SpaceX launches tiny critters, solar panels to space station

SpaceX has delivered a new batch of supplies for the International Space Station, including thousands of tiny sea creatures and powerful solar cells

June 3, 2021, 7:46 p.m.

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX brought thousands of tiny sea creatures to the International Space Station on Thursday, along with a plaque-fighting toothpaste experiment and powerful solar panels.

The 7,300 pound (3,300 kilograms) shipment – which also includes fresh lemons, onions, avocados and cherry tomatoes for the station’s seven astronauts – should arrive on Saturday.

SpaceX’s Falcon rocket shot off the Kennedy Space Center into the misty afternoon sky. The first stage booster was new for a change and landed on an offshore platform a few minutes after launch so it can be recycled for a NASA astronaut flight this fall.

The also brand new Dragon cargo capsule provides the first of three sets of high-tech solar modules designed to strengthen the space station’s aging power grid. Astronauts will take two space walks late this month to install the two roll-out panels next to solar wings that have been in continuous operation for 20 years.

More power will be needed to accommodate the growing number of visitors buying tickets, NASA space station program manager Joel Montalbano said on Wednesday.

The cargo includes saliva and oral bacteria samples from dental patients being treated with toothpaste and mouthwash in an experiment to keep the teeth and gums of astronauts healthy in space.

“There is no guarantee that the Earth methods will work in weightlessness,” said researcher Jeffrey Ebersole of the University of Nevada Las Vegas in a statement.

Also to the orbiting laboratory: 20,000 water bears, better known as water bears, and 128 bobtail squids as well as chilli plants and cotton seedlings.

Tardigrade can survive in harsh environments on Earth and even in the vacuum of space. These microscopic extremophiles are started frozen, thawed and resuscitated on board the space station. By identifying the genes behind animals’ adaptability, the scientists hope to better understand the stresses and strains on the human body during long stays in space.

The baby bobtail squids are part of a study examining the relationship between beneficial bacteria and their animal hosts.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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