbiting lab to deliver tons of supplies and experiment gear, including a rodent crew of 12 mice.

Japan's fifth H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-5) blasted off atop an HII-B rocket from Tanegashima Space Center today (Aug. 19) at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT, 8:50 p.m. local Japanese time). NASA broadcast live video of the HTV-5 cargo ship launch direct from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which built and launched the spacecraft.

PHOTOS: 'Space Invader' Found on International Space Station

If all goes according to plan, the cargo ship will arrive at the space station early Monday morning (Aug. 24). Astronauts aboard the orbiting lab can then begin offloading HTV-5's 6 tons (5.5 metric tons) of food, water, scientific gear and other supplies. [Japan's Robotic Space Station Cargo Ship Fleet in Pictures (Photos)]

While HTV-5 is unmanned, it is carrying some live passengers - a dozen mice, whose experiences aboard the space station will help researchers better understand the effects of microgravity on the bodies of mammals.

Other scientific payloads include equipment for the ongoing "twins study" in which NASA astronaut brothers Scott and Mark Kelly are participating. Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are about five months into an unprecedented yearlong mission aboard the orbiting lab that is investigating how long-duration spaceflight affects astronauts psychologically, physiologically and genetically.

ANALYSIS: Enormous Red Sprites Seen From Space (Update)

Mark Kelly is here on terra firma, serving as a control against which Scott can be compared. The two are identical twins, so they share the same genetic code.

HTV-5 is also carrying an instrument called the Calorimetric Electron Telescope (CALET), which will be mounted outside the International Space Station to hunt for signs of elusive dark matter. So named because it apparently neither absorbs nor emits light, dark mater is impossible to observe directly with telescopes. But studies of the stuff's gravitational effects suggest that dark matter is more than four times more common than "normal" matter throughout the universe.

CALET will also measure high-energy cosmic rays, which pose a radiation threat to astronauts in space, NASA officials said.

Also aboard the Japanese freighter are 14 tiny cubesats built by San Francisco-based company Planet Labs, which aims to provide low-cost but high-resolution Earth imagery to a variety of customers. The cubesats, called "Doves," will eventually be deployed from the space station to fly freely.

NEWS: Despite Launch Failures, 'Dove' Sats Will Map the World

Today's successful launch brings the total number of Doves launched to orbit to 101, Planet Labs representatives said.

HTV-5 was originally supposed to launch on Sunday (Aug. 16), but bad weather forced several delays.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) HTV vehicle is also known as "Kounotori" - Japanese for "white stork," which refers to the delivery function it serves. Four previous HTV spacecraft have supplied the space station, one each in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The HTV vessel is designed to burn up in Earth's atmosphere when its space missions are done, just like Russia's Progress freighter and the Cygnus vehicle, which is built by American aerospace firm Orbital ATK. SpaceX's Dragon capsule is the only currently operating cargo craft that returns to Earth in one piece.

More from SPACE.com:

Space Station's Robotic Cargo Ship Fleet (A Photo Guide)

Cosmic Quiz: Do You Know the International Space Station?

HTV: Japan's New Spaceship Originally published on Space.com. Copyright 2015 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

A Japanese H-IIB rocket launches into space carrying the HTV-5 cargo ship on a mission to deliver 4.5 tons of supplies to astronauts on the International Space Station. Liftoff occurred at 7:50 am ET on Aug. 19, 2015 from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tanegashima Space Center.

A peculiar alien visitor has been found on the International Space Station -- but does it come in peace? Inspired by the popular 1970's video game "Space Invaders," a small red mosaic of one of the pixelated aliens

has been recovered by European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti

and was photographed inside the orbiting outpost's Cupola, looking down on Earth.

Continue browsing the gallery to see how far the "invasion" has spread...

The art was created by the

French urban artist "Invader,"

who's true identity is a closely guarded secret. However, his art is

very

well known. Inspired by 8-bit video games from the 1970's and 80's, Invader's distinctive artwork can be found in over 60 cities in 30 countries around the globe. And now, in an orbital first, Invader's work has been installed on the hatch of ESA's Columbia module, shown above.

The artwork has been cropping up in the Italian astronaut's Twitter feed for the past few months. "Pssst, #SpaceInvader... These are the EMU suits for tomorrow’s spacewalk. Spooky eh? #space2iss," she

tweeted

on Feb. 19.

The small tile was actually delivered to the ISS in July 2014. Since then, "these space invaders have been spotted not only in the Space Station but also in ESA establishments all over Europe,"

writes ESA

. "The first invaders were seen at ESA’s astronaut center in Cologne, Germany. More mosaics have been seen at ESA’s Redu Center in Belgium (pictured here), where satellites are controlled and tested as part of ESA’s ground station network."

This is a close-up of one of Invader's pieces of pixel art at ESA Redu in Belgium on Feb. 23, 2015.

Another mosaic at ESA Redu in Belgium.

Although the mission of the Space Invader isn't clear, its intent is hinted at. According to Cristoforetti, she hopes that the pixelated artforms that are popping up across ESA establishments will inspire primary school children "in using their imaginations for combining geometry, colors and mathematics into abstract minimalism."

"Look what I found! Hey there, who are you?"

tweeted

Cristoforetti on Jan. 19 when she first encountered the Space Invader. Its first appearance on the ISS was above a space station control panel.

The progress of this invasion can be followed on Twitter using the hashtags #space2iss and #SpaceInvader. So does this particular Space Invader come in peace? It seems so. It has appeared on the space station as a unique piece of urban art intended to inspire.

That's one invasion we can all be excited by.

Sources:

Invader

,

Twitter

,

Flickr

,

ESA