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Meet the science experiments launching on SpaceX's Crew-4 astronaut mission

Crew-4 commander Kjell Lindgren (at right) with pilot Bob Hines, flanked by crewmates Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti and backdropped by their Crew Dragon "Freedom."
Crew-4 commander Kjell Lindgren (at right) with pilot Bob Hines, flanked by crewmates Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti and backdropped by their Crew Dragon "Freedom." (Image credit: SpaceX)

Smart shirts and artificial retinas will lift off to space alongside SpaceX's Crew 4 mission to the International Space Station, no earlier than April 26.

The four astronauts plan to perform more than 200 experiments during their month missions-long, as is typical of such missions, NASA said in a statement (opens in new tab) describing the research.

The crew's investigations will stretch across fields including health technologies, plant science and materials science. Some of the experiments will be packed into the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which, if all goes well, will lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 4:15 a.m. EDT (0815 GMT) on Tuesday (April 26).

Here is a highlight of some of the science launching to orbit.

Live updates: SpaceX's astronaut missions for NASA

The Smart-Tex T-shirt. (Image credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0))
  • The Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing (opens in new tab) experiment is expected to assist patients with retinal degenerative diseases, such as macular degeneration. The technology "tests the manufacturing of artificial retinas or retinal implants in microgravity, where it is expected their production could be optimized," according to NASA.
  • The Wireless Compose-2 (opens in new tab) is the latest "smart shirt" to fly to space. This Smart-Tex shirt version, from the German Space Agency (DLR), will monitor blood pressure, heart contractions and other health metrics. "These kinds of wearable technologies could be used to monitor health throughout a long-duration space exploration mission and could lead to a more flexible implementation of this technology in health monitoring equipment on Earth," NASA stated.
  • Microgravity as a Model for Immunological Senescense and its Impact on Tissue Stem Cells (opens in new tab) will examine biological aging in space. The experiment aims to examine "effects of microgravity on cells involved in tissue regeneration, and whether recovery occurs post-flight," according to the experiment webpage (opens in new tab).
  • Biopolymer Research for In-Situ Capabilities (opens in new tab) will test out the creation of an alternative to concrete. This alternative could be created with an organic compound along with silica, a common component of lunar and Martian dust.

Space station experiments typically transmit data from space for researchers on Earth to examine the raw data. If samples must be brought back to Earth, the crew will likely pack them on a SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle that will splash down near NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for rapid transport to local facilities.

Experiments that don't require return to Earth will instead be packed aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo vehicle. Cygnus capsules are not reusable, so astronauts fill these vehicles with trash and discarded experiments to burn up completely in Earth's atmosphere during re-entry.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.