Bob Granath at NASA has posted a write-up of our TOAST and the other BRIC-17 experiment. He did a great job summarizing our goals in sending Arabidopsis to the space station to study plants grown in microgravity. There are also some good pictures of the space hardware that is holding our petri plates right now inside the space station, with an identical set of BRICs in the International Space Station Environmental Simulator (ISSES) at Kennedy Space Center as the ground control.
Another NASA article details the launch and berthing of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule holding our BRICs. After the successful Friday morning launch powered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and release of the Dragon capsule in low earth orbit, a nail-biting hours long session occurred as SpaceX attempted to get Dragon’s thrusters working. The thrusters are needed to get the capsule close enough to the space station so that the capsule can be grappled by the Canada arm.
The BRIC-17 teams had a hastily called meeting Friday afternoon when the thruster problem became apparent. We discussed the scientific ramifications of a delay in berthing with the space station. Potentially, the delay could have been up to 2.5 days, which would have shortened the growth time of our plants in microgravity by two days to allow enough time in the freezer before returning to earth. Luckily, SpaceX was able to get the thrusters working and Dragon successfully berthed to the space station on Sunday morning, only a day late, thus allowing our experiment to run for the originally planned span of time.
The Dragon capsule is scheduled for splashdown back on Earth on March 25, with return of our space-flown BRICs on March 29. Let’s hope everything continues to go well and we can de-integrate our samples from the BRICs for analysis in April!
PS. As promised, here is the footage from the NASA press conference which Simon participated in the day before the launch.