SpaceX’s 18th run to the International Space Station, planned for Sunday, will be packed with dozens of critical experiments, science that will look to answer big-picture questions about nerve cells, healing and tissue regeneration.
Oh yeah, and Nickelodeon slime is going to space, too.
The upcoming resupply mission by Elon Musk’s rocket company will feature a payload that truly runs the gamut. Apart from the slime and crucial science, it also includes 40 student experiments, another from Adidas on how soccer balls behave in space and one from Goodyear to study better ways of producing tires.
The full mission, on a Falcon 9 rocket, is scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 40 at 7:35 p.m. Sunday and dock with the ISS on July 23 for a month-long stay carrying hundreds of pounds of cargo, including 250 science and research investigations.
First the slime: Kids’ network Nickelodeon is sending its iconic green slime — known for falling from buckets on contestants — to the ISS for science demonstrations to teach elementary and middle school-age students about the principles of how fluid flows in a microgravity environment as compared with normal gravity on Earth. The videos will be shared online and on the network.
Adidas, meanwhile, will study the spinning behavior of a soccer ball in microgravity, data that will be used to help the sports company study aerodynamics in a way it can’t on Earth. Soccer balls are currently tested using wind tunnel experiments, which introduce some physical constraints that limit what is known about how components of the ball interact with each other. With those constraints removed in space, the company can look to fill some of the gaps in what is known about spherical aerodynamics.
For Goodyear, space also opens new possibilities. The tire manufacturer will be looking at novel formations of silica, the key material used to produce tires, that form in microgravity. The company is hoping to find a new structure of silica that could produce more fuel-efficient tires that are easier on the environment.
The Nickelodeon, Adidas and Goodyear experiments are among the 17 private-sector research projects sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory for this mission.
Their involvement is in line with NASA’s vision for the future of the space station as a place that commercial companies can visit to test, manufacture or promote their products.
“This launch showcases both the potential of the ISS National Lab to reach a wide range of private-sector users and the increased appeal of conducting research in the unique environment of low Earth orbit,” said Christine Kretz, the ISS National Lab vice president of business development and strategy, in a statement.
Science, though, is still a major focus of the ISS and of SpaceX’s resupply missions to the station. The private space company has been sending supplies to the space station on its Cargo Dragon spacecraft since 2012.
Here is some of the other science going to space:
An experiment that will attempt to print biological tissues in space. The three-dimensional printing of organs is a challenge on Earth because printing the tiny structures inside organs requires scaffolding strictures to support the tissue shapes in Earth’s gravity. In microgravity, that problem goes away. The experiment could be the first step to printing human organs in space.
A study of the differences between mosses grown on the space station and those grown on Earth, to look at how microgravity impacts their development and photosynthesis rate. The experiment could lead to the use mosses as a source of food and oxygen for future deep space missions or help scientists engineer plants to grow better on Earth.
One experiment will look at how immune defense cells react to the weightless environment of space, providing important data that could help protect astronauts during long-term space missions. It’ll also be the first investigation to use a type of genetically programmed adult cells in microgravity to study Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
And also looking at astronaut health, another experiment will look at how microgravity impacts healing and tissue regeneration, allowing scientists to develop better ways of counteracting bone density loss in space.
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