Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dragon Spacecraft Splashes Down in the Pacific Ocean

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft is seen departing the space station after its release from the space station’s Canadarm2. Credit: NASA TV

SpaceX’s CRS-11 Dragon cargo craft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 8:12 a.m. EDT on July 3, west of Baja California, marking the end of the company’s eleventh contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA.

Expedition 52 astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson of NASA released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station’s robotic arm right on schedule, at 2:41 a.m.

“Dragon’s been an incredible spacecraft,” Fischer said after release. “I could even say it was slathered in awesome sauce. This baby has had almost no problems, which is an incredible feat considering it’s the first reuse of a Dragon vehicle.”

A variety of technological and biological studies are returning in Dragon. The Fruit Fly Lab-02 experiment seeks to better understand the effects of prolonged exposure to microgravity on the heart. Flies are small, with a well-known genetic make-up, and age rapidly, making them good models for heart function studies. This experiment could significantly advance understanding of how spaceflight affects the cardiovascular system and could help develop countermeasures to help astronauts.

Samples from the Systemic Therapy of NELL-1 for osteoporosis will return as part of an investigation using rodents as models to test a new drug that can both rebuild bone and block further bone loss, improving crew health. When people and animals spend extended periods of time in space, they experience bone density loss, or osteoporosis. In-flight countermeasures, such as exercise, prevent it from getting worse, but there isn’t a therapy on Earth or in space that can restore bone density. The results from this ISS National Laboratory-sponsored investigation is built on previous research also supported by the National Institutes for Health and could lead to new drugs for treating bone density loss in millions of people on Earth.

The Cardiac Stem Cells experiment investigated how microgravity affects stem cells and the factors that govern stem cell activity. The study focuses on understanding cardiac stem cell function, which has numerous biomedical and commercial applications. Scientists will also look to apply new knowledge to the design of new stem cell therapies to treat heart disease on Earth.

The Dragon spacecraft launched June 3 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and arrived at the station June 5.

Credit: NASA

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