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Why did NASA send a DNA sequencer to space?

Included in the cargo on the latest shuttle to the International Space Station was a DNA sequencer. For science.

The SpaceX Dragon craft launched at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, carrying nearly 2,268 kilograms (5,000 pounds) of cargo. It's due to arrive at 7 a.m. EDT on July 20.

NASA has sent a DNA sequencer to the International Space Station and is on track to perform the first DNA sequencing to take place in space.

The SpaceX Dragon craft carrying the cargo launched on July 18, and is due to arrive on July 20, and will allow astronauts above the space station to sequence DNA right there on the space station. Usually, crewmembers have to send samples back to Earth for sequencing, which can take months.

Being able to sequence their own DNA right there on the station, using miniaturised equipment designed for microgravity called the Biomolecule Sequencer, will allow astronauts to monitor their own health and identify microbes. It may even, NASA said, "potentially help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system."

The equipment is just one of several items that will support over 250 science experiments during Expeditions 48 and 48, between July 6, 2016 and October 30, 2016. NASA has also sent up the Phase Change Heat Exchanger, technology that could be used to control temperatures on future spacecraft, and a new type of three-dimensional solar cell.

The ISS will also receive its very first international docking adapter for commercial spacecraft.

"Each commercial resupply flight to the space station is a significant event. Everything, from the science to the spare hardware and crew supplies, is vital for sustaining our mission," said NASA's International Space Station Program manager Kirk Shireman.

"With equipment to enable novel experiments never attempted before in space, and an international docking adapter vital to the future of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, we're thrilled this Dragon has successfully taken flight."

The next ISS resupply mission is due to take place in August 2016.