The International Space Station is more than just a home for astronauts; it’s a unique research platform in low Earth orbit that supports hundreds of scientific experiments and technology demonstrations. Advances in space station science help prepare people for long-duration space travel to the Moon and Mars while improving life on Earth. The 29th SpaceX commercial resupply services (CRS) mission, scheduled for launch on November 5, will deliver several projects to the orbiting laboratory.
The uncrewed Dragon spacecraft will carry several projects from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the ISS. During its stay at the station, it will also transfer the crew from one Soyuz spacecraft to another for next week’s six-hour and 19-minute spacewalk.
For the ISS External Microorganisms investigation, astronauts will collect samples from exterior ISS vents. Scientists will analyze their DNA back on Earth to see how different microorganisms grow in space compared to those on Earth. This will help researchers understand what kinds of microorganisms can survive in outer space, which could be important for future space exploration and life support systems.
A new way to detect and monitor human blood flow in space will make studying the effects of long-duration space travel on astronauts’ health easier. The Vascular Echo system uses electrodes and ultrasound to scan astronauts’ heart, neck, shoulder, and leg veins to study blood flow in space. Scientists can use this new system to identify and diagnose blood flow issues in the astronauts’ legs, arms, and head. This could lead to better treatments on Earth for conditions like hypertension and chronic venous insufficiency or even prevent the conditions from occurring at all.
Astronauts will use the SpaceX Dragon to fly to the space station in 2022, a pair of new roll-out solar arrays based on a design tested and built at the lab. The unpressurized trunk section of the Dragon will store two of the arrays, which will be installed on the station by astronauts during a series of spacewalks this summer.
Researchers have developed several tests to assess the immune system to keep astronauts healthy and ready for long-duration space travel. The Immuno experiment will use questionnaires, blood samples, and temperature readings to investigate the impact of time in space on the immune system and how it responds to stress.
Another experiment exploits weightlessness to grow three-dimensional organs in space. Scientists hope this could eventually be used to treat patients needing organ transplants but without healthy donors on Earth.
Finally, the Crew Comfort study will try to improve astronaut sleep by studying how light and other factors affect human circadian rhythms in space. The results may help us develop better spacecraft cabins and aid in recovering crew members who suffer from jetlag after returning to Earth.
SpaceX and other companies are revolutionizing how we reach space, building a solid American commercial industry while freeing NASA to focus on developing the next-generation rockets and vehicles that will enable us to travel farther in space than ever. This partnership is helping to make it possible to take the next step in human spaceflight, and we look forward to continuing to work with our commercial partners on the journey ahead.