SpaceX has a unique cargo Dragon spacecraft returning to Earth after its 21st commercial resupply services mission for NASA. The modified Dragon capsule will depart the ISS and splashdown off the coast of Florida about 12 hours later. This marks the first time a Dragon capsule will splashdown off the coast of Florida.
This particular capsule is bringing significantly more science experiments back to earth than was possible on previous Dragon capsule designs. Science returns from the space station will be processed through the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first time since the space shuttle fleet retired. The main benefit of returning the science experiments through Kennedy Space Center is that it can get the time-sensitive experiments to the lab faster than possible before.
It’s critical for some experiments to be returned to the lab as quickly as possible as they begin to experience the effects of gravity as soon as the spacecraft returns to earth. A SpaceX boat will scoop the capsule out of the water, and a team will be waiting to remove time-sensitive science experiments out of the spacecraft and load them onto a waiting helicopter.
The helicopter will deliver the experiments to the shore within a few hours of splashdown. Any remaining scientific cargo will be returned in a second helicopter or stay aboard the boat and be removed at the port. Several experiments are being returned in the capsule, including Cardinal Heart, Space Organogenesis, Bacterial Adhesion and Corrosion, Fiber Optic Production, and Rodent Research-23 experiments.
The latter experiment involves returning live mice to earth. The helicopter returning experiments to the shore will land at the Shuttle Landing Facility previously used for space shuttle return activities. Most of the cargo will be moved to the Kennedy Space Center Space Station Processing Facility by truck, where science teams will be waiting. That facility has world-class laboratories providing scientists with tools and workspace to take data and analyze samples immediately.