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SpaceX Cargo Capsule Splashdown Makes Waves For Scientific Research

SpaceX's Cargo Dragon undocks from the International Space Station ahead of a planned splashdown off the coast of Florida. Photo: SpaceX / Twitter

The SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft is creating big waves with its recent splashdown off of Florida’s coast. After a nearly one month stay docked to the International Space Station the Dragon is revolutionizing how much science we can bring back to earth.

SpaceX’s upgraded capsule, which can hold more science, and rapid recovery plan allows researchers to retrieve the returning science onboard in record time.

“It took researchers probably at least 48 hours sometimes after splashdown to be able to get their science in their hands”, said ISS deputy chief scientist Jennifer Buchli of previous missions which splashed down off the coast of California. “Now with it coming back to Kennedy Space Center, you can come back as early as four hours after splashdown”.

By returning to the Kennedy Space Center and having labs on site “the majority of the sciences is going to be coming back much faster,” said Buchli.

The Dragon’s quick turnaround time also allows new research opportunities, including the ability to bring back live animals to study the impact of space travel.

That includes live rodents who ended their brave mission with a splash after launching last month from Kennedy Space Center.

“This is one of the first research investigations that is sponsored by our human research program,” said Buchli. “ In this rodent research investigation, [researchers] can look at the re-adaptation to gravity and they can look at different time points.”

NASA is using the mice to understand how bodies are affected by changes in gravity after space travel. This quick turn-around time to study the mice will help scientists better understand those changes and prepare future human astronauts for the rigors of space travel.

It’s not just this new capsule that’s expanding research capabilities on the station. It’s also more astronauts. Along with delivering cargo, SpaceX launches NASA astronauts to the station as well.

“The number of astronauts, whether they are government astronauts, or even private individuals who would like to do science, increases the amount of science that can be done [on board],” said Laura Forczyk, a space policy analyst and founder of the consulting firm Astrolytical.

NASA pays SpaceX to ferry astronauts and deliver supplies to the station under a new commercial partnership. These launches allow for more to be done in terms of research capabilities. As more commercial partnerships develop, there are more opportunities to get science into space.

“If you are interested in flying something to space you can talk to NASA directly,” said Forczyk “In the future SpaceX plans to fly private individuals and those private individuals have every right if they wish to conduct science as well”.

With this milestone mission, SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon has opened up new doors to microgravity research and a wave of new scientific possibilities on orbit.

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