It wasn’t quite Apollo 13 redux, but the emergency maneuvers to save SpaceX’s tumbling Dragon capsule minutes after its March 1 launch were terrifying nonetheless for space entrepreneur Elon Musk.
“We had this spacecraft just going through free drift in space, like just tumbling,” the SpaceX CEO recounted at the South by Southwest Interactive festival Saturday.
Musk recalled the minute-by-minute maneuvers the SpaceX team took to save the tumbling craft, which included borrowing a U.S. Air Force antenna array, hastily rewriting code and making the risky call to unfurl the solar panels before they froze.
The Dragon eventually docked with the International Space Station, the third flight by SpaceX to do so, and delivered its roughly 2,000-pound cargo of spare parts and plants. These were the minutes in between.
Look to the sky just before sunrise or right after sunset, and you may spot a slow-moving, bright dot. Hovering 220-miles above the earth, this distant spot is the International Space Station. Scientific research is the priority for the six-person crew that lives and works there. It’s a laboratory like no other, where researchers can test technologies for traveling deeper into space or find unique insight into questions about life on Earth.
ISS scientist Tara Ruttley says research into astrophysics, biology, technology and other disciplines are tested within the station’s microgravity laboratories “We’re the only orbiting lab ever…where all these disciplines are connected together,” she says.
Now, NASA is calling for research proposals on how the ISS may be used to develop improved exploration technologies. “The research pursuits that get me the most excited are the ones that enable us to go somewhere deeper out into space,” says George Nelson, manager of the ISS Technology Demonstration Office. “You’re basically having to transport an entire ecosystem wherever you go, so environmental support systems play a big role in the type of technologies we need to develop.”
Since its creation, the ISS has distinguished itself for novel and interesting breakthroughs towards scientific understanding of our world and the beyond. While NASA is already planning for future ISS research efforts, it is worthwhile to note the station’s significant scientific achievements from the past 14 years.
According to NASA, John Glenn, the first American to eat in space, squeezed applesauce from a toothpaste tube while aboard Friendship 7 in 1962.
Things have changed a lot in the last 50 years. Space agency food scientists have been at work squeezing in more flavor while draining away extra weight and volume.
And now, with the prospect of extended exploration missions, the Advanced Food Technology Project is pushing the bounds even further—increasing meal options while figuring out how to keep space food stable, safe and nutritious for three to five years.
In honor of their work, here are the products the agency’s scientists and dietitians have been cooking up and hermetically sealing throughout the history of American spaceflight.