Space Station Science Highlights: Week of October 19, 2020

astronauts Chris Cassidy and Kate Rubins during a publicly broadcasted event from ISS

NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Kate Rubins answer questions during a public affairs event. The two crew members overlapped for a week together on the station; Rubins arrived on Oct. 14 and Cassidy departed on Oct. 21.Credits: NASA

astronaut Kate Runins using the VECTION virtual reality hardware

The Canadian Space Agency’s VECTION investigation examines to what extent microgravity disrupts an astronaut’s ability to visually interpret motion, orientation, and distance. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins conducts a session for the investigation.Credits: NASA

astronaut Chris Cassidy working on the Food Physiology experiment

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy processes biological samples for Food Physiology, an investigation examining the effects of an enhanced spaceflight diet on immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutritional status indicators.Credits: NASA

During the week of Oct. 19, scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station included studies of accelerated aging in space, spaceflight food systems, and adaptive responses to living in space. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner departed the station Oct. 21, marking 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:

Putting the brakes on accelerated aging

The crew collected blood and urine samples for Phospho-aging Mechanism of Accelerated Aging Under Microgravity (Phospho-aging), an investigation from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The study examines molecular mechanisms behind aging-like symptoms that occur more rapidly in microgravity, such as bone and muscle loss. Scientists previously identified an aging factor in mammals, calciprotein particles (CPPs), tiny particles of calcium-phosphate and serum proteins in the blood and urine. CPPs behave like a pathogen, causing chronic inflammation and systemic tissue damage, which could be the mechanism behind accelerated aging in space.

Improving the spaceflight food system

Food in space must be nutritious and appealing to keep crew members healthy on the space station as well as longer missions to the Moon and Mars. This week, crew members participated in two ongoing studies aimed at improving the spaceflight diet: The Integrated Impact of Diet on Human Immune Response, the Gut Microbiota, and Nutritional Status During Adaptation to Spaceflight (Food Physiology) and Food Acceptability, Menu Fatigue, and Aversion in ISS Missions (Food Acceptability).

Food Physiology characterizes how an enhanced spaceflight diet affects immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutritional status. These factors are interlinked, but diet is the only one that can be easily and meaningfully altered. This investigation documents the effect of dietary improvements on human physiology and the ability of those improvements to enhance adaptation to spaceflight. Additional hardware for the Food Physiology experiment launches on the Crew-1 mission, targeted for no sooner than early-to-mid November.

Food Acceptability looks at how the appeal of food changes during long-duration missions. Whether crew members like and actually eat foods directly affects caloric intake and associated nutritional benefits. Repeatedly consuming a limited selection of foods can lead to “menu fatigue” and cause decreased acceptability and increased aversion to some foods. This aversion may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, which could have unfavorable health consequences as mission length increases.

Keeping tabs on human adaptation to space

Spaceflight Standard Measures (Standard Measures) collects a set of core measurements related to many human spaceflight risks, helping to ensure consistent capture of data from crew members throughout the space station program. These measures, taken before, during, and after missions, characterize the adaptive responses to and risks of living in space and create a data repository that enables high-level monitoring of countermeasures and interpretation of health and performance outcomes. The measures include a cognition test battery, sleep questionnaires, comprehensive metabolic and chemistry panels, microbiome samples, immune function assessment, and more. Crew members collected data for the investigation during the week.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

  • Culture-based Environmental Monitoring of Crop-based Space Food Systems (Veggie Monitoring) collects surface microbial samples from the Veggie plant production system, part of efforts to protect plant-growth systems from contamination.
  • 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.
  • 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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