Thursday, May 21, 2015

SpaceX Dragon Capsule Returns To Earth From International Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - After ferrying more than two tons of supplies and scientific cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) when it lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:42 p.m. EDT on May 15 with nearly 3,100 pounds of ISS return cargo.

The return cargo included research on how spaceflight and microgravity in space affect the aging process and bone health.

The Space Aging study examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms. By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age.

The Dragon also returned samples for the Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation which examines the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes - the most common cells in bone. 

NASA said in a statement that understanding the effects of microgravity on osteocytes will be critical as astronauts plan for future missions that require longer exposure to microgravity, including the space agency's journey to Mars. The results derived from Osteo-4 may also have implications for patients on Earth who suffer from bone disorders related to disuse or immobilization, as well as metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis.

"Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts," said Julie Robinson, NASA's chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. "We investigate solutions on the station not only to keep astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions but also to help those on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness."

The Dragon will be transported by ship approximately 155 miles northeast of its splashdown location to Long Beach, California where the cargo will be removed and returned to NASA. The spacecraft then will be prepared for its trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas for processing.

SpaceX's next launch of a Dragon spacecraft carrying cargo to the ISS is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 26, 2015.

Image Credit: SpaceX