Featured Image Created by: Erik Corshammar @ErcXspace via Twitter
NASA astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) are preparing SpaceX’s Dragon capsule to return it to Earth with important science cargo. The mission is part of SpaceX’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-21) contract with NASA to deliver and return cargo to and from the ISS Lab. The capsule is currently docked to the station’s Harmony module alongside the SpaceX Dragon Resilience spacecraft that transported a crew of four astronauts to the orbiting laboratory in mid-November. It is the first time two SpaceX spacecraft are docked simultaneously at the Space Station.
The CRS-21 cargo Dragon capsule arrived early December, it delivered over 6,400 pounds of scientific cargo. After a 35-day stay, Dragon is scheduled for departure on January 11 to initiate its return voyage. The vehicle will be loaded with 5,200 pounds of scientific cargo, including the results of a variety of scientific experiments the crew performed in microgravity. The capsule will also return live mice that were used during the Rodent Research-23 experiment at the ISS Laboratory 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.
CRS-21 Dragon will undock at 9:25 a.m. Eastern Time (EST) on Monday as NASA astronaut Victor Glover oversees undocking operations. When Dragon 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 at approximately 9:00 p.m. EST. The spacecraft recovery operation will be unique from previous Dragon recoveries – it will be faster. 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.
It will be the first time a SpaceX cargo capsule splashes down in Florida near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center. NASA says that a splash down off Florida’s coast enables a rapid transportation of the scientific experiment results with minimal loss of microgravity effects. The agency also plans to use a helicopter to get the science experiment results to researchers' faster. –“As the spacecraft returns to Earth, the experiments start to experience the effects of gravity again. Splashdown sets into motion rapid operations to return the samples and experiments back to researchers around the world. After a SpaceX boat scoops the capsule out of the water, a waiting team pulls time-critical science out of the spacecraft and loads it onto a waiting helicopter,” the agency shared in a press release, “The helicopter will deliver this science to shore a few hours after splashdown. Any remaining scientific cargo will come back either in a second helicopter load or stay aboard the boat and be removed at the port,” they wrote.
The helicopter(s) will land at the Shuttle Landing Facility where teams will rapidly load the cargo into a truck to transport it to the Kennedy Space Center Space Station Processing Facility. At the facility, dozens of scientists and researchers will receive the experiments. –“The scientists will take a quick look to get initial results and then ship it back to their home bases,” said Kennedy Space Center utilization project manager Jennifer Wahlberg, “The benefit of being able to observe the science earlier is the ability to negate any gravitational effects on the research after it has been in space,” they said in a press release. You can watch the undocking operations Live starting at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time on January 11 in the video below, courtesy of NASA Television.
WATCH IT LIVE!
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.