SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft Docks With ISS Delivering Science Benefiting Humans

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The Pressurized Capsule of the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship with its nose cone open is pictured as the vehicle departs the International Space Station on January 23, 2022. Credit: NASA

While the International Space Station (ISS) was traveling in Orbit more than 267 miles over the South Atlantic Ocean, the[{” attribute=””>SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the forward-facing port of the station’s Harmony module at 11:21 a.m. EDT (8:21 a.m. PDT) today (July 16, 2022), with SpaceX Dragon Resupply Ship Approaches ISS Sunrise

The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship approaches the space station during an orbital sunrise above the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA TV

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

Dust From Northwest Africa Blows Over Canary Islands

Dust from northwest Africa blows over the Canary Islands in this image captured by the NOAA-20 satellite on January 14. An upcoming NASA mission, the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT), will help scientists better understand the role of airborne dust in heating and cooling the atmosphere. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Mapping Earth’s dust

Developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) employs NASA imaging spectroscopy technology to measure the mineral composition of dust in Earth’s arid regions. Mineral dust blown into the air can travel significant distances and affect Earth’s climate, weather, vegetation, and more. For instance, an area may be warmed by dust made of dark minerals that absorb sunlight, whereas a region might be cooled by dust made of light-colored minerals. Air quality, surface conditions including the speed at which snow melts, and ocean phytoplankton health are all impacted by blowing dust. For the duration of a year, the investigation will collect images to generate maps of the mineral composition in the dust-producing regions on Earth. Such mapping could advance our understanding of how mineral dust affects human populations now and in the future.

Tissue Chips for Immunosenescence Investigation

Pre-flight preparation of tissue chips for the Immunosenescence investigation, which studies the effects of microgravity on immune function to determine the mechanisms behind immune system aging. Credit: Sonja Schrepfer, University of California San Francisco

Speedier immune system aging

Immunosenescence is the changes in the immune system due to aging. Microgravity causes changes in human immune cells that resemble immunosenescence, but they happen much faster than the actual process of aging on Earth. Sponsored by ISS National Lab, the Immunosenescence investigation, uses tissue chips to study how microgravity affects immune function during flight and whether immune cells recover post-flight. Tissue chips are small devices that contain human cells in a 3D structure, that allow researchers to test how those cells respond to stresses, drugs, and genetic changes.

“Immune aging impacts tissue stem cells and their ability to repair tissues and organs,” says principal investigator Sonja Schrepfer, professor of surgery at University of California San Francisco (UCSF). “Our studies aim to understand critical pathways to prevent and to reverse aging of immune cells.”

“Spaceflight conditions enable the study of immune aging that would not be feasible in the lab,” says co-investigator Tobias Deuse, professor of surgery at UCSF. This work could support development of treatments for immune system aging on Earth. The investigation also could support development of methods to protect astronauts during future long-duration spaceflight.

The 25th SpaceX cargo resupply services mission (SpaceX CRS-25) carrying scientific research and technology demonstrations to the International Space Station launched on July 14 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Experiments aboard the Dragon Capsule include studies of the immune system, wound healing, soil communities, and cell-free biomarkers, along with mapping the composition of Earth’s dust and testing an alternative to concrete. Credit: NASA

Small satellites, big science

Five CubeSats launched on this mission Sponsored by NASA’s Launch Services Program, including BeaverCube, which launched to the space station for deployment into low-Earth orbit. Multiple cameras are employed by the small satellite including one that takes color images of Earth’s Oceans and two that collect thermal images of cloud tops and the ocean surface. Cloud top and ocean surface temperatures help researchers understand Earth’s climate and weather systems. The collected data also help scientists improve their understanding of the ocean’s concentration of phytoplankton, an important factor in the generation of atmospheric oxygen.

“Most Earth observation missions primarily image over land, focusing on populated areas and targets of interest. BeaverCube will focus on Imaging Oceans and coastal regions, combining thermal images with visible images to help us better understand ocean fronts,” says principal investigator Kerri Cahoy, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ([{” attribute=””>MIT). “BeaverCube also plans to demonstrate electrospray propulsion, to understand its performance before and after drag forces begin to significantly affect the spacecraft and we deorbit.”

DynaMoS

Preparation of sample tubes for DynaMoS, which examines how microgravity affects metabolic interactions in communities of soil microbes. Each tube contains chitin and sterile soil inoculated with a community of microbes. Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Soil in space

Complex communities of microorganisms carry out key functions in soil on Earth, including supporting plant growth and cycling of carbon and other nutrients. DynaMoS, an investigation sponsored by NASA’s Division of Biological and Physical Sciences (BPS), examines how microgravity affects metabolic interactions in communities of soil microbes. This research focuses on microbe communities that decompose chitin, a natural carbon polymer on Earth.

“Soil microorganisms carry out beneficial functions that are essential for life on our planet,” says principal investigator Janet K. Jansson, chief scientist and laboratory fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “To harness these beneficial activities for future space missions, we need to understand more about how conditions in space, like microgravity and radiation, influence these microbes and the beneficial functions that they provide. Perhaps in the future, we will use beneficial soil microbes to enhance growth of crops on the lunar surface.”

Improved understanding of the function of soil microorganism communities also could reveal ways to optimize these communities to support agricultural production on Earth.

Selin Kocalar

Selin Kocalar, the student who designed the experiment on which Genes in Space-9 is based, prepares her samples for launch. Credit: Genes in Space

Genes, no cells

Cell-free technology is a platform for producing protein without specialized equipment of living cells that need to be cultured. Genes in Space-9, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, demonstrates cell-free production of protein in microgravity and evaluates two cell-free biosensors that can detect specific target molecules. This technology could provide a simple, portable, and low-cost tool for medical diagnostics, on-demand production of medicine and vaccines, and environmental monitoring on future space missions.

“Biosensors are a class of synthetic biology tools with immense potential for spaceflight applications in contaminant detection, environmental monitoring, and point-of-care diagnostics,” said Selin Kocalar, student winner of Genes in Space 2021. “This investigation seeks to validate their use aboard the space station. If it is successful, Genes in Space-9 will lay the foundation for downstream applications of biosensors for space exploration and resource-limited settings on Earth.”

Genes in Space, an annual research competition, challenges students in grades 7 through 12 to design Biopolymer Research for In-Situ Capabilities

Flight hardware for the Biopolymer Research for In-Situ Capabilities, an investigation of how microgravity affects the process of creating a concrete alternative made with an organic material and on-site materials such as lunar or Martian dust. Each module makes two bricks, for a total of six bricks made in space. Credit: James Wall

Better concrete

Biopolymer Research for In-Situ Capabilities looks at how microgravity affects the process of creating a concrete alternative made with an organic material and on-site materials such as lunar or Martian dust, known as a biopolymer soil composite (BPC). Using resources available where construction takes place makes it possible to increase the mass of the construction material and, therefore, the amount of shielding.

“Astronauts on the Moon and

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