Space Station Science Highlights: Week of October 26, 2020

astronaut Kate Rubins working on research hardware inside the space station

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins works on research hardware inside the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Kibo laboratory module.Credits: NASA

Radish seeds in a petri dish

Radish seeds being prepared for planting in seed carriers at Kennedy Space Center in September 2020. The carriers flew aboard Northrop Grumman’s 14th commercial resupply services mission to the space station, where astronauts planted them in the Advanced Plant Habitat.Credits: NASA/Glenn Benson

a volcano as seen from space

This image shows the potentially active stratovolcano Toussidé (center top), taken as the space station orbited over the African nation of Chad.Credits: NASA

astronaut Chris Cassidy after existing the Soyuz vehicle on earth

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy is helped out of the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft minutes after he and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Thursday, October 22, 2020, Kazakh time (Oct. 21 Eastern time).Credits: NASA

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Oct. 26, including studies of colloids (mixtures of tiny particles suspended in liquid), plant growth, and the behavior of water drops.

The space station, which marks its 20th anniversary of continuous human presence on Nov. 2, 2020, 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:

Complex structures from tiny particles

Mixtures of tiny particles suspended in a liquid, called colloids, include natural mixtures such as muddy water and manufactured products from shampoo to medicine to salad dressing. Studying colloids on Earth is complicated by gravity, but microgravity makes possible research that can help companies design better products. A series of studies called the Advanced Colloids Experiment (ACE) look at factors related to colloid interactions. For example, ACE-Temperature-2 (ACE-T-2) looks at the assembly of complex structures from colloids using changes in temperature to control particle interactions. This insight could provide a better understanding of how these interactions lead to complex structures and of the growth dynamics of these structures. During the week, crew members retrieved and took photos of ACE modules so ground teams can assess the condition of the developments in these modules and plan future order of operations.

Assessing radish growth on the space station

The crew prepared and took photos of the Advanced Plant Habitat system and performed operations for the Assessment of Nutritional Value and Growth Parameters of Space-grown Plants (Plant Habitat-02) investigation. Plant Habitat-02 cultivates radishes (Raphanus sativus), which are nutritious and edible, have a short cultivation time, and are genetically similar to Arabidopsis, a plant frequently studied in microgravity. Developing the capability to produce food in space requires understanding the effects of cultivation conditions such as light intensity and spectral composition and culture medium or soil. This research could help optimize plant growth in the unique environment of space, as well as their nutrition and taste.

A closer look at water drops

The wet ‘footprint’ or perimeter of a water drop in contact with a solid surfaced is called the moving contact line. Inertial Spreading with Vibration and Water Coalescence (Drop Vibration) examines the behavior of big liquid drops when their contact lines move rapidly as drops change shape through merging or due to vibration. These motions are fast and small on Earth but become slower and larger in microgravity, making it possible to observe them more closely. A better understanding of contact lines could benefit a range of phenomena that are crucial for applications in space systems such as positioning and draining fuels, propellants, and coolants and the operation of oxygenators, purifiers, and condensers. This week, crew members reviewed procedures and installed hardware for the investigation.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

  • Exposed Experiment Handrail Attachment Mechanism (ExHAM)is attached to the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Exposed Facility on the outside of the space station, enabling space experiments involving exposure to the space environment. Experiments are installed through use of the JEM airlock and the JEM Remote Manipulator System Small Fine Arm (JEMRMS SFA) grapple.
  • Food Acceptability, Menu Fatigue, and Aversion in ISS Missions (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.
  • 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.
  • 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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