Featured Image Source: Tropical Storm Elsa captured by NASA Astronaut Megan McArthur from the International Space Station on July 4, 2021.
SpaceX was previously scheduled to undock an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft from the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday, July 6. NASA announced today it delayed the return of SpaceX’s Dragon from ISS due to extreme weather off the coast of Florida caused by Tropical Storm Elsa. Dragon is loaded with over 5,000 pounds of important cargo that will return to scientists on Earth as part of the completion of SpaceX’s 22nd NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-22) mission.
NASA Astronaut Megan McArthur captured a stunning photograph from ISS of Tropical Storm Elsa raging across the ocean on July 4th, pictured below. Tropical Storm Elsa is now moving from Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida and is already spreading rain and gusty winds inland.
SpaceX Mission Control now plans to undock the CRS-22 Dragon capsule on July 7, exact time is pending, NASA will initiate its undocking broadcast at around 10:45 p.m. Eastern Time [date is subject to change]. UPDATE 07/06/2021: SpaceX CRS-22 undocking is no longer planned for Wednesday, July 7, due to Tropical Storm Elsa transforming into a Category 1 Hurricane. NASA says the next possible date to return Dragon is no earlier than July 8 at 10:35 a.m. EDT. Back-up opportunities are also scheduled for June 9 and June 10. Weather must be stable in order for Dragon to safely perform a parachute-assisted splashdown in the ocean, soon after reentering Earth’s rough atmosphere. “NASA and SpaceX flight control teams continue to monitor the weather and splashdown locations,” the agency said in a press release this afternoon, “Certain parameters like wind speeds and wave heights must be within certain limits to ensure the safety of the recovery teams, the science, and the spacecraft.” Some of the cargo Dragon will return to Earth includes the results of scientific experiments conducted at the orbiting laboratory by Expedition 65 crewmembers.
All of these experiments conducted in microgravity are delicate and time sensitive. Therefore, to minimize the effects of Earth’s gravity affecting the experiments’ sample results, NASA and SpaceX will command Dragon to splashdown close to the coast of Florida where teams will quickly transport all the important cargo to NASA’s Space Station Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center.
One of the experiments that will be transported is ‘Lyophilization-2’, which “examines how gravity affects freeze-dried materials and could result in improved freeze-drying processes for pharmaceutical and other industries. Freeze-drying also has potential use for long-term storage of medications and other resources on future exploration missions,” NASA said. The samples of this research will be frozen aboard Dragon on its voyage back to Earth. Principal investigator Jeremy Hinds of Eli Lilly and Company, says that timing is critical. “I need to receive them in that frozen state. If they melt, all the information captured in the freezing process is gone. Extended time allows anything like heat or humidity to change the physical state of the material. We want the best outcome we can get from this experiment, and timing is a critical piece,” they said.
Another science experiment that will return aboard Dragon is the “Oral Biofilms in Space” research that is studying “how gravity affects the structure, composition, and activity of oral bacteria in the presence of common oral care agents. Findings could support development of novel treatments to fight oral diseases such as cavities, gingivitis, and periodontitis,” the agency said. This research will enable scientists to create better oral health for long-duration space missions to the Moon and Mars. “We are looking at the molecular mechanism of disease and how our oral care products are able to intervene. Any molecular work is time sensitive, because you are looking at metabolites and nucleic acids and they degrade over time. So, the quicker we get them, the less degradation occurs,” says researcher Harsh Trivedi. NASA plans to broadcast the CRS-22 Dragon spacecraft’s return in the video below starting at around 10:00 a.m. EDT on July 8. This article will be updated as more information is released.
WATCH IT LIVE!
Featured Image Source: NASA Astronaut Megan McArthur