HOUSTON (NASA PR) — SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, Sept. 17, west of Baja California, with more than 3,800 pounds of NASA cargo, research experiments and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.
The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to Long Beach, California, where some cargo will be removed immediately for return to NASA. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for final processing.
A variety of technological and biological studies are returning in Dragon. The Lung Tissue experiment used the microgravity environment of space to test strategies for growing new lung tissue. The ultimate goal of this investigation is to produce bioengineered human lung tissue that can be used as a predictive model of human responses allowing for the study of lung development, lung physiology or disease pathology.
Samples from the CASIS PCG 7 study used the orbiting laboratory’s microgravity environment to grow larger versions of an important protein implicated in Parkinson’s disease. Developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Anatrace and Com-Pac International, researchers will look to take advantage of the station’s microgravity environment which allows protein crystals to grow larger and in more perfect shapes than earth-grown crystals, allowing them to be better analyzed on Earth. Defining the exact shape and morphology of LRRK2 would help scientists to better understand the pathology of Parkinson’s and aid in the development of therapies against this target.
Mice from NASA’s Rodent Research-9 study also will return live to Earth for additional study. The investigation combined three studies into one mission, with two looking at how microgravity affects blood vessels in the brain and in the eyes and the third looking at cartilage loss in hip and knee joints. For humans on Earth, research related to limited mobility and degrading joints can help scientists understand how arthritis develops, and a better understanding of the visual impairments experienced by astronauts can help identify causes and treatments for eye disorders.
Dragon currently is the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth. The spacecraft lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 14 carrying about 6,400 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on the company’s twelfth commercial resupply mission to the station.
For more than 16 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,100 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.