NASA, SpaceX Postpone Undocking of Cargo Dragon

NASA and SpaceX have postponed the undocking of an uncrewed Cargo Dragon from the International Space Station due to unfavorable weather conditions in the planned splashdown site. The new time and date of undocking have yet to be announced.

The Cargo Dragon is the 21st International Space Station resupply mission for SpaceX. It launched on December 6, carrying 6,400 pounds of hardware, new scientific experiments, and supplies for the crew. It rendezvoused with the space station within 24 hours of docking and demonstrated the capacity to autonomously dock with no input from the station crew. Previous resupply missions were docked by the crew using the Canadian-built robotic arm Canadarm2.

It currently contains 5,200 pounds of cargo, including the results of scientific experiments conducted on the space station. Once the Cargo Dragon splashes down and is retrieved, the cargo will be delivered to NASA’s Space Station Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean can make this delivery easier and faster. Previous Cargo Dragon missions splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of California.

Valuable Medical Research to Be Returned

The International Space Station provides a valuable microgravity environment that is difficult to recreate on Earth and can be used for medical research. This includes a study of the effect of microgravity on heart tissue known as Cardinal Heart, which makes use of 3D-printed engineered heart tissues (EHTs). Data from this and similar experiments could help researchers develop improved treatments for heart conditions and improve screening for higher risk of developing serious cardiovascular issues.

Rodent Research-23 is an experiment aimed at better understanding how the eye changes in microgravity. This can help NASA’s physicians gain a better grasp on a condition known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS), in which astronauts’ vision can deteriorate during long-duration missions like the regular six-month intervals on the International Space Station. These changes can impact mission performance and potentially exacerbate hazards in extreme cases in which an astronaut might not be able to see well enough to navigate on the space station.

An International Space Station partner, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has completed the Space Organogenesis experiment, which studied the development of 3D organ buds from human stem cells to analyze changes in gene expression. The researchers behind this experiment hypothesized that microgravity can help cell cultures expand into three dimensions without the need for supportive materials and forces that they would need on Earth. This experiment could lead to improved developments in regenerative medicine and assist with the development of artificial organs.

When the Cargo Dragon finally does undock, it will be live streamed on NASA’s website and on the NASA TV channel on YouTube. The YouTube channel includes a live streaming video that has continuously broadcast a wide variety of live and pre-recorded content since 2018. Besides the Cargo Dragon return, upcoming live events include an event that will include the International Space Station’s Expedition 64 crew and Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Joshua Dobbs on January 15 and a live event with JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who arrived at the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew-1 flight, on January 28.