Featured Image Created by: Erik Corshammar @ErcXspace via Twitter
SpaceX and NASA are ready to return cargo aboard the upgraded Dragon capsule that is currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS), alongside the Crew Dragon spacecraft that transported Crew-1 astronauts. Dragon capsule will return cargo as part of SpaceX’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-21) contract with NASA. The spacecraft arrived early December, after a 35-day-stay at the orbiting laboratory it is scheduled to undock from the Space Station’s Harmony module on Monday, January 11, at 9:25 a.m. Eastern Time (EST). NASA astronaut Victor Glover will oversee Dragon’s autonomous undocking operation.
Dragon is loaded with over 5,200 pounds of cargo, including the results of scientific experiments performed by Expedition 64 astronauts at the ISS Lab. Live mice will return to Earth aboard the spacecraft. The mice are part of the Rodent Research-23 experiment that was performed to study how the eyes’ retina changes before and after spaceflight. Researchers hope to figure out how microgravity impairs the vision to understand why 40% of astronauts have suffered vision impairment during long-duration missions. Upon return to Earth, the mice will be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and then to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where teams of ocular experts will examine the eyes of the mice.
Dragon is also carrying the results of the Cardinal Heart research, in which astronauts used 3D engineered heart tissues to study how microgravity affects the human heart. –“Microgravity causes changes in the workload and shape of the human heart, and it is still unknown whether these changes could become permanent if a person lived more than a year in space,” NASA said in a press release, “[…] Results could provide new understanding of heart problems on Earth, help identify new treatments, and support development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight,” representatives wrote.
😴 Rest up, space explorers! @SpaceX's upgraded cargo Dragon spacecraft will undock from the @Space_Station & splash down tomorrow. It'll mark the first return of station science to @NASAKennedy since the Shuttle Program.— NASA (@NASA) January 11, 2021
📺 Coverage starts at 9:00am ET: https://t.co/ePqHXmqOcj pic.twitter.com/BGl2O8lbTg
Among dozens of science cargo, Dragon will return the results of the Thermal Amine Scrubber research, which is a technology that tested how to control carbon dioxide (CO2) levels at ISS. CO2 build-up at the Space Station can make astronauts experience headaches, breathing difficulties, fatigue, among other things. The Thermal Amine Scrubber was a “technology demonstration tested a method to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from air aboard the International Space Station, using actively heated and cooled amine beds,” NASA shared. Amine beds are used to capture carbon.
SpaceX's Dragon will also return the results of the Space Organogenesis research for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The research studied how "the growth of 3D organ buds from human stem cells to analyze changes in gene expression," NASA wrote in the press release. "Cell cultures on Earth need supportive materials or forces to achieve 3D growth, but in microgravity, cell cultures can expand into three dimensions without those devices. Results from this investigation could demonstrate advantages of using microgravity for cutting-edge developments in regenerative medicine and may contribute to the establishment of technologies needed to create artificial organs," the agency explains.
NASA will broadcast the CRS-21 Dragon return Live in the video below. When the spacecraft undocks from the Harmony module, it will use its thrusters to move away from the station’s space-facing port to initiate a deorbit burn. The vehicle will cross Earth’s harsh atmosphere to perform a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean on Monday night at approximately 9:00 p.m. EST. The spacecraft recovery operation will be faster than previous missions. Previously, returning scientific cargo took 48 hours, on Monday SpaceX and NASA aim to get the scientific cargo into researchers' hands in 4 to 9 hours after splashdown by using helicopters and landing the spacecraft along Florida’s coast near the Kennedy Space Center. The faster recovery operation they plan will enable researchers to obtain the experiments' results with minimal loss of microgravity effects.
WATCH IT LIVE!
January 11, Monday
9 a.m. – Coverage of the undocking of the SpaceX CRS-21 Cargo Dragon Craft from the International Space Station; undocking scheduled at 9:25 a.m. EST.
Image Created by: Erik Corshammar @ErcXspace via Twitter
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.