SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts Crew-1 to International Space Station: Why it was a big deal

NASA and SpaceX had a rendezvous with history as the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, atop the Falcon 9 rocket, thundered through the sky at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday.

In its tweet, NASA announced the lift off of Crew-1 mission on SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The lift off was historic for both NASA and SpaceX, a space company owned by Elon Musk. It was the first time for NASA to hitch a ride on a commercial spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX also tweeted the historic lift off.

Big deal
SpaceX photo

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carried NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker along with Soichi Noguchi of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to the ISS.

But what’s the big deal?

Before the Crew-1 mission, there was Expedition 1. These historic International Space Station missions 20 years apart have the same goals. That is to advance humanity by using the space station to learn how to explore farther than ever before, while also conducting research and technology demonstrations benefiting life back on Earth.

The Crew-1 astronauts and fellow Expedition 64 NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will conduct hundreds of microgravity studies during their mission. They will also deliver new science hardware and experiments carried to space with them inside Crew Dragon.

Here are the list of research the astronauts will work on during their stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Food Physiology

Spaceflight affects our bodies in numerous ways, including how our immune system functions. The Food Physiology investigation documents the effects of dietary improvements on immune function and the gut microbiome and how those improvements can help crews adapt to spaceflight. A better understanding of food’s effects on physiology in microgravity can help scientists continue to improve the spaceflight diet and crew health.

Genes in Space-7

Also launched aboard Crew Dragon is a student-designed experiment, Genes in Space-7. While attending Troy High School in Troy, Michigan, students Finsam Samson and Yujie Wang proposed a study of neural function aboard the space station as a part of the Genes in Space competition. Samson and Wang’s winning experiment aims to better understand how spaceflight affects brain function, enabling scientists to keep astronauts healthy as they prepare for long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond.

Growing radishes in space

A new crop awaits Crew-1 aboard the space station. Radish seeds launched aboard Northrop Grumman’s 14th commercial resupply mission will be tended to by the soon-to-be space farmers as a part of Plant Habitat-02.

When astronauts travel to the Moon and Mars, they are likely to grow edible plants to supplement food brought from Earth. To produce nutritious food in space, we need to understand how the differences in gravity, atmosphere, and soil conditions affect the way plants grow.

Microscopic microgravity miners

Microscopic miners are going to work in space. Microbes that interact with rock have many potential uses in future space exploration. They could help create life support systems that use regolith (the dust-like material on the surface of the Moon and other planets), break down rocks into soils for plant growth, and extract useful minerals from rocks. Gravity may affect how microbes and rocks interact.

Tissue Chips

Tissue chips are thumb drive-sized devices that contain human cells in a 3D matrix, simulating the functions of an organ. They represent a giant leap in the ability of scientists to test how those cells respond to stresses, drugs, and genetic changes.

A series of investigations to test tissue chips in microgravity aboard the space station is planned during Crew-1’s mission through a collaboration between the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the ISS National Laboratory (ISSNL) in partnership with NASA.

The Tissue Chips in Space initiative seeks to better understand the role of microgravity on human health and disease and to translate that understanding to improved human health on Earth.

An experiment with heart

Microgravity affects heart tissues; some of the changes have the potential to pose a risk on future long-duration space missions. An investigation known as Cardinal Heart is designed to study changes in cardiovascular cells and tissues in microgravity using engineered heart tissues (EHTs).

The investigation could help establish ways to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight. This work also could help identify how heart diseases develop on Earth and better ways to treat them.

In addition, it advances the potential of EHTs to serve as a way to monitor systemic changes in diseased versus healthy individuals. Understanding this could help develop new ways to develop countermeasures.

Testing a cool space suit

Astronauts on spacewalks outside the space station are vulnerable to wide temperature variations if not for the protection from their spacesuits. Those variations become more extreme as we explore the lunar surface.

Spacesuits must insulate crew members from the outside environment while regulating any heat generated by the astronaut and equipment inside the suit. NASA’s next generation spacesuit, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), will use evaporation of water to remove heat from astronauts and maintain appropriate temperatures.

To accomplish these, the astronauts have to get there in the ISS, which takes about eight hours from launch time. (amm)

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