What’s Up With CRS-10?

SpaceX successfully launched CRS-10 into orbit on Sunday from the historic Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center, the first launch from that pad since STS-135 in 2011. This launch is the second for SpaceX in 2017 and their first for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract to the ISS since July of 2016.


Launch of CRS-10 from KSC LC-39A on February 19, 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX


They also stuck the landing at LZ-1 at KSC making their first daytime landing there. After an abort on the initial approach to the ISS on the 22nd, Dragon was successfully captured and berthed to the ISS on February 23rd.

Dragon is carrying slightly above the average amount of science cargo on CRS-10. Total capsule mass is listed as 5,490 lbs of which 1,614 lbs of that were science investigations and its support hardware.


Mass of Internal Pressurized Dragon Science Investigations Since CRS-1 (includes science support hardware, i.e. an empty Double Cold Bag is ~18 lbs., phase change material/ice brick is ~1.7 lbs.) Source: NASA


CRS-10 Experiments

Principal Investigator: Paul Reichert, M.S., Merck Research Laboratories, Kenilworth, NJ, United States

Hardware/Payload Developer: Handheld HDPCG, The University of Alabama at Birmingham


On board are several protein crystal growth experiments flying with CASIS funding, including a continuing project with Paul Reichert and Merck. This is Reichert’s 15th microgravity protein crystal growth experiment (PCG), with his first on the space shuttle mission STS-51 in 1993.


From the CASIS press release:

“With this experiment, Merck Research Labs seeks to understand the impact of the microgravity environment on the structure, delivery method and purification of KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab) Merck’s anti-PD-1 therapy. KEYTRUDA is a humanized monoclonal antibody that works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells. Data from this experiment will provide insights on the future of drug delivery, product development and manufacturing. KEYTRUDA is being evaluated in over 30 tumor types in more than 400 clinical trials, at least half of which combine KEYTRUDA with other cancer treatments.”

The mention of KEYTRUDA is significant since it’s the first time I’ve seen Merck publicly mention a micro-g PCG drug target by name. They’ve typically stayed generic, like “alpha-interferon” or “monoclonal antibodies. It’s unclear if this drug was developed in micro-g though. Likely it wasn’t.


Principal Investigator: Lawrence J. DeLucas, O.D., PhD, University of Alabama, Birmingham, AL, United States

Co-Investigator: Christian Betzel, PhD, University of Hamburg, Germany

Hardware/Payload Developer: Light Microscopy Module; ZIN Technologies Incorporated, Cleveland, OH, United States, NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH, United States


Principal Investigator: Eddie H. Snell, Ph.D., Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, Buffalo, NY, United States
Co-Investigator: Joseph R. Luft, M.S, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, Buffalo, NY, United States

Hardware/Payload Developer: Light Microscopy Module; ZIN Technologies Incorporated, Cleveland, OH, United States, NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH, United States


Dr. Larry DeLucas continues with his series of PCG experiments also started in the early days of the space shuttle program and Dr. Eddie Snell returns to micro-g PCG research that began with STS-65 in 1995. While great to see micro-g PCG projects still flying, it’s discouraging to see no new or other returning researchers.


Principal InvestigatorAnita Goel, M.D., Ph.D., Nanobiosym, Inc., Cambridge, MA, United States

Hardware/Payload DeveloperOmniTrays, Plate Habitats (PHABs),  Space Automated Bioproduct Lab (SABL); BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States


There was a lot of pre-flight hoopla about the Gene-RADAR® experiment since it contains samples of the deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strain. While the media had fun with catchy click-bait titles, this is not the first time MRSA has flown to the ISS. It does represent the maximum biologic safety limit that NASA will allow (BSL 2), though.

It’s confusing to me why this experiment couldn’t have been tested first on the ground, but it certainly got a lot of PR and maybe it just costs less to fly things the ISS nowadays.


Principal Investigator: Abba Zubair, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic , Jacksonville, FL, United States

Hardware/Payload Developer: Plate Habitats (PHABs)Space Automated Bioproduct Lab (SABL)BioCells; BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States


A relatively simple, but important stem cell experiment from the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Zubair is looking at the ability to grow and expand mesenchymal, hematopoietic and leukemia cancer stem cells on the ISS. The researcher hopes to establish a long hoped for method of cultivate large batches of stem cells for regeneration or disease therapy.

Previous stem cell experiments have focused on either genetic up/down regulation of growing in micro-g or DNA aberrations caused by cosmic radiation. Stem cells are a high maintenance cell line and these original experiments provided some evidence that stem cells may proliferate better in micro-g. A good review can be found here.


Principal Investigator: Anna-Lisa Paul, Ph.D., University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States
Co-Investigator: Robert J. Ferl, Ph.D., University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States

Hardware/Payload Developer: Petri plates, KSC Fixation Tubes; NASA Kennedy Space Center, Space Life Sciences Laboratory, Cape Canaveral, FL, United States

This experiment from prolific micro-g researchers Anna-Lisa Paul and Rob Ferl continues a series started on STS-93 in 1999. This investigation looks at (as the title tells you) whole genome epigentics using bisulfite sequencing and RNAseq of Arabidopsis seedlings after growing during spaceflight. The experiment series hopes to shed light on plant adaptations to microgravity for fundamental knowledge as well as the practical application of growing food and O2 production during long duration space missions.


Student Spaceflight Experiments Program Mission 9
Investigators: 21 schools from across North America

Continuation of the successful MixStix program started by Dr. Jeff Goldstein.


Vegetative Vermehrung Von Pflanzen im Orbit/Vegetative Propagation of Plants in Orbit (V3PO)
Investigators: Edith Stein Agricultural High School, Ravensburg, Germany; BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany

Cool crowd sourced student plant experiment showing for the first time how cuttings of Ficus pumila will grow in microgravity. The Ficus cuttings are being used as a analog species for fruiting vegetables to better understand how cuttings instead of seeds can be propagated for food during long term spaceflight missions.


Microbial Methane Associated Research Strasbourg No. 1 (MMARS1)
Investigators: Airbus DS in collaboration with its scientific partners the International Space University and the University of Strasbourg

Contractile Properties of Smooth Muscle in Microgravity
Investigators: Craft Academy in collaboration with its scientific partner, Morehead St. University.

ISSET Educational Endeavor No. 1
Investigators: Multiple student groups through King’s College, London

Medicinal Plants in Microgravity
Investigator: Chappell Lab, University of Kentucky

Life Cycle of Arabidopsis thaliana in Microgravity
Investigator: Student experiment led by Magnitude.IO


Space Tango is flying their first series of TangoLab customers after a shake down flight of their hardware last summer. Kris Kimmel has reported there are 18 payloads on this flight, but only eight are listed in their press release. The listed experiments range from several student experiments to microbial methane production in micro-g.

Tango’s presence on the ISS shows the blooming commercial market of microgravity research and hardware development services started by long established companies such as BioServe (1987), TechShot (1988) and NanoRacks (2009). It’s great to see that researchers now have more choices, and therefore leverage, than ever before to accomplish their science goals.

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