SpaceX delivers new scientific equipment from NASA to ISS using Dragon.
The payload includes tissue chips and an updated carbon observatory.
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SpaceX regularly lights up its Falcon 9 rocket for NASA to send up supplies and scientific equipment to the International Space Station. This time around, the rocket's payload contained something more interesting than the usual stock of food and care packages. SpaceX's robotic cargo capsule, Dragon, was carrying NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) and four Tissue Chips in Space experiments. All in all, Dragon was carrying about 2,500 kilogrammes when it safely delivered its cargo to the space station yesterday.
Successor to OCO-2, the more versatile and powerful OCO-3 continues the American space agency's study of Earth's carbon cycle, while the four other experiments are known as tissue chips or organs on chips. The flash drive-sized chips contain human cells in a 3D matrix. They will be tested to see how they respond to stresses, drugs, and genetic changes. "Spaceflight causes many significant changes in the human body. We expect tissue chips in space to behave much like an astronaut’s body, experiencing the same kind of rapid change," commented Associate Program Scientist Liz Warren of CASIS, a NASA partner.
The primary application of these tissue chips is in the development of new drugs. According to NASA, roughly 30 percent of promising medications are found to be toxic in human clinical trials despite successful preclinical studies in animal models. "There is a need in the drug development process to have better models to predict responses of the human body and to gauge toxicity much earlier in the process, as well as to check that a potential drug actually does what it’s supposed to without adverse side effects," commented Lucie Low in a NASA press release from late 2018.
OCO-3, on the other hand, is used to monitor natural phenomena on Earth. While measuring carbon dioxide, the observatory will determine how well plants are performing photosynthesis at the same time. Carbon-cycle scientists will get a better understanding of how well vegetation is absorbing carbon dioxide on the ground and how the surrounding atmosphere is responding.
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