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French wine, live rodents in a 2-ton cargo returned from the space station – now space flight

SpaceX’s “Cargo Dragon” space shuttle departed from the International Space Station on Tuesday. Image source: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

On Wednesday night, a SpaceX Cargo Dragon capsule landed on a target west of Tampa, and returned from the International Space Station more than two tons of experimental specimens, including live rodents and a dozen bottles of space-age French wine.

The commercial auto-supply ship flew on an autopilot and departed from orbit on Wednesday night and re-entered over the Gulf of Mexico. A series of parachutes were deployed to reduce the descent speed of the capsule to a relatively moderate speed so that a SpaceX recovery vessel was on standby to pull the spacecraft out of the sea during a splash west of Tampa.

The return trip ended the 38-day mission of the “Cargo Dragon”, the first of the new SpaceX supply ships to provide services to the International Space Station. The upgraded Cargo Dragon or Dragon 2 replaces SpaceX’s first-generation Dragon capsule fleet, which made its last flight in early 2020.

SpaceX confirmed the successful elimination of the cargo dragon through a tweet. NASA and SpaceX did not provide any real-time reports of the capsule’s return to Earth. A NASA WB-57 airborne imaging aircraft flew over the recovery area to capture images of the cargo dragon returning and splashing.

NASA issued a statement on Wednesday night confirming that the capsule splashed down at 8:26 pm Eastern Standard Time (0126 GMT).

Cargo Dragon docked from the space station at 9:05 a.m. Eastern Time (1405 GMT), one day later than originally planned. Due to bad weather in Daytona Beach’s northeast Atlantic Ocean’s main recovery area, SpaceX and NASA managers delayed the return time.

According to a NASA spokesperson, the dragon returned to Earth with 4,414 pounds (2,002 kilograms) of cargo.

The new Cargo Dragon capsule is derived from SpaceX’s human-rated Crew Dragon spacecraft, which transports astronauts to and from the space station. Upgraded cargo dragon capsules (such as the “Crew Dragon”) are designed to splash off the coast of Florida, closer to SpaceX’s Dragon renovation facility at the Cape Canaveral space force station.

Due to its proximity to Cape Canaveral, SpaceX can return time-sensitive cargo to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in just four to nine hours. Past “Dragon” missions ended with splashes in the Pacific Ocean in Baja California, California, and it took several days to transfer the space station research specimens to NASA.

The “Go Navigator” recovery vessel composed of SpaceX technicians and engineers should lift the capsule to its deck after splashing. The SpaceX team plans to unload time-critical scientific specimens, then place them on a helicopter and fly to Kennedy Space Center overnight.

According to NASA, the helicopter will arrive at Kennedy’s launch and landing facility, and the cargo will be trucked to a nearby space station processing facility.

Scientists there will receive specimens to begin analysis. NASA said that after a quick review of Kennedy’s SSPF, some of the materials will be shipped to research teams in California, Texas, Massachusetts, Japan and other regions.

When the scientific specimens returned to space, they were sent back to Kennedy so quickly, which brought them back to the space shuttle program, when the mission was to transport the cargo directly to the Florida spaceport.

Kennedy Space Center Utilization Project Manager Jennifer Wahlberg said in a statement: “I am very happy to finally see science come back here again because we can integrate these time-sensitive experiments faster than ever. Bring it into the laboratory.” “In the space shuttle era, we are really proud of sending science to space and receiving it again on the runway. This is something we are truly proud of. We can rejoin the process. that is really good.”

NASA stated that the experiments carried home on the “Huolong” included live mice as part of the “Rodent Research” 23 investigation, which studied the function of the arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures of the eye, as well as the effects before and after space flight. Retina changes.

Scientists are seeking insights about whether these changes affect vision. NASA says that at least 40% of astronauts will experience visual impairment during long space flights.

Jennifer Buheli, deputy chief scientist for the International Space Station Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said: “Rodent Research 23 aims to start studying the gravity re-adaptation response of rodents as soon as possible, making it an ideal candidate for this flight.”

