Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX launched its Dragon spacecraft on a final mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, March 6. The CRS-20 mission, is the rocket company's 20th Commercial Resupply services contract with NASA. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 11:50 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The Dragon spacecraft is expected to arrive to the orbiting laboratory on Monday, March 9. When it arrives, NASA Flight Engineer Jessica Meir will control the space station's robotic arm to capture Dragon, and Astronaut Andrew Morgan will back up the operation. They will install the spacecraft to the Harmony module. Live coverage of Dragon's arrival to the space station will air on NASA Television at 5:30 a.m. EST tomorrow. The spacecraft will attach to the station's robotic arm at approximately 7:00 a.m. Livestream of the robotic installation to the Harmony module will initiate at 8:30 a.m. Video is linked below.
Dragon will arrive to the station with over 4,300 pounds of cargo, including vital hardware and supplies to conduct scientific experiments and observations in the ISS Lab. The spacecraft will also deliver an important new addition called Bartolomeo that will be installed outside ISS during a spacewalk scheduled for Spring. Bartolomeo features 12 payload cubic slots, that companies or universities will be able to rent out to host their scientific experiments in space.
The @SpaceX #Dragon is on its way to the station where @AstroDrewMorgan and @Astro_Jessica will capture it with the @CSA_ASC #Canadarm2 on Monday at 7am ET live on @NASA TV. https://t.co/yuOTrYN8CV pic.twitter.com/LwNOHuUIl6— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) March 8, 2020
Two out of dozens of scientific experiments and supplies Dragon is delivering include:
Growing human heart cells
Equipment needed to conduct research to determine whether microgravity increases the production of heart cells from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) is also aboard the Dragon spacecraft. The experiment is called, Generation of Cardiomyocytes From Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Cardiac Progenitors Expanded in Microgravity or MVP Cell-03 for short. NASA explains: "HiPSCs are adult cells genetically reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like pluripotent state, which means they can give rise to several different types of cells. This makes them capable of providing an unlimited source of human cells for research or therapeutic purposes." The MVP Cell-03 experiment will involve using stem cells that scientists induced to generate heart precurser cells, and culture those cells in the microgravity environment of the space station for analysis. Upon return from Earth, scientists will compare the ISS cultures to another cultures grown on Earth. The research could help doctors treat heart conditions caused by spaceflight. Cardiac tissue cells which are damaged by heart disease cannot repair themselves. So, researchers could also use their findings to figure out a way to treat cells that are lost or damaged due to cardiac disease for patients on Earth.
Studying the human intestine on a chip
Dragon will launch supplies needed to conduct an experiment that aims to find out how the effects of space travel and microgravity affect the intestines productivity. According to NASA, the experiment will be conducted via an Organ-Chip used as a Platform for Studying Effects of Space on Human Enteric Physiology (Gut on Chip) made by a biotechnology company that emulates human innervated Intestine-Chip (hiIC). NASA stated: "This Organ-Chip device enables the study of organ physiology and diseases in a laboratory setting. It allows for automated maintenance, including imaging, sampling, and storage on orbit and data downlink for molecular analysis on Earth." The Gut on Chip experiment will be mainly focused on the intestines susceptibility to infection and how the immune cells react in the microgravity environment. This kind of research could aid in protecting astronauts' health during long-term missions. Also, help develop therapies to treat people on Earth who have intestinal diseases.
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will remain at the space station until April 9. Upon return, the craft will bring back cargo to Earth. CRS-20 is the original Dragon spacecraft's final mission, the company will replace the craft with an upgraded version known as Crew Dragon (Dragon V2) scheduled to launch NASA astronauts for the first time in May this year.