SpaceX Dragon cargo ship heads to Earth packed with gravity-sensitive experiments

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo refueling spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station packed with science experiments after a month in the orbiting lab.

The capsule, at 4,600 lbs. (2,900 kilograms) of material to return to Earth, undocked at 9:12 a.m. EDT (1312 GMT) on Thursday (September 30) as the station traveled over the Pacific Ocean. NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough monitored from inside the dome of the International Space Station as the capsule, commanded by ground controllers at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, detached from the station’s Harmony module and fired up its thrusters.

“I want to give a huge thank you to the SpaceX and NASA teams for bringing us this vehicle in great shape, with lots of science and surprise for the ISS,” Kimbrough said during a NASA live broadcast. “Activities associated with SpaceX 23 have kept our crew busy for the past month. We look forward to hearing the results of the payloads we interact with. Have a safe journey back to Earth.”

The capsule then moved to a safe distance from the station and performed a series of burns that sent it toward Earth.

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A shot of the SpaceX CRS-23 Dragon cargo capsule leaving the International Space Station on September 30, 2021. (Image credit: NASA TV)

The spacecraft will land off the coast of Florida around 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT on October 1). The capsule will then be transported to the NASA Space Station Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, which is located a short distance from the landing site.

This short distance is especially important for this shipment, as the capsule carries microgravity experiments that could be affected if exposed to the planet’s gravity in an unprotected environment for a longer period of time, NASA officials wrote in a statement. .

Many of the experiments are biomedical, including some focused on the evolution of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and type 2 diabetes, as well as others that examine muscle atrophy and gene expression in space.

Researchers will do a rapid first evaluation of biological samples upon arrival at the processing facility before exposure to gravity alters the results. The researchers will then conduct more in-depth analyzes in their home labs.

The departing Dragon spacecraft had been docked at the space station since August 30. The capsule, launched Aug. 29 from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, was SpaceX’s 23rd Commercial Refueling Services mission.

The next Space Station-bound Cargo Dragon is targeting a launch in early December. The docking port on the Harmony module occupied by the CRS-23 capsule will be visited by the upcoming Crew Dragon 3 mission this fall.

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