For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A SpaceX commercial Cargo Dragon loaded with over three tons of NASA science and supplies successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS) early Wednesday morning, Dec. 22, nearly one full day after lifting off early Tuesday morning – and delivering over 3.2 tons of NASA science and supplies and bearing much anticipated Christmas presents for the seven person multinational crew mates from the U.S., Russia and Germany serving aboard the orbiting outpost.
The ISS was traveling more than 260 miles (410 km) over the South Pacific Ocean as a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft autonomously docked to the zenith or space-facing side of the labs Harmony module at 3:41 a.m. EST (0841 GMT), Wednesday, Dec. 22.
The docking of the NASA SpaceX CRS-24 cargo resupply mission took place almost 50 minutes ahead of the schedule NASA previously announced after liftoff.
.@Space_Station, your order was delivered! At 3:41am ET (08:41 UTC), @SpaceX's cargo Dragon docked to the space-facing port of the Harmony module: https://t.co/yIGBUfGHR9 pic.twitter.com/4nGmstgX6P
— NASA (@NASA) December 22, 2021
“The SpaceX CRS-24 Cargo Dragon arrived just in time to deliver holiday treats, crew supplies and new science experiments to the Expedition 66 crew today,” NASA said.
NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn were monitoring docking operations for Dragon from inside the domed Cupola module.
The station crew received holiday treats, crew supplies and new science experiments today with the arrival of the @SpaceX Cargo Dragon. https://t.co/UVqrTQAYbR
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) December 22, 2021
Check out these photos of Dragon arrival from Raja Chari:
Look what we found in the backyard this AM on @Space_Station…can we keep it @NASA & @SpaceX? #Endurance #Dragonbuddy pic.twitter.com/AkPEEDPd1i
— Raja Chari (@Astro_Raja) December 22, 2021
Soon after docking the NASA and ESA/German astronauts were hard at work unpacking the critical science and supplies just arrived aboard Dragon.
“Less than two hours later, Dragon’s hatch was opened as Chari and NASA Flight Engineer Kayla Barron entered the vehicle and began unloading critical research hardware and samples,” NASA reported.
“Astronauts Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) also joined in the cargo activities beginning to unpack crew supplies, spacewalk gear, station hardware, and computer equipment to replenish the orbiting lab. Vande Hei also started setting up a new cancer study, delivered aboard Dragon, that could improve drug delivery methods as well as manufacturing processes.”
Watch this NASA video of the Dragon approach and docking operation:
This view of the space station is from the approaching @SpaceX #CargoDragon vehicle headed for a docking at 3:41am ET today. https://t.co/yuOTrYN8CV pic.twitter.com/tKQ0j55OVS
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) December 22, 2021
This gumdrop shaped Cargo Dragon will spend about one month docked to the ISS before returning to Earth loaded with critical NASA science and hardware and completed microgravity research for analysis by engineers and scientists after a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
Today’s space station arrival came after SpaceX managed to thread an absolutely terrible weather needle and launched the commercial Dragon cargo spaceship despite a dismal scene surrounding the space coast aboard a brand new Falcon 9 that swiftly disappeared behind thick low clouds that completely obscured the rocket some 10 seconds after an improbable predawn liftoff Tuesday, Dec. 21, from the Florida Space Coast.
The NASA SpaceX Falcon 9 and Cargo Dragon lifted off on SpaceX’s 24th NASA contracted Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-24) mission to the International Space Station since 2012 during an instantaneous launch window at 5:07 a.m. EST (1007 GMT), Dec. 21, from historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
And as Falcon 9 blasted off and roared to life – it rapidly vanished behind those forecast low clouds never to be seen again as it soared to space with a thunderous rumble and illuminated the dense clouds – and ever so briefly turned night into day some two hours before the real sunrise.
Enjoy our launch and prelaunch photos of the integrated Falcon 9 and Cargo Dragon stack at pad 39A taken by Ken Kremer for Space UpClose.
Dragon is packed with some 6,500 pounds (2900 kg) of NASA science supporting several dozen experiments and supplies including research experiments, food, water, clothing, spare parts and gear, spacewalk equipment and computer resources to support the Expedition 66 crew.
The Dragon trunk is loaded with a pair of Earth sciences experiments named STP-7 and STP-8 and weighing about 900 kg that will measure ocean wave patterns and conduct CO2 sensing in the atmosphere, Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station program manager, told me after the prelaunch briefing.
They will be installed on the station exterior on the Columbus and JEM module, Montalbano told Space UpClose.
See detailed description of the research highlights and manifest below.
The CRS-24 resupply mission was the third of three SpaceX Cargo Dragon mission launches in 2021 following two other launched in June on CRS-22 and August on CRS-23.
Christmas presents are also on board for the crew.
“Every year, we do our best to send up some presents to the crew,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station program manager, at the prelaunch briefing.
“I won’t get in front of Santa Claus and tell you what’s going to be sent up, but we are going to have some gifts for the crew.”
Fresh food stuffs and desserts including turkey, fish and fruitcake are also packed on board for a festive Christmas holiday season for the astronauts and cosmonauts.
