Not that many oceans out there in the universe, huh? After five weeks of collecting critical cargo for NASA, SpaceX Dragon finally returned home to Earth earlier this week, on Thursday, and landed straight into the Pacific Ocean.
The robotic SpaceX Dragon supply ship brought back with it 3.100 pounds (1.400 kilograms) of samples, experiments and equipment from the International Space Station (ISS). The landing marked the end the longest-lasting Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station that we’ve had so far.
The cargo is of grave importance to NASA as it contains research on how spaceflight and microgravity affect a person’s ageing process and bone health. NASA gave a statement informing of one such experiment: “The returning Space Aging study, for example, examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms”.
ISS astronauts have been growing roundworms in an attempt to analyze how the lack of gravity helps or hinders their development. The data will serve as a basis for calculating and understanding how humans could survive in orbit. The roundworms grow up to be about a millimeter long.
Another study examines how the microgravity environment affects the worms’ muscle fibers, an experiment that’s meant to help researchers understand mitigating muscle loss in astronauts during long-lasting missions.
Julie Robinson, NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, gave a statement explaining that “Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts”.
She went on to say that NASA scientists investigate solutions on the station, with the goal of not only keeping their astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions, but to also help people on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness.
The Dragon, the only supply ship capable of returning to Earth intact, was launched from the International Space Station early Thursday morning at 7:04 a.m. EDT (1104 GMT) and made it back home in just a few short hours.
It landed in the ocean around 12:42 p.m. ET (1642 GMT), about 155 miles (249 km) southwest of Long Beach, California. It was quickly pulled out of the water and it now patiently awaits to be taken home to SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas-based test facility.
The spacecraft was mounted atop a Falcon 9 rocket and launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 14. It arrived at the International Space Station three days later, carrying a load of food and various supplies for the ISS astronauts.
On a side note, each astronaut typically lives on the International Space Station for about six months at a time. But two volunteers, American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, have offered to spend a whole year at the lab in order to test the limits of the human mind and body, in hope of helping scientists understand how to better prepare for longer, deep space missions.
SpaceX’s next launch to the International Space Station is set to take place on June 26, 2015.
Image Source: nbcnews.com