The SpaceX Dragon cargo ship filled with scientific experiments, a case of wine and live mice, has made its first ever splashdown in the Atlantic, NASA confirmed.
The spacecraft will be disconnected autonomously from the International Space Station on Tuesday, January 12, after a stay of 36 days attached to the orbiting laboratory.
Among the experiments on the ship is a box of Bordeaux wine, live mice and 3D-printed buds that could one day produce human organs from stem cells.
In all, there were 4,400 lbs of scientific research and other cargo spraying into the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida at 6 p.m. 01:30 GMT this morning.
This image provided by NASA shows SpaceX’s Dragon launch from International Space Station on Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Previous SpaceX drone-ready missions ended with a parachute-assisted spraying in the Pacific, but this new version of the spaceship is designed to land closer to the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
This is where the space agency deals with scientific experiments performed on board the ISS – so it sprayed down into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.
SpaceX Dragon is designed to be a reusable spacecraft that can safely deliver equipment and goods to the ISS as well as return scientific experiments back to Earth.
‘The upgraded Dragon capsule used for this mission contains twice the capacity of previous capsules, enabling a significant increase in research that can be returned to scientists,’ NASA said.
‘Some researchers get their research returned quickly four to nine hours after the splashdown.’
This is the first time scientific experiments from the space station have been able to return via Florida since the space shuttle stopped running in 2011.
This image shows some of the cargo that was loaded on the Dragon ship when it first went towards the ISS last year. It can hold more in cold rooms than the original Dragon
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins stands next to storage in the SpaceX CRS-9 cargo Dragon spacecraft in 2016. The new cargo spacecraft has more closet space, allowing for extra cold storage space
To get back to Earth, the experiments had to travel by capsule, helicopter, boat, plane, and car before returning to the scientists who designed them.
‘I’m excited to finally see science return here again, because we can get these time-sensitive experiments into the lab faster than ever,’ says Kennedy Space Center Utilization Project Manager Jennifer Wahlberg.
‘Sending science up to space and then receiving it back on the runway was definitely something in the shuttle days that we were really proud of, and it’s great to be able to rejoin that process again.’
As the spacecraft returns to Earth, the experiments will begin to experience the effects of gravity again, NASA explained in a blog post.
There is a great deal involved in getting the experiments from the liquid capsule back to universities, companies and other institutions.
NASA described the process, saying: ‘After a SpaceX boat has pushed the capsule out of the water, a waiting team pulls time-critical science out of the spacecraft and puts it on a waiting helicopter.
‘The helicopter will deliver this science to land a few hours after the splashdown. Any remaining scientific cargo will return either in another helicopter cargo or remain on board the boat and be removed at the port. ‘
The helicopter lands the experiments at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), which was previously used for the return to the space shuttle.
Then a team moves most of the cargo to the Kennedy Space Center Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) by truck, where scientific teams are waiting.
‘We want a parade of scientists ready at the Kennedy Space Center and waiting to receive samples,’ said Kennedy’s flight integration office, Mary Walsh.
The spaceship left the International Space Station on Tuesday and after some delays, the Gulf of Mexico finally jumped into the Atlantic Ocean this morning
There is a lot involved in returning scientific experiments back to scientists, this includes shipping by boat, helicopter and car
Traditionally used to prepare experiments for launch in space, SSPF is home to world-class laboratories that provide the tools and workspace to immediately take data and analyze samples, the space agency explained.
‘The researchers will look quickly for initial results and then send it back to their home bases,’ says Wahlberg.
‘The advantage of being able to observe science in the past is the ability to negate any gravitational effects on research after it has been in space.’
From the hub of the Kennedy Space Center, scientific trials and experiments will lead the world to California, Texas, Massachusetts, Japan and more.
The vast amount of science returning to Earth on this mission is possible thanks to upgrades to the SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft, which has twice as much closet capacity as the company’s previous capsules.
Rodent Research Hardware System is an experiment returning to Earth – it includes three modules: (left) habitat, (center) transporter and (right) animal access unit
Another experiment saw a case of wine sent to the ISS to age in orbit over a year – it is tasted in February and examined for changes in the bubble content
On return, it can support up to 12 driven cabinets, enabling the transport of colder goods and electricity for additional payloads.
The old capsule was like a cream-filled donut. You wrapped everything around the walls and then we put a big giant stack of bags in the middle, ‘Walsh said.
‘This upgraded cargo Dragon looks more like a three-story house. You put things in the basement, then you pack the second story, then you go upstairs and pack the third story. So it’s really different from a design perspective. ‘
The next SpaceX Dragon cargo mission will be in May, and the Dragon Capsule crew currently anchored in the space station is due to return its four-man crew in May.
Before that, another crew launches the Dragon spaceship in March to send four more astronauts up to the orbiting laboratory.
Experiments Returning from the ISS: The Beginning of a 3D Printed Heart, Living Mice, and Bacteria
Cardinal heart, which studies how changes in gravity affect cardiovascular cells at the cell and tissue level using 3D-engineered heart tissue, a type of tissue chip.
The results could provide a new understanding of heart problems on Earth, help identify new treatments and support the development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk before spaceflight.
Rumorganogenesis, a study by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency demonstrating the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells to analyze changes in gene expression.
Results from this study could demonstrate the benefits of using microgravity for groundbreaking development in regenerative medicine and may contribute to the establishment of technologies needed to create artificial organs.
The experiment with bacterial adhesion and corrosiont, which identifies the bacterial genes used during biofilm growth, examines whether biofilm can corrode stainless steel and assesses the effectiveness of disinfectants.
This study could provide insight into better ways to control and remove resistant biofilms, contributing to the success of future long-haul spaceflights.
Fiber optic production, which includes the return of experimental optical fibers created in microgravity using a mixture of zirconium, barium, lanthanum, sodium and aluminum.
The return of the fibers, called ZBLAN with reference to the chemical formula, will help verify experimental studies suggesting that fibers created in space must have far better qualities than those produced on earth.
Rodent Research-23, which involves the return of live mice. This experiment studies the function of arteries, veins and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina before and after spaceflight.
The goal is to clarify whether these changes impair vision function. At least 40 percent of astronauts experience visual impairment known as space-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS) on long-haul space flights, which can have a negative impact on mission success.