As the International Space Station traveled more than 267 miles above the South Atlantic Ocean, the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft docked autonomously at the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony module at 11 a.m. 21 EDT today, with NASA astronauts Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins monitoring operations from the station.
The Dragon launched on SpaceX’s 25th contract commercial resupply mission for NASA at 8:44 p.m. Thursday, July 14, from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After Dragon has spent about a month attached to the space station, the spacecraft will return to Earth with cargo and research.
Some of the science experiments Dragon delivers to the space station include:
Map Earth Dust
The Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) study, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, uses NASA imaging spectroscopy technology to measure the mineral composition of dust in arid regions of the earth. Mineral dust blown through the air can travel significant distances and affect Earth’s climate, weather, vegetation and more. For example, dust containing dark minerals that absorb sunlight can warm an area, while light-colored mineral dust can cool it. Blown-in dust also affects air quality, surface conditions such as the rate of snowmelt, and the health of phytoplankton in the ocean. The survey collects images for a year to generate maps of mineral composition in regions of the Earth that produce dust. Such mapping could advance our understanding of the effects of mineral dust on human populations today and in the future.
Faster aging of the immune system
Aging is associated with changes in the immune response known as immunosenescence. Microgravity causes changes in human immune cells that resemble this condition, but occur faster than the actual aging process on Earth. The Immunosenescence Survey, sponsored by the US National Laboratory on the International Space Station, uses tissue chips to study how microgravity affects immune function during flight and whether immune cells recover after flight. Tissue chips are small devices that contain human cells in a 3D structure, allowing scientists to test how these cells respond to stresses, drugs and genetic changes.
The ground in space
On Earth, complex communities of microorganisms perform key functions in the soil, including cycling carbon and other nutrients and supporting plant growth. Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space, sponsored by NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division, examines how microgravity affects metabolic interactions in soil microbe communities. This research focuses on microbial communities that break down chitin, a natural carbon polymer on Earth.
Weather study for high school students
BeaverCube is an educational mission that will teach aerospace science to high school students by having them design a CubeSat. BeaverCube will house a visible and two infrared imagers to measure cloud properties, ocean surface temperatures, and ocean color to study Earth’s climate and weather systems. It will also demonstrate an application for the use of shape memory alloy technology via an in-orbit calibration technique.
Genes, not cells
Cell-free technology is a platform for producing proteins without specialized equipment from live cells that need to be cultured. Genes in space-9, sponsored by the National Lab, demonstrates cell-free protein production in microgravity and evaluates two cell-free biosensors capable of detecting specific target molecules. This technology could provide a simple, portable, and inexpensive tool for medical diagnostics, on-demand production of drugs and vaccines, and environmental monitoring on future space missions.
Biopolymer research for in situ capabilities examines how microgravity affects the process of creating an alternative to concrete made from organic material and in-place materials, such as lunar or Martian dust, known as a biopolymer soil composite. Using available resources where construction is taking place increases the amount of shielding.
These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being carried out aboard the orbiting laboratory in the fields of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and earth and space sciences. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars through the program. NASA’s Artemis.
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