The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully connected to the Harmony module yesterday, bringing to the International Space Station (ISS) a bounty of state-of-the-art scientific experiments, supplies, and also a sweet treat for the astronauts.
The module has freezers equipped to carry samples down to Earth, but it would not be efficient to send those up empty, so the resupply team stocked those with chocolate, vanilla, and frosting flavored ice cream. The cherry on top of the regular provisions.
The dessert special delivery could have also been inspired by the excellent backronym of one of the new experiments. ISS-CREAM, or the International Space Station Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass, will study cosmic rays and hopefully answer questions about their origins. High-energy cosmic rays are thought to mostly form in supernovae but scientists are still unsure if and in what amount these are produced by other sources. The sophisticated detector will try and work out the history of cosmic rays in the Milky Way.
The astronauts will also be testing Kestrel Eye, a new microsatellite equipped with an optical imaging system. The investigation will assess if this approach could be useful for a more extensive Earth-monitoring system from space. Also, being microsatellites they can be manufactured and sent into orbit for less money.
The crew will also conduct important biological experiments. One of them will focus on growing a particular protein, Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), in microgravity condition. Scientists believe that the protein can play a role in Parkinson’s diseases and they want to study it better. Since the ISS is in constant free-fall, nothing there has to fight the pesky effects of gravity so the proteins can be grown in larger and better shapes.
Similar reasoning is behind another experiment, this one about growing lung tissue from stem cells. Scientists will grow generalized stem cells into specialized lung cells and note whether gravity (or a lack of it) changes how quickly the tissue grows.
This was the 12th commercial resupply mission to the ISS and delivered almost 3,000 kilograms (6,400 pounds) of stock and scientific payload. Dragon will now be loaded with samples and returned to Earth in mid-September.