A previously-flown SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off for the fourth time this morning successfully launching a Dragon spacecraft to orbit –marking the beginning of the 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-21) mission for NASA. Dragon is now on its way deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft is an upgraded version of Dragon capable of carrying 20% more volume than the previous iteration. The CRS-21 Dragon will deliver over 6,400 pounds of cargo, including supplies to conduct scientific investigations and a new ISS door!
SpaceX thrice flown Falcon 9 successfully launches Dragon carrying NASA cargo to the Space Stationhttps://t.co/2XIEjq6bX0— Tesmanian.com (@Tesmanian_com) December 6, 2020
Dragon’s voyage is expected to be 26-hours-long. The uncrewed spacecraft is operating autonomously; It is scheduled to arrive to the orbiting laboratory on Monday, December 7 at 1:30 p.m. EST. Dragon will dock itself to the Space Station’s Harmony module as NASA Astronauts - flight engineers Kate Rubins and Victor Glover - supervise the operation from aboard the station. You can watch Dragon’s arrival in the video below, starting at 11:30 a.m. EST tomorrow.
The supplies that are onboard Dragon during the CRS-21 mission will be used to study how space conditions affect the interaction between microbes and minerals, an investigation of the heart using 3D printed organs, a technology demonstration of a blood analysis tool in microgravity, also equipment to test a method of building habitats in space, among other scientific research.
The Dragon spacecraft’s unpressurized trunk is carrying a new airlock door for the Space Station, called the Nanoracks Bishop Airlock. “Its capabilities include deployment of free-flying payloads such as CubeSats and externally mounted payloads, housing small external payloads, jettisoning trash […],” NASA shared in a press release. “Roughly five times larger than the airlock on the Japanese Experiment Module already in use on the station, the Bishop Airlock allows robotic movement of more and larger packages to the exterior of the space station, including hardware to support spacewalks. It also provides capabilities such as power and ethernet required for internal and external payloads.”
Inside the CRS-21 Dragon capsule, NASA is sending some microbes and meteorite samples to investigate a process called, biomining. "The BioAsteroid investigation looks at the ability of bacteria to break down rock. Future space explorers could use this process for extracting elements from planetary surfaces and refining regolith, the type of soil found on the moon, into usable compounds," NASA states. "Microbes could break down rocks into soils for plant growth, for example, or extract elements useful for life support systems and production of medicines," the agency wrote in a press release. This interesting research will be conducted by SpaceX's Crew-1 mission astronauts who launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft and arrived at the space station on November 16. The astronauts are tasked with investigating how microbes are capable of 'digging' through the meteorite rocks in the space environment.
Crew-1 astronauts will also receive equipment needed to examine changes in hearts using tissue chips. Microgravity causes significant changes in human hearts, the agency says the heart changes in shape and rhythm and that it is still unknown if these changes in hearts are permanent if astronauts stay in space for over a year. “Cardinal Heart studies how changes in gravity affect the heart at the cellular and tissue level. The investigation uses 3D-engineered heart tissues, a type of tissue chip,” NASA states, “Results could provide a new understanding of heart problems in patients on Earth, help identify new treatments, and support the development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk before spaceflight.”
SpaceX's Dragon capsule is also carrying equipment to analyze blood cells in space. "HemoCue tests the ability of a commercially available device to provide quick and accurate counts of total and differentiated white blood cells in microgravity. Doctors commonly use the total number of white blood cells and counts of the five different types of white blood cells to diagnose illnesses and monitor a variety of health conditions on Earth," NASA shared, "Verification of an autonomous capability for blood analysis on the space station is an important step toward meeting the health care needs of crew members on future missions."
The spacecraft is also carrying equipment for the "SUBSA-BRAINS" investigation which "examines differences in capillary flow, interface reactions, and bubble formation during the solidification of brazing alloys in microgravity. Brazing is a type of soldering used to bond together similar materials, such as an aluminum alloy to aluminum, or dissimilar ones such as aluminum alloy to ceramics, at high temperatures," NASA explains, "The technology could serve as a tool for constructing human habitats and vehicles on future space missions as well as for repairing damage caused by micrometeoroids or space debris."
These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations that will be performed aboard the ISS Lab. Every scientific experiment and investigation enables scientists to develop technology and medical treatments that benefit humankind. The research will also enable NASA astronauts to explore beyond Earth orbit under NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to launch astronauts to the Lunar surface and Mars.
WATCH IT LIVE!
Featured Image Source: SpaceX / NASA
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.