SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 4:21 p.m. EDT (1:21 p.m PDT), approximately 300 miles southwest of Long Beach, California, marking the end of the company’s 18th contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. The spacecraft returned more than 2,700 pounds of valuable scientific experiments and other cargo.
Some of the scientific investigations Dragon will return to Earth include:
Bio-Mining in Microgravity
The Biorock investigation provides insight into the physical interactions of liquid, rocks and microorganisms in microgravity and improving the efficiency and understanding of mining materials in space. Bio-mining eventually could help explorers on the Moon or Mars get needed materials on site, lessening the need for precious resources from Earth and reducing the amount of supplies explorers must take with them.
Mechanisms of Moss in Microgravity
Space Moss compares mosses grown aboard the space station with those grown on Earth to determine how microgravity affects its growth, development, and other characteristics. Tiny plants without roots, mosses need only a small area for growth, an advantage for their potential use in space and future bases on the Moon or Mars. This investigation also could yield information that aids in engineering other plants to grow better on the Moon and Mars, as well as on Earth.
Improving Tire Manufacturing from Orbit
The Goodyear Tire investigation uses microgravity to push the limits of silica fillers for tire applications. A better understanding of silica morphology and the relationship between silica structure and its properties could provide improvements for increased fuel efficiency, which would reduce transportation costs and help to protect Earth’s environment.
These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations aimed at keeping astronauts healthy during space travel and demonstrating technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, including missions to the Moon by 2024 and on to Mars. Space station research also provides opportunities for other U.S. government agencies, private industry, and academic and research institutions to conduct microgravity research that leads to new technologies, medical treatments, and products that improve life on Earth.
For more than 18 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 230 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,500 research investigations from researchers in 106 countries.