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spaceSpace and Physics

The ISS's Latest Delivery Includes Pizza, A Cheese Board, And... Slime Mold

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockAug 11 2021, 16:37 UTC

The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus resupply ship launched on Tuesday, August 10. Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The International Space Station (ISS) is about to get a very interesting delivery. In the latest resupply mission, the seven astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the space station are set to receive some intriguing science experiments, some important cargo, and some delicious supplies.

Gone are the days of existing solely on freeze-dried or vacuum-packed food in space. Among the 3,700-kilogram (8,200-pound) shipments launched on Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo spacecraft on August 10, are fresh fruit, including apples, tomatoes, and kiwis. There is also a pizza kit for seven and even a cheese Smörgåsbord, which had us thinking how difficult it's going to be keeping cheese on a platter in microgravity.

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It's not just snacks that they are getting, of course. If you're delivering pizza to space, you're going to send a lot of science along with it too. After all, the ISS is a unique lab providing insight and testing technologies that benefit both life on Earth and life in space. In fact, one of the new studies is called Cardinal Muscle, which hopes to one day identify drugs that can treat sarcopenia. This condition is common in people as they age and become more sedentary. The current mission will attempt to create muscle tissue in microgravity. If successful drugs can be tested on this tissue.

There are several new tech demonstrations that will improve space travel. The Four Bed CO2 Scrubber is there to demonstrate a more efficient way to get oxygen back out of carbon dioxide, crucial for the survival and wellbeing of people in space. There’s also a study on how to more efficiently remove heat from the generators. This will matter in the future as longer space missions away from Earth will require more power and thus more heat.

Managing heat is also the goal of the Kentucky Re-Entry Probe Experiment (KREPE). Once the Cygnus ship is emptied of its cargo, it will be packed with trash to be destroyed by burning up in the atmosphere. But among that trash, there will be three spheres that will gain precious data on atmosphere re-entry and ways that spacecraft can be protected in more efficient and affordable ways.

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Another experiment with an eye to future exploration is the Redwire Regolith Print, which will use a substance similar to the lunar soil (regolith) as a 3D printing material. This will demonstrate if such soil can be used in the future to create things like equipment directly on the Moon.

Last but certainly not least, is a biology experiment called Blob that will be conducted by European astronaut Thomas Pesquet in space and by hundreds of thousands of French students aged 10 to 18 on Earth. It involves studying how a slime mold – the peculiar single-cell organism that is not a plant, animal, or fungus, has 720 sexes and lacks a brain, and yet can move, feed, organize itself, and even transmit knowledge to other slime molds – acts in microgravity.

This is the 16th supply run Northrop Grumman has carried out for NASA and its largest load yet. The capsule was named the S.S. Ellison Onizuka for the Hawaiin who was the first Asian American in space and died in the 1986 Challenger disaster. 


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