SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carried up 'mighty mice' and a new robot companion to the International Space Station

Aylin Woodward
SpaceX Dragon

REUTERS/NASA

  • On Sunday morning, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station in orbit.
  • The spacecraft's resupply mission carried up 5,700 pounds of gear to the ISS, including equipment for 38 science experiments and a new robotic companion.
  • Once of those experiments involves observing how genetically engineered "mighty mice" with twice the normal muscle mass respond to living in space.
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A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft docked with the International Space Station at 5:05 a.m. ET on Sunday.

It delivered 5,700 pounds of supplies for the ISS crew as well as gear for 38 science experiments taking place in the orbiting space station. It is SpaceX's 19th resupply mission, aptly named CRS-19, under the company's current contract with NASA, which extends through 2024.

The cargo included Christmas presents for the station's six-person crew, according to the Associated Press.

'Mighty mice'

Also among the CRS-19 cargo was a cadre of 40 genetically enhanced "mighty mice" with two times the normal amount of muscle mass. For the next 30 days, these mice will be used to help researchers from the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine assess how to minimize muscle and bone loss in astronauts during spaceflight.

"This is a project that I've been trying to get off the ground, so to speak, for many, many years. To see it all come together now is nothing short of amazing," Se-Jin Lee, the laboratory's lead researcher, said in a press release.

international space station, iss

NASA

In addition to helping scientists understand how living in space changes astronauts' bodies, discoveries from this mouse experiment may help researchers address serious health conditions that affect humans' muscle and bone strength on Earth.

"The knowledge we gain about microgravity's effects on muscles and bones will help us to enhance the health of astronauts — both in space and on Earth, and also better understand the promise that myostatin inhibitors hold for the elderly, people who are bedridden, and for people experiencing muscle-wasting related to diseases like AIDS, ALS, cancer, and so many others," Lee added.

A robotic companion

Also included in the SpaceX Dragon cargo was the next generation of the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, or Cimon-2.

The companion is an artificial-intelligence program housed in a round, soccer-ball-size robot with a digital face.

cimon international space station alexander gerst ibm watson.JPG

IBM

Cimon-2 is designed as an autonomous companion that can sense astronauts' emotions, interact with them, and help with tasks on the ISS.

Cimon-2's predecessor, the first generation of Cimon, joined the space station's crew last year.

The latest SpaceX Dragon mission is expected to end on January 6, when CRS-19 is scheduled to return to Earth with 1,800 pounds of scientific samples and gear.

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