SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon spacecraft into orbit in early April, the company’s eighth mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, CRS-8. The flight will deliver research experiments to the International Space Station that will help investigators test the use of an expandable space habitat in microgravity, assess the impact of antibodies on muscle wasting in a microgravity environment, use microgravity to seek insight into the interactions of particle flows at the nanoscale level and use protein crystal growth in microgravity to help in the design of new drugs to fight disease. Investigations like these demonstrate how the orbiting laboratory helps advance NASA’s journey to Mars while making discoveries off the Earth that can benefit life on Earth.
Future space habitats for low-Earth orbit or in deep space should be lightweight and relatively simple to construct. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is an experimental expandable capsule that attaches to the space station. After installation, the BEAM expands to roughly 13-feet-long and 10.5 feet in diameter to provide a large volume, where a crew member can enter. During the two-year test mission, astronauts will enter the module for a few hours three-to-four times a year to retrieve sensor data and conduct assessments of the module’s condition. There’s a lot more to the research story of CRS-8, and you can read it at http://go.nasa.gov/22riUPJ