Space Capsule Returns To Earth Carrying Over 3,000 Pounds Of Scientific Research Samples

A space capsule returned to earth Friday loaded with more than 3,000 pounds of scientific research from the International Space Station.

Dubbed as the SpaceX Dragon, the space capsule landed on the Pacific, just off Baja California coast in Mexico, according to Associated Press aerospace writer Marcia Dunn. Included in the capsule were 12 mice used for aerospace genetic study.

Confirming Dragon’s return to earth and “the thousands of pounds of NASA science and research cargo” it carried, SpaceX tweeted, “Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed.”

Releasing the space capsule from the International Space Station using a big robot arm were American astronaut Kate Rubins, a cancer biologist commissioned by NASA to sequence DNA in space, and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, Dunn said.

In this frame grab taken from NASA Television, a SpaceX Dragon capsule, right, separates from a robotic arm of the International Space Station en route back to Earth. [Photo by NASA/AP Images]
According to a blog post on NASA’s official website, “The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 6:11 a.m. EDT.”

A follow up report from NASA revealed that the “Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to a port near Los Angeles, where some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA immediately. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.”

Included in the load of scientific research that came with the space capsule were experiment samples “from the Heart Cells study, which is looking at how microgravity affects human heart cells.”

“The U.S. National Laboratory investigation is studying how microgravity changes the human heart, and how those changes vary between individuals,” the report said, noting that it is particularly concerned with deep space missions to Mars, “which creates increased risk of health problems such as muscle atrophy, including possible atrophy of the heart muscle.”

“Heart cells cultured aboard the space station for one month will be analyzed for cellular and molecular changes. Results could advance the study of heart disease and the development of drugs and cell replacement therapy,” the NASA report added.

Also included were samples from “two rodent-based investigations, the Mouse Epigenetics and Rodent Research-3-Eli Lilly experiments,” which, according to NASA, “is useful for showing how much shorter stays by mice in the low-Earth environment can be used to infer how similar conditions may affect future human exploration.”

In addition, samples from the Multi-Omics experiment, which also came aboard the space capsule, may help researchers “to identify bacterial or metabolic biomarkers that could be useful for astronaut health management, and therefore future human exploration of the solar system,” NASA said.

In this frame from NASA TV, the SpaceX Dragon capsule arrives at the International Space Station bearing supplies. [Photo by NASA/AP Images]
Launched on July 18 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the space capsule carried more than 5,000 pounds of gear for aerospace scientific research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware, reaching the International Space Station “after a smooth two-day rendezvous,” recalled William Harwood of CBS News, also noting the capsule’s new docking mechanism for commercial crew ships built by SpaceX and Boeing.

Besides its scientific mission, the space capsule was also sent for SpaceX’s and Boeing’s commercial purposes “to begin crew delivery services in a year or two, a task that’s currently handled by the Russian space agency,” according to Lonnie Shehtman of The Christian Science Monitor.

Rubins, together with Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams, the American astronaut who spent the most days in space, are expected to take a spacewalk on September 1 “to retract a thermal-control radiator that is no longer operable and to install at least one high-definition camera onto the station’s exterior… to protect it from space debris and preserve it as a spare for the station,” Samantha Mathewson of reported.

[Photo by NASA/AP Images]

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