A troop of muscle-enhanced mice was among more than 3,500 pounds of experiments and equipment that came back to Earth today when a robotic SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at the end of a monthlong resupply mission to the International Space Station.
- Mighty Mice in Space is an experiment studying mice who have been bred to lack myostatin, a growth factor that normally limits muscle growth in mice and humans. The study could point to strategies for combating muscle loss during extended periods in zero gravity, which is an occupational hazard for astronauts. Dozens of other experiments were returned as well, including Boeing-funded investigations that focus on repairing damaged DNA and producing cancer-fighting proteins.
- SpaceX’s Dragon also brought back a faulty battery charge-discharge unit, or BCDU, that didn’t activate when it was installed during an October spacewalk. The unit had to be replaced, and now that it’s back on Earth, NASA teams will try fixing it.
- During the Dragon’s departure from the station, the blast from its thrusters appeared to rattle the solar panels on another robotic cargo ship that was parked at the station, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus craft. NASA ground teams will follow up on the observation, which was passed along by Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, to make sure the Cygnus hasn’t been damaged. Another Cygnus is due to be launched from Virginia on a station resupply mission in February.