A new generation of scientific investigations sparked by modern technological breakthroughs will be launched to the International Space Station inside a SpaceX rocket on Monday.
And the diversity among the hundreds of research projects studied by scientists around the world is mind-boggling.
Various live plant roots on board will be studied to learn why they grow differently in space, alongside a similar investigation of artificially grown human lung tissue.
A hardy supercomputer designed to withstand the lengthy commute to Mars will share a spacecraft with an ancient community of penicillin that’s been isolated deep beneath the sea floor since dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
The rare fungus was pulled from 400 feet beneath the South Pacific Ocean by NASA researchers looking to find new bacteria-resistant antibiotics.
It’s been isolated deep underground for 73 million years, and will be grown and studied for clues to new antimicrobial compounds that might better fight infections, said principal investigator Brandi Reese of Texas A&M University.
The hugh-tech cargo scheduled to blast off at 9:30 a.m. PDT from Florida’s Kennedy Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket built at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne. A self-propelling Dragon spacecraft carrying the deliveries will arrive at the ISS for unloading by a team of astronauts and cosmonauts on Wednesday.
The launch will be broadcast live on SpaceX.com.
The second stage of the rocket that delivers the load-carrying spacecraft to orbit will be discarded in space, as usual. But its first-stage booster will return minutes after launch to land delicately on a robotic barge in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California.
The booster then will be recovered for reuse later this week at SpaceX’s Outer Harbor parking space at the Port of Los Angeles.
Space Explorations Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, became the first commercial rocket maker to deliver a spacecraft to orbit when its Dragon first docked at the ISS in 2012.
Dragon is the only spacecraft capable of returning large packages from outer space.
NASA now relies on the company for science missions that need to be studied on Earth after undergoing research on ISS’s National Laboratory.
The last ISS commercial delivery of supplies, hardware and research was launched June 3. It carried the first mice ever to participate in space station research. They returned to Earth in July for a UCLA study to regrow lost bone density.
More ground-breaking research
A low-cost, off-the-shelf telescope on board Dragon will be attached to an affordable, solar-powered microsatellite built by NanoRacks. It will test the usefulness of advanced technology to track severe weather and detect other broad environmental changes on Earth.
Other research on the flight includes:
• The Michael J. Fox Foundation is sending a protein shown to speed the onset of Parkinson’s disease for deeper studies in microgravity. Without the limitations of gravity, molecules can grow larger for more in-depth study.
• Artificially grown human lung tissue will be nurtured to learn more about how they grow amid radiation experienced in spaceflight and without the influence of Earth’s gravity.
• Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.’s “Spaceborne Computer” will be tested for use on extended rocket commutes. It’s designed to enable heavy-duty computations in space so astronauts don’t have to connect to computers on Earth.
• The movements and makeup of mysterious cosmic rays will be studied by an instrument that hangs from a balloon, in a three-year project called the Cosmic-Ray Energetics and Mass investigation or CREAM. NASA scientists working on CREAM hope to better understand the history of cosmic rays in the galaxy and where they get their unique energy levels. “Cosmic rays reach Earth from far outside the solar system with enormous energies well beyond what man-made accelerators can achieve,” according to a NASA statement.