Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has a $1.6 billion contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for at least 12 resupply missions to the ISS. This was the fourth such mission so far.

SpaceX Dragon Returns From Space Mission

SpaceX Dragon’s varied deliveries

This time around the SpaceX Dragon delivered almost 5,000 pounds of supplies, such as an experimental low-gravity 3D printer, as well as 20 mice which will be used in an experiment to assess how microgravity affects their bones and muscles. The Rodent Research-1 project will be used to inform the human effects of extended spaceflight, and marks the first time that live mammals have been transported in the capsule.

Other equipment included the Arugula Plant Growth study, which is designed to investigate the effect of microgravity on the growth and nutritional value of arugula seedlings. The aim of the study is to inform better ways of growing highly nutritious plants in space, with the ultimate goal of allowing astronauts to eat fresh food while on space missions.

More functional objects such as two Extravehicular Mobility Unit batteries were also transported. They are used to power oxygen supply systems in space suits, as well as communication devices. The newly delivered batteries were pressed into immediate service on two recent spacewalks.

“This mission enabled research critical to achieving NASA’s goal of long-duration human spaceflight in deep space,” said ISS division director Sam Scimemi. “Investigations in the returned cargo could aid in the development of more efficient solar cells and semiconductor-based electronics, the development of plants better suited for space, and improvements in sustainable agriculture.”

Dragon capabilities

NASA benefits greatly from the Dragon’s status as the only cargo spacecraft that has the capability to safely return scientific experiments to Earth from the ISS.

“It is the only spacecraft currently flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth,” said SpaceX. “Currently Dragon carries cargo to space, but it was designed from the beginning to carry humans.”

The ISS is set to see a period of heavy traffic, with two cargo capsules blasting off within the next couple of weeks, as well as the return of three existing ISS crew members in a Russian Soyuz capsule on November 9.