The International Space Station received roughly 7,000 pounds of supplies and scientific experiment materials early Tuesday morning following the successful autonomous docking of a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft. According to NASA, the Dragon will remain attached to the ISS for about three weeks before returning back to Earth with research and cargo. In addition to a pair of International Space Station Roll Out Solar Arrays (IROSAs) designed to expand the microgravity complex’s energy-production ability, ISS crew members are receiving materials for a host of new and ongoing experiments.
THOR, an aptly named investigation courtesy of the European Space Agency, will observe Earth’s thunderstorms from above the atmosphere to examine and document electrical activity. Researchers plan to specifically analyze the “inception, frequency, and altitude of recently discovered blue discharges,” i.e. lightning occurring within the upper atmosphere. Scientists still know very little about such phenomena’s effects on the planet’s climate and weather, but the upcoming observations could potentially shed more light on the processes.
Meanwhile, researchers are hoping to stretch out telomeres in microgravity via Genes in Space-10, part of an ongoing national contest for students in grades 7 through 12 to develop their own biotech experiments. These genetic structures protect humans’ chromosomes, but generally shorten over time as they age. Observing telomere lengthening in ISS microgravity will give scientists a chance to determine if their size change relates to stem cell proliferation. Results could help NASA and other researchers better understand effects on astronauts’ health during long-term missions, a particularly topical subject given their hopes for upcoming excursions to the moon and Mars.
ISS will also deploy the Educational Space Science and Engineering CubeSat Experiment (ESSENCE), a tiny satellite housing a wide-angle camera capable of monitoring ice and permafrost thawing within the Canadian Arctic. This satellite comes alongside another student collaboration project called Iris, which is meant to observe geological samples’ weathering upon exposure to direct solar and background cosmic radiation.
Finally, a set of plants that germinated from seeds first produced in space and subsequently traveled to Earth are returning to the ISS as part of Plant Habitat-03. According to NASA, plantlife often adapts to the environmental stresses imposed on them via spaceflight, but it’s still unclear if these changes are genetically passed on to future generations. PH-03 will hopefully help scientists better understand these issues, which could prove critical to food generation during future space missions and exploration efforts.