SpaceX mission takes research to International Space Station

By Scott Birch
Medical experiments on hearts, brains and blood cells form part of latest Dragon cargo payload sent into space from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center...

SpaceX – the company owned by Tesla’s Elon Musk – has sent its Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) carrying some innovative medical research.

As well as scientific payloads looking into meteorite samples and brazing (a type of soldering), this 21st SpaceX resupply mission is carrying vital research into medical issues astronauts may face in space and how that research could benefit medical advancements on Earth.

Cardinal Heart looks into the long-term effects of microgravity, which can cause changes in the workload and shape of the human heart. Long-term exposure to microgravity (if a person lived in space for more than one year) could see the returning astronaut taking months to readjust to Earth’s gravity. 

Cardinal Heart studies how changes in gravity affect cardiovascular cells at the cellular and tissue level. The investigation uses 3D-engineered heart tissues (EHTs), and it is hoped that this research could provide a better understanding of heart problems on Earth, help identify new treatments, and support development of screening measures to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight.

Another experiment, HemoCue, will test a commercially available device’s ability to provide an accurate count of differentiated white blood cells in microgravity – which will enable doctors to better monitor the health of crew members on future missions.

Finally, the Effect of Microgravity on Human Brain Organoids observes the response of brain organoids to microgravity. Organoids – small living masses of cells that can grow and survive for months – will be studied to see how microgravity affects survival, metabolism and functions of the brain.

Image Credits: UC San Diego/Erik Jepsen – Brain organoids being prepared to fly to the space station for the Space Tango-Human Brain Organoids investigation.

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