SpaceX is launching over 200 experiments to space with Crew-3 astronauts on Halloween

CAPE CANAVERAL (Fla.) Four astronauts will travel to the International Space Station in October 31st. They'll spend six month conducting research for scientists back home. The international crew will be involved in more than 200 research projects during their stay.
Raja Chari (NASA astronaut), Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Matthias Maurer (European Space Agency) astronaut, will be the astronauts who join Expedition 65 crew. This will be Chari's first spaceflight. Barron, Maurer and Marshburn will also take part.

SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft will be launched by the astronauts on the Crew-3 mission. The launch will take place from Pad 39A, NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Sunday (Oct. 31, at 2:21 AM EDT (621 GMT). You can also watch the launch and prelaunch action here at

SpaceX's Crew-3 mission to the astronauts is live updated

The crew will conduct hundreds of experiments during their stay. This includes new medical research. These experiments will aid scientists on Earth in fighting diseases, and space agencies around the globe to better understand the effects of space on the human body, so that they can prepare astronauts for longer-duration space travel to Mars, the moon, and beyond.

The National Cancer Institute's protein crystal growth experiment will be one of the many research projects that the crew will undertake. Uniform Protein Crystal Growth, (UPCG) is a research experiment that involves tiny crystals made of RNA (ribonucleic acids) being grown in microgravity. Then they will be examined with a powerful light source to see their 3-dimensional form.

As part of a food-physiology experiment, the crew will also examine the effects of a spaceflight diet on astronauts' health.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft is seen at Launch Complex 39A. This was during a brief static fire testing ahead of NASAs SpaceX Crew-3 mission. It was launched on Thursday, October 28, 2021 at NASAs Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. (Image credit NASA/Joel Kowsky

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be used to launch the astronauts. This is the third operational crew launch of SpaceX. It follows the Demo-2 mission's successful test flight of Crew Dragon, which SpaceX launched in May 2020. NASA has two commercial partners to transport its astronauts to the station. Boeing is the other. (Boeing has not yet launched astronauts aboard its Starliner crew capsule. A second uncrewed Starliner test flight was planned for August but was canceled as teams work to fix the valves in the vehicle's propulsion systems.

NASA's commercial crew program was established to allow for more space station research and to return astronauts to the United States. NASA claims it can significantly increase the science conducted at the orbiting laboratory by having a fourth U.S. astronaut on board.

During a briefing on Thursday, October 28, David Brady (NASA's associate scientist for the International Space Station Program (JSC), stated that one of the many benefits the new Commercial Crew Program (CCP), provides to ISS research was the ability to launch science with the crew." We're able to do this because we are better able to adhere to schedules that are based on the needs of our scientists, which leads to better science.

Brady says that the upcoming protein crystal growth experiment will be a good example. It is taking Crew-3 up into space and returning to Earth with Crew-2 astronauts one week later.

Commercial crew vehicles also have an added advantage: faster return times for experiments. Brady stated that the CCP program has another advantage: it keeps the laboratory's transportation route close to home. "For Dragon vehicles the science launches in Florida and is then returned just off the Florida coast. This is ideal for expediting samples back into the lab."

This capability was possible because of upgrades to the Crew Dragon and its cargo-toting counterpart. Each capsule can fly up to five times. Instead of being taken off the California coast and hauled across the country, each Dragon is picked up from the water and transferred to the Cape. The science is then sent back to investigators within hours. This is compared to the time it takes to return from space for other craft or missions which could take many days.

Let's look at some of these science investigations Crew-2 astronauts will conduct during their six-month stay in orbit.

Protein crystal growth

Researchers hope to determine the 3-dimensional structure of protein crystals in microgravity using powerful lasers. Researchers will create a number of RNA crystals and then send them back to Earth for analysis.

Because the shape of these proteins is directly related to their biological functions, this is crucial. There are many factors that can affect the growth of protein crystals, which in turn could alter their structure and eventually impact their ability to function.

Microgravity allows crystals to grow more uniformly than in gravity, which makes it possible to produce more perfect crystals. This could result in better treatments and therapies for diseases, according to Jason R. Stagno (staff scientist at the National Cancer Institute's Structural Biophysics Laboratory) and researcher on this project.

This research focuses on X-ray Free-Electron Laser technology (XFEL), which allows imaging of biological molecules that are not possible to grow into large crystals, such as viruses and nanoparticles, and allows researchers to track time-resolved structural modifications of important biological molecules.

The researchers will be focusing their research on riboswitchRNA, which controls gene expression as part of the experiment. This non-coding RNA is very common in bacteria. It has the potential to be used to develop new antibiotics and engineering RNA-based therapeutic switch. Because they can switch genes on or off using a series structural changes, Riboswitches (also known as "switches") are controlled by the binding a small molecule.

