Science & Technology

NASA SpaceX CRS-27 Resupply Mission Docks to the International Space Station

SpaceX’s 27th commercial resupply mission docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing port at 7:31 a.m. EDT today as the station was flying 261 miles over northeastern China. Credit: NASA TV

A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the station’s Harmony module today at 7:31 a.m. EDT, while the International Space Station (ISS) was traveling more than 261 miles over North Eastern China, with NASA astronaut Woody Hoburg monitoring operations from the station.

The Dragon launched on SpaceX’s 27th contracted commercial resupply mission for NASA at 8:30 p.m. EDT on March 14, from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After Dragon spends about one month attached to the space station, the spacecraft will return to Earth with cargo and research.

The scientific experiments and technology demonstrations carried by the Dragon spacecraft examine how the heart changes in space, test a student-designed camera mount, compare surfaces that control biofilm formation, and more. Credit: NASA

Among the science experiments Dragon is delivering to the space station are:

The first Cardinal Heart investigation conducted aboard the space station showed that four weeks of microgravity exposure can cause significant changes in heart cell function and gene expression. Researchers concluded that these changes could lead to long-term medical issues. The Cardinal Heart 2.0 experiment builds on these results, using heart organoids, 3D structures made up of all the different types of cells in a particular organ, to test whether clinically approved drugs reduce these microgravity-induced changes in heart cell function. Results could support the development of effective drug combinations to improve the health of astronauts and patients on Earth.

This study continues work with 3D cultured cardiac muscle tissue to assess human cardiac function in microgravity. Previous work with 3D cultures in space detected changes at the cellular and tissue level that could provide early indication of the development of cardiac disease. This investigation tests whether new therapies prevent these adverse spaceflight effects from occurring. The model used in this study has potential use in drug development and other applications related to diagnosing and treating cardiac dysfunction on Earth.

Cardinal Heart 2.0 and Engineered Heart Tissues-2 are the final two experiments comprising the National Institutes for Health and ISS National Lab’s Tissue Chips in Space initiative. Researchers hope to learn more about the impact of microgravity on human health and disease and translate that understanding to improved human health on Earth.

NASA’s High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program enables students to fabricate real-world products for NASA as they apply their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills. The HUNCH Ball Clamp Monopod attempts to address astronaut comments on the difficulty of positioning video or still cameras in the middle of a module. The student-manufactured project is composed of an aluminum monopod fitted with a camera shoe and ball clamp that can be attached to a standard space station handrail. The ball clamp serves as a pivoting platform for photography and video.

Loaded with scientific experiments and supplies, the unpiloted SpaceX CRS-27 cargo ship automatically docked to the International Space Station’s forward port of the Harmony module March 16. The SpaceX resupply craft launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida March 14 with several tons of experiments and hardware on board and will remain on orbit for a month-long visit. Credit: NASA

Because microgravity makes it difficult to control the flow of liquids, the space station has been unable to take advantage of carbon dioxide removal methods that use specialized liquids. Liquid-based carbon dioxide removal systems such as those on submarines offer higher efficiency than other types of systems. The CapiSorb Visible System study demonstrates liquid control using capillary forces, the interaction of a liquid with a solid that can draw a fluid up a narrow tube, which are characteristic of liquids that can absorb carbon dioxide. This is an important consideration for future longer-duration space missions where improved efficiency will support crews over many months or years.

Microbial biofilms are combinations of microorganisms that embed themselves in a self-produced slimy matrix. Biofilms are of concern for spaceflight because they can cause damage to equipment, are resistant to cleaning agents, and can harbor microorganisms that might cause infections. The ESA (European Space Agency) – Biofilms investigation studies bacterial biofilm formation and antimicrobial properties of different metal surfaces under spaceflight conditions. Antimicrobial surfaces that can inhibit biofilm growth, such as copper and its alloys with and without laser surface treatment, are used in this study. This project provides additional information to help develop suitable antimicrobial surfaces for future spacecraft.

The JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Tanpopo-5 investigation studies the origin, transportation, and survival of life in space and on extraterrestrial planets, such as Mars. The study focuses on exposing a radioresistant bacteria, which are resistant to radiation, and sporophytes of moss, an important piece of the lifecycle of some plants, to the harsh environment of space using the exposed Experiment Bracket Attached on I-SEEP (ExBAS) facility mounted on the outside of station. Results are helping answer key questions of the “panspermia” hypothesis, a theory for the initiation of life on Earth and the transport of life among celestial bodies.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon through NASA’s Artemis missions and eventually Mars.

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