“We’re going to have some gifts for the crew, and we’re going to fly some special food for Christmas dinner,” added Montalbano. “We have some turkey, green beans, and everyone’s favorite fruit cake.”
Dragon delivered a variety of NASA science investigations, including a protein crystal growth study that could improve how cancer treatment drugs are delivered to patients, a handheld bioprinter that could one day be used to print tissue directly onto wounds for faster healing, an investigation from the makers of Tide that examines detergent efficacy in microgravity, and investigations from the Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS) program. See details below
Here is the CRS-24 cargo manifest:
- 2,468 pounds (1,119 kilograms) of science investigations
• 2,002 pounds (908 kilograms) of unpressurized payloads
• 852 pounds (386 kilograms) of crew supplies
• 724 pounds (328 kilograms) of vehicle hardware
• 400 pounds (182 kilograms) of spacewalk equipment
• 72 pounds (33 kilograms) of computer resources
Watch this NASA video describing several of the science experiments on board:
Here is a detailed description from NASA of some of the new science experiments delivered aboard the CRS-24 Dragon Cargo resupply mission.
Bioprinting uses viable cells and biological molecules to print tissue structures. The German Aerospace Center study Bioprint FirstAid demonstrates a portable, handheld bioprinter that uses a patient’s own skin cells to create a tissue-forming patch to cover a wound and accelerate the healing process. On future missions to the Moon and Mars, bioprinting such customized patches could help address changes in wound healing that can occur in space and complicate treatment. Personalized healing patches also have potential benefits on Earth, providing safer and more flexible treatment anywhere needed.
Improving delivery of cancer drugs
Monoclonal antibodies, used to treat a wide range of human diseases, do not dissolve easily in liquid and so typically must be given intravenously in a clinical setting. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space Protein Crystal Growth 20 (CASIS PCG 20) experiment continues work on crystallizing a monoclonal antibody, pembrolizumab, that Merck Research Labs developed. It is the active ingredient in Keytruda, a drug that targets multiple cancers. Scientists analyze these crystals to learn more about the structure and behavior of the component to create drug formulations that can be administered at a doctor’s office or even at home.
Assessing infection risk
Scientists have observed that spaceflight sometimes increases the virulence of potentially harmful microbes and reduces human immune function, increasing the risk for infectious disease. Host-Pathogen assesses space-induced changes in immune status by culturing cells collected from crew members before, during, and after spaceflight with both “normal” bacteria and bacteria grown under simulated spaceflight conditions. Results could help assess the potential risk infectious microbes may pose and may support development of countermeasures. This could improve care for those with compromised immune systems on Earth.
Roots, shoots, and leaves
Multi Variable Platform (MVP) Plant-01 profiles and monitors the development of the shoots and roots of plants in microgravity. Plants could serve as a vital part of human life support systems for long-duration spaceflight and habitation of the Moon and Mars. However, space-grown plants experience stress from various factors and recent studies indicate changes in plant gene expression in response to those stressors. Improved understanding of these changes could enable the design of plants that are better suited for growth in spaceflight environments.
Toward lunar laundromats
Astronauts on the space station wear items of clothing several times, then replace them with new clothes delivered on resupply missions. Limited cargo capacity makes this a challenge, and resupply is not an option for longer missions, such as those to the Moon and Mars. In a collaboration with NASA, and sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory, Procter & Gamble has developed Tide Infinity, a fully degradable detergent specifically designed for use in space, and the P&G Telescience Investigation of Detergent Experiments (PGTIDE) study the performance of its stain removal ingredients and the formulation’s stability in microgravity. Once proven in space, Tide plans to use the new cleaning methods and detergent to advance sustainable, low-resource-use laundry solutions on Earth.
Parts made in space
Turbine Superalloy Casting Module (SCM) tests a commercial manufacturing device that processes heat-resistant alloy parts in microgravity. Alloys are materials made up of at least two different chemical elements, one of which is a metal. Researchers expect more uniform microstructures and improved mechanical properties in superalloy parts processed in microgravity compared to those processed on Earth. These superior materials could improve the performance of turbine engines in industries such as aerospace and power generation on Earth.
Students and citizens as space scientists
Students enrolled in institutions of higher learning can design and build microgravity experiments as part of NASA’s Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS). As part of their experiments, selected teams include students in kindergarten through 12 grade as citizen scientists. Citizen science allows individuals who are not professional scientists to contribute to real-world research. The NASA STEM on Station project is funding experiments flying on this SpaceX resupply mission, including a study on antibiotic resistance in microgravity from Columbia University in New York and one on how microgravity affects bacteria-resistant polymers from the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.
These are just a few of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars through NASA’s Artemis program.
Here’s a NASA summary of this year of the ISS:
2021 was a busy year aboard the space station with spacewalks, crew launches, cargo missions, and groundbreaking research. #SpaceToGround pic.twitter.com/GYs63IITNP
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) December 23, 2021
Watch Ken’s onsite reporting about CRS-24 at the Kennedy Space Center.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about SpaceX Crew and Cargo Dragons, Artemis, SLS, Orion and NASA missions, Lucy Asteroid mission, IXPE, DART, National Security missions, SpaceX Starlink, Blue Origin and Space Tourism, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2 & 3, ISS, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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