A Falcon 9 rocket blasted into space early this morning carrying the fifth mission to resupply the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Topped by the company’s Dragon spacecraft, Falcon lifted off on time at 4:47 am EST from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral AFS to begin its climb to orbit and begin a two-day race to catch ISS for berthing Monday morning.
Loaded with over 250 experiments and supplies for the crew aboard ISS, Dragon was successfully deployed from the launch vehicle’s upper stage 10 minutes after launch. Deploying its solar arrays shortly after separation, the spacecraft has begun the two day chase to catch ISS for berthing Monday morning.
A secondary test attempting to soft-land the rocket’s first stage on an offshore boat named the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship was less successful, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posting on Twitter that the rocket “landed hard” and “close, but no cigar.”
Musk also posted, “Ship itself is fine. Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced…” and “Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.”
Significantly, the test marks significant progress toward the company’s ultimate goal of a reusable Falcon launch vehicle.
Despite the landing test failure, the only NASA-contracted objective of CRS-5 is to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. It is important to note that SpaceX’s own R&D experiments conducted outside of the primary mission are not part of the contract with NASA and will not affect the ultimate success of Dragon’s CRS-5 mission.
“We are delighted to kick off 2015 with our first commercial cargo launch of the year,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Thanks to our private sector partners, we’ve returned space station resupply launches to U.S. soil and are poised to do the same with the transport of our astronauts in the very near future. Today’s launch not only resupplies the station, but also delivers important science experiments and increases the station’s unique capabilities as a platform for Earth science with delivery of the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, or CATS instrument. I congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams who have made today’s success possible. We look forward to extending our efforts in commercial space to include commercial crew by 2017 and to more significant milestones this year on our journey to Mars.”
The CATS instrument measures the location, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere. CATS will be attached outside the station on the Japanese Experiment Module. By gaining a deeper understanding of cloud and aerosol coverage, scientists can create a better model of their role in Earth’s changing global climate. CATS laser sensors can evaluate the clouds and tiny particles in Earth’s atmosphere to potentially decipher important clues for climate change and aid in weather forecasting on Earth.
“Clouds are one of the largest uncertainties in predicting climate change,” said Matt McGill, principal investigator and payload developer for CATS at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “For scientists to create more accurate models of Earth’s current and future climate, they’ll have to include more accurate representations of clouds.”
ISS National Laboratory manager, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), sponsored some of the scientific research payloads and educational projects aboard the Dragon capsule
A new biological study will use flatworms as a model organism to see how gravity affects tissue regeneration and the rebuilding of damaged organs and nerves. Flatworms regenerate their cells, replacing them as they age or are damaged. This investigation studies the cell signaling mechanisms the worms use while regenerating their tissue in microgravity. Its results could provide insight into how wounds heal in space.
Dr. Mahendra Jain, principal investigator for Kentucky Space, has proposed an experiment to study regeneration in planarians, which are flatworms capable of rebuilding body organs and nervous systems after damage. In partnership with Dr. Michael Levin of Tufts University, Dr. Jain will examine the effects of the space environment on these enhanced healing abilities. Gravity, and the lack thereof, influences the way cells behave and their ability to rebuild tissue. Studying planarians in space may reveal new aspects of how cells rebuild tissue, which could lead to breakthroughs in medical treatments for humans. For example, regenerative medicine has the potential to treat conditions like Parkinson’s, heart disease, or lost limbs.
Also making the trip as model organisms will be fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). Scientists will study the flies’ immune systems as a model for the human immune system, to explore how spaceflight can make organisms more susceptible to disease, especially since microbes can become more virulent in space.
The new Micro-5 investigation aims to understand the risks of in-flight infections in space explorers during long-term spaceflight. It will study the interactions between the host and bacteria, cellular responses and the effectiveness of countermeasures during spaceflight. The model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm) will be studied along with the microbe Salmonella typhimurium, which is known to cause food poisoning in humans.
T-Cell Activation in Aging
Recently it has been discovered that there is altered miRNA expression in spaceflight and Dr. Millie Hughes-Fulford (San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center, NCIRE) and team hypothesize that altered miRNAs expression may provide new pharmaceutical targets for treatment of immune disease. Their goal is to elucidate the molecular basis of suppression of T-cell activation in microgravity, including identification of regulatory miRNA expression (with gene targets) which cause immunosuppression in astronauts and the elderly. This is a project also funded by both the National Institutes of Health and NASA.
Additionally, CASIS,a sponsor of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, funded nine of the student payloads. Many of these payloads were originally lost on the Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket, which suffered an anomaly during launch in October.
In total, 17 student research experiments comprising the SSEP Mission 6 to ISS Yankee Clipper II payload were aboard. Also aboard were 28 mission patches to accompany the Mission 6 experiments, which were selected from 8,030 submitted across the Mission 6 communities through SSEP art and design competitions.
For more information on the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, visit http://ssep.ncesse.org/
Dragon will be grappled at 6:12 a.m. Monday, Jan. 12, by Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA, using the space station’s robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will support Wilmore in a backup position. Dragon is scheduled to spend about a month attached to the space station before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, Mexico, carrying more than 3,800 pounds of cargo, including crew supplies, hardware and computer resources, science experiments, space station hardware and trash.