Also on the freight dragon: 12 bottles of Bordeaux wine and 320 grapes.

These wine bottles have been on the space station for more than a year since they were launched on the Northrop Grumman Cygnus supply ship at the end of 2019. Now back on Earth, some of the wine bottles will be opened for exclusive tasting, and researchers will begin to conduct more scientific analysis of some wines to measure the aging conditions after 14 months under microgravity.

Scientists will observe the branches of grape vines called “vines” to assess how they can withstand the effects of radiation and low-gravity environments. One of the goals of a privately funded experiment led by a Luxembourg startup called Space Cargo Unlimited is to understand how plants adapt to space pressure.

Infinite Space Cargo says that grapes and wineries are susceptible to climate change, and the results of the space station experiment may provide lessons for how to grow grapes in the harsher environment on Earth.

Researchers at Stanford University also conducted a biomedical experiment to study how microgravity affects cardiovascular cells. The experiment developed by Japanese scientists proved that human stem cells grow 3D organ buds in space.

NASA’s patch for SpaceX’s 21st space station resupply mission. Image source: NASA

Other experiments returning to Earth include a payload led by researchers at Texas State University, which aims to identify bacterial genes used in the growth of biofilms. This investigation investigated whether these biofilms would corrode stainless steel, and evaluated the effectiveness of silver-based disinfectants to help designers of long-life spacecraft in the future.

The materials demonstrated by optical fiber production technology are also used in Cargo Dragon. NASA said that scientists and engineers will examine the fiber optic materials made on the space station to see if they match the prediction that fibers produced in space are “much better than those produced on Earth.”

The internal volume of the upgraded “Cargo Dragon” spacecraft is larger than that of SpaceX’s first-generation “Dragon” cargo ship, which will fly the space station for the last time in 2020. Its dynamic locking capability is also twice that of the previous “Dragon” spacecraft, and can support up to 12 such spacecraft. The return of the locker to the earth adds the ability to bring back frozen and refrigerated samples.

“Using the previous “Dragon” spacecraft, it may take 48 hours to return the capsule to Long Beach, California from the time the capsule hits the water on the Pacific Ocean. Then, we started distributing these samples in about four to five hours. ,” said Mary Walsh, head of utilization flight at the Kennedy Research Integration Office. “Now we will have the early return science and give it to the researchers within four to nine hours after the splash.”

“The ability to quickly recover science is very important for space biology because we want to understand whether the impact on the orbit we are trying to measure is due to microgravity conditions or due to the pressure that participants or samples may see when landing,” NASA chief Space Station Project Scientist Kurt Costello said. “Therefore, getting those people to return to Cape really quickly and hand over to our scientists is a huge new capability.”

Other changes introduced by the new Huolong spacecraft include the ability to automatically dock and evacuate from the station. The first-generation Dragon cargo plane was gripped by the station’s robotic arm.

According to SpaceX, Cargo Dragon’s pressurized cabin can be reused five times. The stress-free luggage is disposable, and every cargo dragon mission will have a new luggage flying.

Before launching the brake rocket to get it out of orbit, the cargo dragon abandoned its trunk part and left it in space until atmospheric resistance caused it to re-enter the atmosphere and burn naturally. The capsule also closed a nose cone to cover its docking port before returning to the atmosphere.

The Cargo Dragon was launched from the Kennedy Space Center of NASA (Florida) on December 6, with the Falcon 9 rocket. On the second day, the space capsule arrived at the space station through a new docking port on the zenith (or upward) side of the “harmony” module that was automatically connected to the research outpost.

It provided countless experiments to the space station and provided commercial airlocks for Nanoracks, a company based in Houston that plans to use additional equipment to deploy small satellites, process garbage, and conduct research.

Since 2012, under a multi-billion-dollar contract with NASA, the “Cargo Dragon” mission is SpaceX’s 21st replenishment flight to the space station.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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