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March 3, 2013
ISS Captures the SpaceX Dragon Capsule. Image credit: NASA TV
Working well-ahead of the planned timeline, the International Space Station’s Expedition 34 crew successfully captured the SpaceX Dragon capsule with the station’s robotic arm at 5:31 a.m. EST Sunday.
Controlling the 57.7-foot Canadarm2 from a robotics workstation inside the station’s cupola, Commander Kevin Ford, with assistance from Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn, grappled the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft as it flew within about 32 feet of the complex. Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield joined Ford and Marshburn in the cupola to assist with the capture and help coordinate the activities.
Station Crew Captures Dragon. Image credit: NASA TV
Congratulating SpaceX and the ground teams supporting the mission, Ford remarked, "As they say, it’s not where you start, but where you finish that counts, and you guys really finished this one on the mark. You’re aboard, and we’ve got lots of science on there to bring aboard and get done."
With Dragon now securely in the grasp of Canadarm2, the robotics officer at Mission Control will remotely operate the arm to guide the capsule to its port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony module. Once Dragon is in place, Hadfield will oversee the Common Berthing Mechanism operations for first and second stage capture of the cargo ship, assuring that the vehicle is securely attached to its port with a tight seal.
Image above: The SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle is grappled by the International Space Station's robotic arm, Canadarm2. Image credit: NASA TV.
Ford and Hadfield will spend much of the remainder of their workday pressurizing the vestibule between Dragon and the station and setting up power and data cables to prepare for the opening of Dragon’s hatch on Monday.
Dragon is scheduled to spend more than three weeks attached to the station. During that time, the crew will unload around 1,200 pounds of science cargo, station hardware and crew supplies from the craft and reload it with more than 2,600 pounds of experiment samples and equipment for return to Earth. After Dragon’s mission at the station is completed, the crew will use Canadarm2 to detach Dragon from Harmony on March 25 and release it for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean about 300 miles west of the coast of Baja California.
Image above: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with its Dragon spacecraft onboard, lifts off from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Image credit: NASA TV.
Dragon launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:10 a.m. Friday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning the second of 12 SpaceX flights contracted by NASA to resupply the station. This marks the third visit by a Dragon capsule to the orbiting laboratory, following a demonstration flight in May 2012 and its first commercial resupply mission in October 2012.
Dragon’s rendezvous with the station was delayed a day in the wake of a temporary loss of three of four banks of thrusters after Dragon separated from the Falcon 9 rocket Friday.
Image above: The SpaceX Dragon capsule was berthed to the Harmony module of the International Space Station at 8:56 a.m. EST. The hatch between the newly arrived spacecraft and the Harmony module of the space station is scheduled to be opened tomorrow. The capsule is scheduled to spend 22 days attached to the station. Image credit: NASA TV.
Research Rides Dragon to the International Space Station
A second contracted flight for the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station will be twice as nice for researchers working with investigations on the orbiting laboratory. While other cargo ships can bring research payloads to the station, only the Dragon and the Russian Soyuz can safely get the cargo home. Scientists in the United States, Canada, France and Japan -- and several high school students -- are awaiting the return of their research studying a wide range of subjects, from plants to liquid crystals.
Image above: The NanoRacks Plate Reader, shown here, will enable in orbit analysis of research samples for certain studies aboard the International Space Station. (NASA).
Several studies involve a small flowering plant called thale cress, or Arabidopsis thaliana, which is essentially the lab mouse of plant research. The Plant Signaling investigation and Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) 17-1 both study how the plants' gene expressions change in microgravity. Scientists think plant cells living in space do not behave the same way as cells in plants on Earth, and the experiments will examine these changes on a molecular level.
In BRIC 17-1, cell cultures derived from thale cress plants are grown in Petri dishes and later examined to determine which genes are involved in certain cellular changes. A related experiment, BRIC 17-2, exposes thale cress seedlings to low oxygen levels to examine its effects on the health of their roots. The BRIC investigations will be delivered to station aboard Dragon and will come home after its three-week stay. These experiments will help biologists understand how plants respond to microgravity, which will improve efforts aimed at growing food in space -- a crucial component of long-duration missions to Mars or elsewhere in the solar system. It can also inform crop production here on Earth.
Image above: The Experiment Container with Plant Seedling Seed Cassettes (seedlings, inset lower right) is an example of the samples returning aboard the SpaceX Dragon vehicle for ground analysis. (NASA).
Another study making a round trip with Dragon will look at how metal mixtures solidify. Coarsening in Solid Liquid Mixtures-3 (CSLM-3) examines the growth and solidification of lead-based liquids that contain small amounts of tin. When the liquid solidifies, the tin forms small branch-like structures called dendrites. By using tiny amounts of tin, scientists can observe single dendrites at a time, which would be impossible on the ground because of gravity's effects. By understanding how temperatures and time control the growth of these dendrites, materials scientists may find new ways to produce materials from molten metals.
Microgravity research can also benefit scientists trying to improve the shelf life of consumer products like toothpaste and laundry detergent. Dragon is delivering the Advanced Colloids Experiment-M-1 (ACE-M-1) investigation on behalf of Procter & Gamble, which owns several brands of personal care products. ACE-M-1 testing will take advantage of the microgravity environment of station to study how microscopic particles spread out and clump together in gels and creams. Particle additives can make a product last longer by maintaining its consistency, but they sink and clump together after a certain amount of time, which can spoil a product. It's difficult to study these dynamics on Earth because gravity gets in the way, making the space station an ideal research platform for these important industrial processes.
Along with scientists from NASA centers and private industry, plenty of students are excited for the deployment of their own experiments, facilitated by the NanoRacks system. Students from several California schools developed investigations to study bacteria, iron corrosion, battery performance and carbon dioxide levels aboard station, all of which will be delivered by Dragon.
Image above: Examples of how coarsening appears in microgravity (left) vs. on Earth (right); revealing characteristics hidden by gravity is the goal of the CSLM-3 investigation traveling to the International Space Station on SpaceX Dragon. (NASA).
Finally, the Wet Lab Kit will provide crew members with frequently-used tools and supplies needed to perform in-orbit experiment sample manipulation and analysis. Wetlab will increase experiments' science return while decreasing the time between investigations.
Dragon as a mode of return transport also increases the station's science return, an important capability to retrieve samples for analysis on the ground. Samples taken from the crew support human health studies in microgravity, such as the Nutrition investigation. Astronauts already provide blood and urine samples before and after flight so scientists can examine changes to their metabolism, but Dragon's cold stowage capability will allow scientists to examine samples returned in the middle of the crew's mission.
Additionally, the returning Dragon capsule will bring back several "space fish," Japanese Medaka fish (Oryzias latipes) that lived on the station since October 2012. Researchers in Japan will study changes in the bone density of the fish in the Medaka Osteoclast investigation Dragon's round-trip carrying capacity also will help scientists build upon their previous work and explore new questions. After this month's delivery, the cargo ship could have even more to bring home on its next trip -- the third time will be a charm.
BRIC 17-2: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1034.html
Coarsening in Solid Liquid Mixtures-3 (CSLM-3): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/22.html
Read more about SpaceX 2: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/index.html
For more information about the International Space Station and its crew, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station
Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA / International Space Station Program Science Office / Rebecca Boyle / SpaceX.
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