A SpaceX cargo ship splashed down under parachutes in the Gulf of Mexico this week, returning from the International Space Station after a 34-day mission with a spacesuit used for spacewalks, and research specimens for distribution to scientists around the world.
The splashdown of the Dragon spacecraft off the coast of Panama City, Florida, at 4:05 p.m. EST (2105 GMT) Monday wrapped up SpaceX’s 24th cargo mission to the space station under contract to NASA.
The unpiloted supply ship undocked from the station at 10:40 a.m. EST (1540 GMT) Sunday after a two-day delay to wait for better weather conditions in the recovery area in the Gulf of Mexico.
A SpaceX recovery boat was in position near the splashdown area to pull the capsule out of the sea. Once the spacecraft was on deck, technicians opened the hatch and unpacked time-sensitive cargo to be flown back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center by helicopter.
Researchers at Kennedy planned to receive and catalog the materials for analysis and distribution to scientists around the world.
The Cargo Dragon spacecraft also returned to Earth with a NASA-owned Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or spacesuit, used by astronauts for spacewalks outside the International Space Station. The mission came back to Earth with EMU No. 3006, and it delivered EMU No. 3013 to the station last month, a NASA spokesperson told Spaceflight Now.
The Dragon spacecraft was packed with more than 4,900 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of cargo for the return trip to Earth, according to NASA.
The mission launched Dec. 21 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon cargo freighter docked with the space station Dec. 22, and astronauts began unpacking science experiments, holiday gifts and food, spare parts and other supplies.
The cargo delivery last month hauled 6,590 pounds (2,989 kilograms) of supplies and experiments, including packaging, to the space station’s seven-person crew.
The Dragon cargo ship delivered four experimental CubeSats to the station from teams at Kennedy Space Center, Aerospace Corp., Utah State University, and Georgia Tech.
The scientific experiments launched on the SpaceX cargo freighter included an investigation from Merck Research Labs studying monoclonal antibodies. The research focus of that experiment was on analyzing the structure and behavior of a monoclonal antibody used in a drug aimed at treating cancers.
Another experiment was designed to assess the loss of immune protection in astronauts flying in space.
Proctor & Gamble and NASA partnered in another experiment to test the performance of a new fully degradable detergent named Tide Infinity, a product specifically designed for use in space.
Astronauts on the space station currently wear an item of clothing several times, then discard the garment. But crews flying to the moon and Mars won’t have the same supply chain of cargo missions to support them.
NASA says Tide plans to use the new cleaning detergent to “advance sustainable, low-resource-use laundry solutions on Earth.”
Another research investigation sent up on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was expected to study manufacturing methods for superalloys in space. Alloys, or materials made up of a metal and at least one other chemical element, could be produced in microgravity with fewer defects and better mechanical properties, according to NASA.
“These superior materials could improve the performance of turbine engines in industries such as aerospace and power generation on Earth,” NASA said.
Two research pallets from the U.S. military’s Space Test Program rode to the space station inside the Dragon spacecraft’s unpressurized trunk. The two payloads, named STP-H7 and STP-H8, were transferred from the Dragon spacecraft to mounting points outside the space station using the lab’s robotic arm.
The STP-H7 payload package was mounted outside the European Space Agency’s Columbus lab module. STP-H8 was placed on the exposed science facility outside the Japanese Kibo lab.
Two weather instruments from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are hosted on the STP-H8 experiment package.
The return of SpaceX’s 24th resupply flight to the space station sets up SpaceX’s Dragon teams for a busy first half of 2022.
Two Crew Dragon missions carrying astronauts to the space station are scheduled for launch this spring.
The first, set for liftoff March 31 from Kennedy Space Center on a Falcon 9 rocket, will carry three paying space tourists and a former NASA astronaut to the station on a 10-day private astronaut mission managed by Axiom Space.
Another Crew Dragon flight is scheduled to launch from Kennedy on April 15 with three NASA astronauts and one European Space Agency astronaut to begin the next six-month expedition on the International Space Station.
SpaceX’s next cargo delivery to the space station, a mission known as SpaceX CRS-25, is scheduled for launch from Kennedy Space Center on May 21.
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