Treasure Trove Of Scientific Experiments Returning From ISS On SpaceX Dragon Capsule Sunday
May 16, 2014

Treasure Trove Of Scientific Experiments Returning From ISS On SpaceX Dragon Capsule Sunday

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Everyone knows that April showers bring May flowers. But for SpaceX, April launches bring May research returns.

On May 18, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is scheduled to return to Earth, after spending a month docked with the International Space Station. The capsule was part of the space launch company’s third contracted supply mission to the station, carrying food, water, supplies and scientific equipment to the orbiting space crew.

While docked at the station’s Harmony module (Node 2), the ISS crew loaded the capsule with waste, unused equipment and lab experiments that can be analyzed upon the return to American soil. When the spacecraft returns home, it will serve as a high point for the scientists who have investigations returning to Earth and who are eager to complete their scientific studies.

When Dragon makes splashdown, it will be carrying more than 1,600 pounds of scientific supplies. These supplies include everything from biology samples to biotechnology and physical science investigations, as well as human research.

"While some of this data can be obtained by on orbit analysis, many analysis techniques have not been miniaturized or modified to allow them to be performed on orbit, which means sample return is the only way to obtain this data," Marybeth Edeen, space station research integration office deputy manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement.

Here are some of the more notable studies that will be returning home:

  • The Antibiotic Effectiveness in Space (AES-1) study examines drug-resistant bacteria to determine gene expression patterns and changes in microgravity. The study uses E. coli to better understand the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight.
  • The MicroRNA Expression Profiles in Cultured Human Fibroblasts in Space (Micro-7) study is the first space investigation to study the effect of microgravity on DNA damage and repair in human fibroblasts – the non-dividing cells that make up most of the human body. Understanding how these cells function in microgravity advances knowledge of changes to organs, tissues and the entire body during spaceflight.
  • Two experiments came from the Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) space station facility. The BRIC-18-1 experiment from the University of Florida in Gainesville was an attempt to grow antibiotic-resistant versions of two common bacteria – Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus epidermidis – in space. These bacteria will be compared to ground control samples for evidence of possible spaceflight-induced mutations. The BRIC-18-2 experiment from Michigan State University in East Lansing focused on the growth and development of seedlings exposed to the stresses of space environment, such as gravitational changes, radiation, vibration and limited gas exchanges. The seedlings will help Earth-based researchers develop solutions on stress management in space, for both microorganisms and humans.
  • The Advanced Plant Experiments-02-2 (APEX-02-2) samples will undergo radiation assessments once they return to Earth. The study employed the common Saccharomyces cerevisiae brewing yeast to observe cell adaptation to the unique aspects of the space environment. By identifying specific mechanisms regulated within the regions of genes that respond to growth in microgravity, scientists hope to identify factors associated with how genetic information is transferred.
  • Researchers are also awaiting the return of the T-Cell Activation in Space investigation, hoping to identify a defect in T-cell activation during microgravity exposure. Our immune systems protect us from disease, and T-cells are the first cells in the immune system to be mobilized when illness is introduced to the body. T-cells are activated to fight foreign antigens and help the body return to a healthy status. This research can help in understanding and treating a range of auto-immune diseases such as arthritis and diabetes. Identifying the defect in T-cell activation in microgravity may someday help to inhibit the decline of the immune system as a normal part of the aging process.

These are but a few of the many experiments that will be returning on Dragon on May 18. With these May research returns to Earth, more scientific discovery may be possible.

“With discovery comes inspiration for follow-up investigations as well as brand new ideas and approaches to address. With the Dragon’s help, and the help of other resupply vehicles which deliver scientific investigations to the orbital laboratory, these ideas can take flight aboard the space station,” NASA said in a statement.