Image Source: NASA
After a month long stay, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will depart from the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday, January 7th, with cargo and science experiments onboard. When the Dragon spacecraft returns to Earth, it will be released from the station's robotic arm at 5:03 a.m. EST. Then after drifting a safe distance away from the space station, Dragon will fire its engines to conduct a deorbit burn that will take the craft into Earth's atmosphere to splashdown at around 10:47 a.m. along the Pacific coast southwest of Long Beach, California.
"Due to a forecast of bad weather in the splashdown zone, the return of the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship is delayed until Tuesday, Jan. 7. Release of Dragon from Canadarm2 is scheduled for 5:03 a.m. EST. NASA TV coverage will begin at 4:45 a.m. Splashdown is scheduled for 10:47 a.m. The splashdown will not air on NASA TV."
Tuesday will mark the end SpaceX's 19th mission under their Commercial Resupply Cargo Services contract with NASA, known as CRS-19. They successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket to conduct the deployment of this Dragon spacecraft on December 5, 2019. Dragon arrived with over 5,700 pounds of cargo to the Space Station. The spacecraft will now return carrying about 3,600 pounds of the previous scientific experiments Expedition 61 Astronauts conducted, as well as tools that are degraded or not occupied anymore at the station.
Some of the scientific experiments and cargo that Dragon will return to Earth from the orbiting laboratory include:
40 Mighty Mice
This experiment is known as Rodent Research-19. SeJinLee, a professor at the Jackson Laboratory and University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and his team sent a group of 40 mice aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to the space station in December.
The mice were used for an experiment that will study how to combat muscle degradation in space. "When we engineered the mice to lack myostatin, they grew to twice their normal size," Lee said during a NASA conference. "We call them mighty mice." These engineered mighty mice do not have a key protein called myostatin, which inhibits muscle growth.
Myostatin can be used to treat a variety of muscle-wasting disorders. This research aims to figure out if blocking myostatin in mice can prevent muscle loss in space. The mice will live in four habitats on the station and will be compared with 40 other mice in similar habitats on Earth after returning on January 6. All 40 mice are expected to return to Earth alive.
This investigation will help aid in the creation of a potential solution for muscle degradation. "Astronauts lose muscle and bone mass, so anything to prevent this can help maintain astronauts during space flight," Lee said, "It's also a huge problem for people here on Earth, in both children and adults. We hope to test a therapeutic strategy that will help (people with) lots of different conditions."
Tiny Aquatic Creatures
Another experiment called, Rotifer-B1, investigated Adineta vaga rotifers, which are tiny aquatic creatures found in freshwater ecosystems and soil. Rotifiers are highly resistant to radiation on Earth, so the experiment was launched to the orbiting laboratory to find out if the rotifer could adapt to space radiation in microgravity.
Perfect Crystals Experiment
The Growth of Large, Perfect Protein Crystals for Neutron Crystallography (Perfect Crystals) experiment, that aims to find the perfect solution to deal with radiation was also conducted at the ISS. On Earth, our bodies experience very low levels of radiation through a protein that naturally occurs in our bodies that helps us safely process radiation. This research will help scientists find a way to deal with the problem of radiation during spaceflight missions by using the same protein that is already inside our bodies.
NASA announced that one of the degraded tools Expedition 61 astronaut crew are sending back to Earth onboard Dragon, "is a faulty battery charge-discharge unit (BCDU), which failed to activate following the Oct. 11 installation of new lithium-ion batteries on the space station’s truss. Expedition 61 flight engineers Christina Koch and Jessica Meir of NASA removed and replaced the BCDU was during a spacewalk Oct. 18. The unit will be returned to teams on Earth for evaluation and repair."
These are just a few of the science experiments and cargo returning to Earth from the space laboratory. Stay tuned for the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon next week!