SpaceX capsule returns space station science to Earth

By  | 

MARCH 20th, 2017 -- SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, March 19, with more than 5,400 pounds of NASA cargo, and science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

Everything from stem cells that could help us understand how human cancers start and spread after being exposed to near zero-gravity, to equipment that is paving the way toward servicing and refueling satellites while they’re in orbit will be on board.

After Dragon is recovered off the west coast of Baja California, some of the cargo will be removed and returned to NASA immediately while Dragon itself is prepared for a return trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas. There, the processing and further unloading of scientific samples and returning station hardware will continue.

A variety of technological and biological studies are returning in Dragon. The Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation had crew members observe cell growth and other characteristics in microgravity. This information will provide insight into how human cancers start and spread, which aids in the development of prevention and treatment plans. Results from this investigation could lead to the treatment of disease and injury in space, as well as provide a way to improve stem cell production for human therapy on Earth.

Samples from the Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect study, a U.S. National Laboratory investigation sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, studied what prevents vertebrates such as rodents and humans from re-growing lost bone and tissue, and how microgravity conditions impact the process. Results will provide a new understanding of the biological reasons behind a human’s inability to grow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to new treatment options for the more than 30 percent of the patient population who do not respond to current options for chronic non-healing wounds.

Several external payloads were removed from the space station and placed in the Dragon’s trunk for disposal. The Optical PAyload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) device tested the potential for using a laser to transmit data to Earth from space, indicating that high speed space to ground optical communications are possible from a fast moving spacecraft. The Materials on International Space Station Experiment tested the radiation tolerance of a computer built from radiation-tolerant material to simulate work for a future long-term space mission. The Robotic Refueling Mission Phase 2 tested new technologies, tools and techniques that could eventually give satellite owners resources to diagnose problems on orbit, repair failures, and keep certain spacecraft instruments performing longer in space.