The first Chinese science mission aboard the International Space Station will soon be ready to begin.
On Saturday, June 3, SpaceX launched its refurbished Dragon capsule atop the Falcon 9 rocket, carrying scientific research equipment and experiments from China along with food and other essentials.
The Chinese devices will be delivered to the space station on June 6, when the unmanned Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the ISS.
China's First Research Project On The ISS
The focus of China's first scientific mission aboard the ISS is the problem of space radiation and its effects on astronauts' DNA.
Specifically, the mission aims to study the rate of DNA mutations in the space environment, according to Deng Yulin, project leader and life science professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
As Deng points out, gene mutation is one of the biggest risks that astronauts face during space missions. This is because radiation levels are 10 times higher in space than on Earth, he explains.
"The research team caught evidence of the gene mutation after the first experiment via Shenzhou-8 [launched by China in 2011], which proves the space environment can cause DNA mutation and biomolecular changes," said Deng in a statement.
The current research project will continue that previous work aboard the ISS, where it is set to investigate whether space radiation and microgravity dictate a pattern of gene mutation, Deng stated.
This experiment is the first Chinese-led research done on the U.S. side of the station. The project is expected to run for about 30 days aboard the ISS, after which the Dragon capsule will return the results back to Earth.
Due to the nature of the research project, this endeavor could have important implications for long-duration human spaceflight.
U.S. Firm NanoRacks Contracted In The Chinese Space Mission
For the purpose of this experiment, the Beijing Institute of Technology teamed up with the American private company NanoRacks.
The U.S. firm was paid about $200,000 to deliver the payload to the space station, as well as to collect data from the experiment and provide storage inside the company's racks.
Apart from the SpaceX launch last weekend, China has also sent scientific equipment in space aboard its Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft earlier this spring.
China's first cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou-1 docked with its orbiting space laboratory, known as the Tiangong-2, on April 22, after being launched into space inside the Long March-7 Y2 rocket.