Teams Work Overnight to Return Time-Sensitive Cargo From Space

From space to the Cardinal Heart team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, critical science was returned in less than six hours from splashdown to the hands of researchers who are studying the effects of gravitational force changes on cardiovascular cells using engineered heart tissues.
From space to the Cardinal Heart team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, critical science was returned in less than six hours from splashdown to the hands of researchers who are studying the effects of gravitational force changes on cardiovascular cells using engineered heart tissues. Photo credit: NASA
: A team worked throughout the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 14, 2020, at the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to process cargo returning from space on the CRS-21 upgraded Dragon and get it back in the hands of researchers.
: A team worked throughout the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 14, 2020, at the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to process cargo returning from space on the CRS-21 upgraded Dragon and get it back in the hands of researchers. Photo credit: NASA

Within hours of the Dragon capsule’s return to Earth, teams from NASA and SpaceX worked to return time-sensitive science investigations directly from space to the hands of researchers, who will spend the next few days conducting final research, tests, and checkouts.

Dragon, loaded with 4,400 pounds of scientific experiments and other cargo from the International Space Station, made its successful parachute-assisted splashdown west of Tampa off the Florida coast, at 8:26 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

After splashdown, SpaceX loaded Dragon aboard their Go Navigator recovery ship and packed an Airbus H225 helicopter with the time-sensitive research cargo for delivery to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The helicopter arrived at the center’s Launch and Landing Facility, formerly known as the Shuttle Landing Facility, late  Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, and SpaceX offloaded the cargo. NASA teams inspected the cargo and transported it to the center’s Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF). The research arrived at the labs in less than six hours from splashdown.

A team worked throughout the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 14, 2020, at the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to process cargo returning from space on the CRS-21 upgraded Dragon and get it back in the hands of researchers.
A team worked throughout the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 14, 2020, at the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to process cargo returning from space on the CRS-21 upgraded Dragon and get it back in the hands of researchers. Photo credit: NASA

“Time is precious to these scientists, and our team plays a critical role in returning their research back to them as quickly as possible and providing them lab space where they can take a look at it immediately, even if that’s at 2 a.m.,” said Jennifer Wahlberg, utilization project manager at Kennedy. “We provide transportation support from the Landing Facility and lab space in the SSPF for researchers who want to work on their time-sensitive science right away, and we can help them pack up their cargo and ship it back to their home facilities to analyze there.”

Wahlberg’s team, which supported the return of cargo on space shuttle missions, will once again have an active role in assisting the cargo recovery team based out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston that has been managing the return of previous cargo Dragons that splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

This splashdown marked the first return of a cargo resupply spacecraft off the coast of Florida, enabling quick transportation to Kennedy to allow researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects.

“We are excited to recover our 3D engineered heart tissues that have been in space for four weeks. We thank our partners, NASA and SpaceX, and we look forward to understanding the biological effects of microgravity on human heart tissues,” said Dr. Joseph C. Wu, professor and director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute in California.

In the coming days, Dragon will arrive aboard SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery ship at the Trident Basin at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, where crews will unload the remaining cargo. As the nation’s premier, multi-user spaceport, Kennedy creates an environment where commercial and governmental space processing and launch activities operate side by side.

Dragon’s journey into space began Dec. 6, 2020, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A. Arriving at the space station just over 24 hours later, the capsule achieved the first autonomous docking of a U.S. commercial cargo resupply spacecraft. Previous cargo Dragon spacecraft had been captured and attached to the space station by astronauts operating the station’s robotic Canadarm2.

The spacecraft delivered more than 6,400 pounds of hardware, research investigations, and crew supplies. The upgraded cargo Dragon capsule also boasts double the powered locker capacity to preserve science samples, allowing for a significant increase in the research that can be carried back to Earth.

Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services at www.nasa.gov/commercialresupply.

SpaceX Dragon Heads to Space Station with NASA Science, Cargo

A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:50 p.m. EST March 6, 2020.
A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:50 p.m. EST March 6, 2020. Photo credit: NASA

A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft is on its way to the International Space Station after launching at 11:50 p.m. EST Friday. Dragon will deliver more than 4,300 pounds of NASA cargo and science investigations, including a new science facility scheduled to be installed to the outside of the station during a spacewalk this spring.

The spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and is scheduled to arrive at the orbital outpost on Monday, March 9. Coverage of the spacecraft’s approach and arrival at the space station will begin at 5:30 a.m. EDT on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Dragon will join three other spacecraft currently at the station. When it arrives, NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan will grapple Dragon, backed up by NASA’s Jessica Meir. Coverage of robotic installation to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module will begin at 8:30 a.m.

Dragon is scheduled to remain at the space station until April 9, when the spacecraft will return to Earth with research and cargo.

This delivery, SpaceX’s 20th cargo flight to the space station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, will support dozens of new and existing investigations. NASA’s research and development work aboard the space station contributes to the agency’s deep space exploration plans, including future Moon and Mars missions.

Here are details about some of the scientific investigations Dragon is delivering:

New Facility Outside the Space Station
The Bartolomeo facility, created by ESA (European Space Agency) and Airbus, attaches to the exterior of the European Columbus Module. Designed to provide new scientific opportunities on the outside of the space station for commercial and institutional users, the facility offers unobstructed views both toward Earth and into space. Potential applications include Earth observation, robotics, material science and astrophysics.

Studying the Human Intestine On a Chip
Organ-Chips as a Platform for Studying Effects of Space on Human Enteric Physiology (Gut on Chip) examines the effect of microgravity and other space-related stress factors on biotechnology company Emulate’s human innervated Intestine-Chip (hiIC). This Organ-Chip device enables the study of organ physiology and diseases in a laboratory setting. It allows for automated maintenance, including imaging, sampling, and storage on orbit and data downlink for molecular analysis on Earth.

Growing Human Heart Cells
Generation of Cardiomyocytes From Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived Cardiac Progenitors Expanded in Microgravity (MVP Cell-03) examines whether microgravity increases the production of heart cells from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). The investigation induces stem cells to generate heart precursor cells and cultures those cells on the space station to analyze and compare with cultures grown on Earth.

These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations providing opportunities for 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. Conducting science aboard the orbiting laboratory will help us learn how to keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.

For almost 20 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. As a global endeavor, 239 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,800 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries.

For more information about the International Space Station, its research, and crew, visit https://www.nasa.gov/station.