The 24th SpaceX Cargo Dragon mission to the International Space Station returned with the results of important research conducted on the station. It had been delayed due to poor weather at its designated splashdown site.
Notable cargo includes the Light Microscopy Module (LMM), which was sent to the International Space Station in 2009. Researchers used the LMM to study matter at the microscopic level. Experiments on the LMM included studies of plants in microgravity and observations of colloidal solutions commonly found in consumer products.
InSPACE-4 was also used to study the assembly of tiny structures in colloidal solutions. Researchers could study the results of experiments using a video feed. The research conducted using InSPACE-4 can be used for future applications of nanoparticles to manufacture new materials and sensors for robotics and create thermal shields, sound damping devices, and building foundations.
The Crew Dragon also brought back the European Space Agency’s cytoskeleton experiment. This experiment studied the effect of gravity on cell signaling in the human body. It especially focused on a molecular switch called RhoGTPases, which controls cell division, gene expression, and the cell’s shape.
The Crew Dragon splashed down just off the Floridian coast to allow for the quick delivery of the experiments to the Kennedy Space Center for distribution to researchers.
Current research on the International Space Station includes studies related to cardiovascular health, especially the “aging” of the cardiovascular system. The ongoing Vascular series of studies look more closely at the effect of radiation on cardiovascular health, the possibility of developing insulin resistance in space, and arterial stiffness in astronauts. According to the Canadian Space Agency, these studies could help improve treatment and reduce the risk of serious cardiovascular health issues for the 90% of Canadians who have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke.
The current space station crew is continuing studies on growing crops in microgravity. The current Veggie PONDS experiment tests the growth of crops like “Outredgeous” Red Romaine lettuce and mizuna mustard. The astronauts report that the lettuce is perfectly edible. The study of crops grown in space will lay the groundwork for supporting longer-duration missions like journeys to other planets, including Mars. Farming in space will have to at least partially replace NASA’s current ability to ship food and the occasional treat of fresh fruits and vegetables to the International Space Station. (Yes, this will likely include potatoes.)
SpaceX’s slate of future missions to the International Space Station includes Crew-4, which is scheduled to launch on April 15. This will be the fifth crewed mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew program and sixth crewed mission for SpaceX.
Axiom Space also plans to begin launching private crews to the International Space Station on the Crew Dragon. The first couple of missions will be commanded by veteran NASA astronauts like Peggy Whitson, whose 665 days in space include increments on the space station. Axiom Space plans to start flying missions to the International Space Station later this year to prepare for providing inflatable modules for the space station.