Stagno stated during the briefing that RNA behaves like a switch. It is dependent on what it interacts with. "So, like a fast shutter speed camera, we will try to capture the moment when the RNA structure changes in reaction to stimulation."

Researchers hope to create a mini RNA movie. They need millions of tiny crystals, instead of just a few large ones that have been the focus of previous space station protein crystal growth experiments.

Food physiology

Grace Douglas is the lead scientist in NASA's Advanced Food Technology research program. She studies the effects of diet on astronauts' response to their gut microbiotas and nutritional status. She said, "We wanted this experiment to begin because we look at spaceflight today, we learn lots." "And we learned that astronauts have immune system changes like dysregulation, decreased immune cell function, bone, and muscle loss."

Douglas stated that these changes happen within six months of an ISS mission. As humanity pushes out further into the solar system's solar system, researchers are keen to find ways to combat these problems and improve astronaut health. She said that diet is an excellent place to begin. Douglas says, "What we eat is what our microbiome eats." "The microbiome essentially influences everything. If we eat the right diet, we can improve our health and performance."

As astronauts are required to eat food that is stable and can withstand the harsh environment of space travel, their diets often include more processed foods. Douglas says the team is trying to provide astronauts with healthier food that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and a wider variety of fruits and veggies. Then, they will determine how this affects the astronaut's immune system function over the course the mission.

This team will be looking for markers in biological samples provided by astronauts to help them do so. Douglas claims that the team tried this Food Physiology experiment on Earth during Human Exploration Research analog missions. They noticed improvements in cognitive and nutritional outcomes. "Over 45 days, I can tell you that one of the most obvious outcomes was a decrease in cholesterol and other nutritional benefits. You can see the benefits of increasing your intake of fruits and veggies and other such things very quickly," she stated.

Douglas and her team now want to test their Food Physiology experiment from space. She said that some of the items were specifically designed to support this study, including freeze-dried vegetables like butternut squash or sweet and savory Kale. "Then, we also developed additional fish products, such as barramundi which is a farmed fish rich in omega 3s and has a milder taste than traditional salmon or tuna.

Video guidance sensor for smartphones

Hector Gutierrez is Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Florida Institute of Technology. He has been working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on the development of a software sensor called Smartphone Video Guidance Sensor, or SVGS.

Their investigation aims to show that it is possible to create a software sensor that can be used on multiple platforms and calculate the position, attitude, and orientation of illuminated beacons. Gutierrez says that this is an extremely valuable way to provide navigation and guidance information for proximity maneuvers using small spacecraft, drones, or mobile robots.

According to him, one version SVGS can be deployed with a cell phone as per the name of the investigation. He said that the code could be programmed to run on a cellphone as an app that uses the camera to snap photos of a target, navigate, and get position and attitude information using two-dimensional images from the phone.

Gutierriez predicts that most robots will be equipped with multiple CPUs and many will also have cameras. SVGS can be used on a wide range of robotics platforms. He said, "We will demonstrate this technology by deploying it onto the free flying robot Astrobee currently on the ISS."

Astrobee is the replacement of spheres, a group of free-flying robots that has been stationed on the station for more than a year. These robots assist in some of the research investigations like SVGS. Gutierriez states that the bees are going to be placed in the Japan pressurized Module (JPM), equipped with four LED beacons. These beacons will allow them to perform a series five maneuvers to verify the sensors.

Standard measures for Spaceflight

NASA's Human Research Program aims to reduce the risk of spaceflight for human health by surveying astronauts and collecting data with tech measures such as smartwatches, from now until the end.

Spaceflight can be dangerous because of a number of factors, including radiation, lack of gravity, isolation, confinement, and different spacecraft designs. NASA has been collecting data, biological samples and medical information from astronauts for many years to understand the effects of microgravity on the human body. This project, however, is unique in that it covers multiple disciplines.

Giles Clement of Lyon Neuroscience Center in France said that "this project is a crosscutting project." "And that means that we don't collect responses from one discipline, such as muscle or bone or immune system. We collect response from all disciplines simultaneously in physiology and human biology.

Clement stated that the astronauts involved in the investigation will wear smartwatches all day, even while sleeping. This will be done for two weeks each month during their spaceflight. This will allow researchers to measure their sleep duration.

Clement states that crew members will be required to fill out monthly surveys on how they interact with each other in order to assess their performance and equations. He said that astronauts have access to a laptop at the space station, which allows them to perform over 10 neurocognitive tests. This will measure their reaction time and concentration as well as their spatial orientation. "We also collect blood and saliva samples in order to examine the status and function of the astronauts and the general blood and urine chemistry during different times."

Clement stated that this project was initiated in 2018. The researchers have already accumulated a lot of data. This project helps predict what astronauts will experience after returning home from spaceflight.