Glow-in-the-dark squid, worms and more than 5,000 microscopic animals are set to blast off to the International Space Station (ISS) later today.
They will be launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as part of a variety of experiments aimed at helping scientists understand the effects of spaceflight.
NASA will broadcast the launch live at 13.29 EDT (18.29 BST) on its NASA TV YouTube channel.
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Off to space: NASA is to send glow-in-the-dark squid to the International Space Station today as part of scientific research tasked with finding new ways of bettering the human body
WHAT EXPERIMENTS ARE SPACEX SENDING TO THE ISS?
Squid: Determining whether spaceflight alters the mutually beneficial relationship between microbes and their animal hosts.
This could support development of protective measures and mitigation to preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions.
Tardigrades: Identify gene that helps them survive harsh conditions.
Scientists hope this gene could be used to better protect astronauts.
Worms: Understand more about human muscle loss and how to prevent it. Also, hope is to develop new treatments for muscular dystrophies
Cotton: Define which environmental factors and genes control root development in the absence of gravity.
The findings could help uncover agriculture methods for plants amid climate change.
Tissue chips: Understanding how kidney stones form in microgravity.
This experiment aims to not only help astronauts, but also those suffering with kidney stones on Earth.
Ultrasound: A portable ultrasound will be tested in microgravity to collect crew feedback.
This device could be used by astronauts going to Mars who are in need of medical attention.
Weather permitting, the Falcon 9 booster will launch its CRS-22 Dragon cargo ship into orbit before landing on SpaceX’s drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ in the Atlantic Ocean. It will then be recovered so it can be reused again at a later date.
The Dragon capsule, meanwhile, will head to the ISS, where it is due to arrive on Saturday, June 5 at 5.00 EDT (10.00 BST). It will include fresh supplies for the station’s astronaut crew, the scientific experiments and two new roll-out solar arrays to be installed during upcoming spacewalks.
The hope is that studying the impact of spaceflight on 128 baby bobtail squid, which have an immune system similar to humans, could help preserve astronaut health on long-duration space missions.
They will be used as part of research into the effects of spaceflight on beneficial interactions between microbes and animals.
‘Animals, including humans, rely on our microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system. We do not fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions,’ Jamie Foster, the experiment’s principal investigator said.
SpaceX’s 22nd cargo resupply mission to the ISS, which will launch from Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will also include hundreds of tiny worms as part of a new project involving UK scientists.
They want to understand more about human muscle loss and how to prevent it.
It is also hoped the research could help shed light on developing new treatments for muscular dystrophies – a group of inherited genetic conditions that gradually cause the muscles to weaken.
The worms, known as Caenorhabditis elegans, are about 1mm in size and known to share many of the biological characteristics as humans.
They are also affected by the biological changes caused by living in space – which includes changes to muscle mass and the ability to use energy.
Dr Bethan Philips, associate professor of clinical, metabolic and molecular physiology at the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘Since the dawn of the space age, there have been concerns that space travel can be harmful to astronauts.
‘We are very excited that this latest mission will enable us to build on the work we have already done to not only further explore what causes muscle loss with spaceflight, but to also look at how to prevent it.’
More than 5,000 tardigrades – microscopic water-dwelling animals capable of surviving harsh environments on both Earth and in space – will also be on the flight.
They will be studied with the aim of identifying specific genes involved in their adaptation and survival in high-stress environments.
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, have proven to be virtually impossible to kill – they can be frozen, boiled, crushed and even zapped with radiation but still survive.
Such powerful abilities caught the attention of NASA, which hopes to pinpoint genes that protect it from harsh environments with the hopes of better protecting astronauts from the stressors of space.
Alongside the squid, worms and tardigrades, the payload will include cotton and tissue chips to help researchers better understand how microgravity impacts plant resilience and the formation of kidney stones, respectively.
Kidney stones, often painful and debilitating, have long been a serious concern for astronauts, who have reported them more than 30 times post-flight.
To better understand what causes their formation, scientists are sending the ISS crew tissue chips that make up a 3D kidney cell model, which will monitored for changes while in microgravity.
Tiny water bears: NASA hopes to pinpoint genes of Tardigrades that protect it from harsh environments with the aim of better protecting astronauts from the stressors of space
Scientific tests: Also along for the ride to the orbiting laboratory is a portable ultrasound, called Butterfly IQ Ultrasound, which will be analysed to see how it operates in microgravity
The final experiment in the payload will study cotton, which has a gene that allows it to thrive in droughts and other stressful conditions
Also along for the ride to the orbiting laboratory is cotton, which has a gene that allows it to thrive in droughts and other stressful conditions.
Improved understanding of cotton root systems and associated gene expression could enable development of more robust cotton plants and reduce water and pesticide use.
The final experiment in the payload is a portable ultrasound, called Butterfly IQ Ultrasound, which will be studied to see how it operates in microgravity.
The experiment collects crew feedback on ease of handling and quality of the ultrasound images, including image acquisition, display and storage.
Testing of the ultrasound could be vital for missions to Mars, as astronauts will not have traditional medical devices in the event of an emergency.
EXPLAINED: THE $100 BILLION INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION SITS 250 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH
The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.
Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.
ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.
The US space agency, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees Nasa has begun looking at whether to extend the program beyond 2024.
Alternatively the money could be used to speed up planned human space initiatives to the moon and Mars.