SpaceX is slated to launch its 21st commercial resupply services (CRS) mission, contracted through NASA, to the International Space Station (ISS) no earlier than December 5 at 11:39 a.m. EST. This is the first-time SpaceX will leverage an upgraded version of the Dragon cargo spacecraft to launch critical research and supplies to the orbiting laboratory. This launch comes on the heels of the successful launch and docking of SpaceX Crew-1, which delivered four astronauts and research to the space station for a six-month science mission. Over the coming months, the Crew-1 astronauts, along with NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, will work on many of the research investigations launching on SpaceX CRS-21 as part of Expedition 64.

Several investigations sponsored by the ISS U.S. National Laboratory on this mission are in the areas of life science and regenerative medicine and include government-funded science, academic studies, and research from large pharmaceutical companies. These investigations seek to leverage the unique conditions on the space station to gain a better understanding of disease and improve drug design to benefit patient care on Earth. Results from this research could lead to breakthroughs that bring value to our nation and drive a robust economy in low Earth orbit. Below provides an overview of some of the life science investigations launching on SpaceX CRS-21.

Bristol Myers Squibb, a leading global biopharma company, will observe the crystallization of monoclonal antibodies in microgravity. The study of how such proteins crystallize in space will augment the company’s ongoing research into protein stability that could inform future directions in drug development and manufacturing.

Three projects on this mission are funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (one of the centers within the National Institutes of Health) through its joint, multiyear Tissue Chips in Space initiative with the ISS National Lab. Tissue chips are small devices engineered to grow human cells on an artificial scaffold to model the structure and function of human tissues. Because human cells and tissues respond to microgravity in ways that sometimes mimic the onset and progression of human disease, studying tissue chips in space may accelerate pathways for understanding disease and developing new treatments for use on Earth and beyond.

Tissue chip research on this mission includes a heart disease investigation from a team of researchers at Stanford University. This experiment builds on the team’s previous investigation that launched in 2017 to examine the effects of microgravity on the function of heart cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells. In addition, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will launch its second tissue chip investigation focused on post-traumatic osteoarthritis, and the University of Florida will launch a muscle atrophy tissue chip experiment that builds on a previous tissue engineering investigationthat launched in 2018.

Also on SpaceX CRS-21 is an investigation from a team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego that will use a brain organoid model to study neurological diseases in microgravity. In 2019, the team launched a similar investigation, which was considered a first of its kind, to the ISS. Based on findings from that initial investigation, this second experiment will further examine how microgravity affects the survival, metabolism, and cognitive function of brain cells in an organoid model. Such organoid models could aid in the study of conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease, which represent a significant health burden.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will lead a project that seeks to analyze swab samples of 1,000 locations within the space station to explore the spatial relationship between bacteria and their metabolites (chemicals produced by their growth). The project will translate molecular information in 3D high spatial resolution to understand the distribution of microbes and metabolites associated with the built environment of the ISS, a nearly closed ecosystem. Understanding the microbiome of built environments and how it affects human health is a growing field of research that is particularly important in hospitals, nursing homes, and places where people are immuno-compromised.

These are just some of the many projects sponsored by the ISS National Lab that are flying on this mission. To learn more about all research investigations sponsored by the ISS National Lab on SpaceX CRS-21, please visit our mission overview page.


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About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the ISS as the nation’s newest national laboratory to optimize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by non-NASA U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The ISS National Lab manages access to the permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space is the nonprofit responsible for management of the ISS National Lab.