Space Station Science Highlights: Week of October 12, 2020

Soyuz spacecraft docked to the space station

The Soyuz spacecraft is shown docked to the space station Wednesday morning. The hatches officially opened at 7:07 a.m. EDT for the three new crew members to enter the orbiting lab, restoring the crew complement to six for the remainder of Expedition 63.Credits: NASA

Tangolab Cubelab inside the space station

This image shows the Tangolab CubeLab for Pharmaceutical Excipient Ingredient Stability in Microgravity, an investigation by the University of Adelaide that tests long-duration stability of medicines in space. Researchers hope to develop spacelabs for on-orbit formulation and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals.Credits: NASA

bubble formed from boiling liquid inside the space station

A bubble generated during operations of Multiscale Boiling. This investigation from the ESA (European Space Agency) tests fundamentals of boiling such as the onset of bubbles, which behave differently in microgravity than on Earth.Credits: Institute of Technical Thermodynamics, Darmstadt, Germany

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted studies of muscle loss, fungi and bacteria in soil, and boiling phenomena during the week of Oct. 12. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov arrived at the space station early on Wednesday, Oct.14. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner began packing for their return to Earth, currently scheduled for Oct. 21. Their departure marks the beginning of Expedition 64.

Now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, the space station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space. Experience gained on the orbiting lab supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place:

Observing muscle properties

The crew completed blood collection and processing as well as scans of specific muscle targets for the Muscle Tone in Space (Myotones), an ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, during the week. This observation of the biochemical properties of muscles during long-term exposure to spaceflight is expected to provide insight into principles of human resting muscle tone. Results could lead to the development of new strategies for alternative treatments to combat muscle loss during future space missions and from disease and disuse on Earth.

Healthier soil for better food production 

The rhizosphere, or layer of soil that interacts with plant roots, contains clumps of soil particles called aggregates. Formed by fungi and bacteria, these aggregates provide the nutrients plants need to grow. Recent studies have shown a connection between biological activity, aggregation formation, and the overall capacity of soils to sustainably produce nutritious food crops. Soil Health in Space: Determination of Gravitational Effects on Soil Stability for Controlled Environment Agriculture (Rhodium Space Rhizosphere) examines how spaceflight affects soil aggregates in order to help improve food production in space and on Earth. The crew prepared sample chambers for the investigation during this week.

A better look at boiling

Boiling is a common but complex phenomenon important to many applications, including energy conversion, food and chemical processes, fuel storage and propulsion, and electronics cooling. Multiscale Boiling, an investigation from the ESA (European Space Agency), tests fundamentals of boiling such as the onset of bubbles and transfer of heat. Conducting the experiments in microgravity makes it possible to observe effects that are too fast and too small to be measured under normal gravity conditions. A better understanding of the dynamics of boiling could improve the design of future space applications such as fuel storage, propulsion, and cooling of electronic devices. During the week, crew members set up the Multi-Scale Boiling Experiment Container in the ESA Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL), a multiuser facility designed for conducting fluid physics research in microgravity

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

  • Evaluation of Long-Term Stability of Pharmaceutical Ingredients in an Excipient Matrix for Use in Potential Future On-Orbit Manufacturing (Pharmaceutical Excipient Ingredient Stability in Microgravity) evaluates the effects of microgravity and radiation on the long-term stability of non-active ingredients of medicines. Results could support development of the capability to formulate medicines in space.
  • The Effect of Long Duration Hypogravity on the Perception of Self-Motion (VECTION), a Canadian Space Agency investigation, determines to what extent microgravity disrupts an astronaut’s ability to visually interpret motion, orientation, and distance as well as how those abilities may adapt in space and change again upon return to Earth.
  • The Whole Genome Fitness of Bacteria under Microgravity (Bacterial Genome Fitness) investigation looks at what environmental factors and processes are important for bacteria to grow in space. Results could help spacecraft designers control or prevent bacterial growth.
  • Actiwatch is a monitor worn by a crew member that continuously collects data on circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns, and activity during flight, beginning as soon as possible after arrival aboard the station.
  • Leveraging Microgravity to Screen Onco-selective Messenger RNAs for Cancer Immunotherapy (Onco-Selectors) tests drugs based on messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNA) to treat leukemia.
  • The Integrated Impact of Diet on Human Immune Response, the Gut Microbiota, and Nutritional Status During Adaptation to Spaceflight (Food Physiology) investigation documents the effects of dietary improvements on immune function and the gut microbiome and the ability of those improvements to support adaptation to spaceflight.
  • ISS Ham Radio gives students an opportunity to talk directly with crew members via ham radio, engaging and educating students, teachers, parents, and other members of the community in science, technology, engineering, and math.

For daily updates, follow @ISS_Research, Space Station Research and Technology News or our Facebook. Follow ISS National Lab for information on its sponsored investigations. For opportunities to see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot the Station.

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