You know that colorful crystal garden you grew as a kid?
Yeah, we do that in space now.
Chemical Gardens, a new investigation aboard the International Space Station takes a classic science experiment to space with the hope of improving our understanding of gravity’s impact on their structural formation.
Here on Earth, chemical gardens are most often used to teach students about things like chemical reactions.
Chemical gardens form when dissolvable metal salts are placed in an aqueous solution containing anions such as silicate, borate, phosphate, or carbonate.
With the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) habitat, we
complete studies to prepare us for exploration to asteroids, Mars, and the Moon…
here on Earth! The studies are called analogs, and
they simulate space missions to study how different aspects of deep space
affect humans. During a HERA mission, the crew (i.e., the research participants)
live and work very much as astronauts do, with minimal contact with anyone
other than Mission Control for 45 days.
The most recent study, Mission XVII, just “returned
to Earth” on June 18. (i.e., the participants egressed, or exited the
habitat at our Johnson Space Center in Houston after their 45-day study.) We
talked with the crew, Ellie, Will, Chi, and Michael, about the experience. Here
are some highlights!
Why did you decide to participate in
HERA Mission XVII?
Mission VXII participants (from left to right) Ellie, Will, Chi, and Michael.
“My master’s is in human factors,” said Chi, who studies the
interaction between humans and other systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University. “I figured this would be a cool way to study the other side of the
table and actually participate in an analog.” For Michael, who holds a PhD in
aerospace engineering and researches immunology and radio biology, it was an
opportunity to experience life as an astronaut doing science in space. “I’ve
flown [experiments] on the space station and shuttle,” he said. “Now I wanted
to see the other side.” For Will, a geosciences PhD, it provided an opportunity
to contribute to space exploration and neuroscience, which he considers two of
the biggest fields with the most potential in science. “Here, we have this
project that is the perfect intersection of those two things,” he said. And
Ellie, a pilot in the Air Force, learned about HERA while working on her
master’s thesis on Earth and space analogs and how to improve them for deep-space
studies. “A lot of my interests are similar to Chi’s,” she said. “Human factors
and physiological aspects are things that I find very fascinating.”
NASA missions all have patches, and
HERA Mission XVII is no different. Did you get to design your patch?
Mission VXII patch, which reads “May the Force be with you” in Latin and features
Star Wars iconography. It’s a reference to the mission’s start date, May 4th
aka Star Wars Day!
“We did!” They said …with a little the help from Michael’s brother, who is a designer. He drew
several different designs based on the crew’s ideas. They picked one and worked
together on tweaks. “We knew we were going [inside the habitat] on May Fourth,”
Michael said. “We knew it would be Star Wars Day. So we did a Star Wars theme.”
The patch had to come together fairly quickly though, since a Star Wars Day “launch”
wasn’t the initial plan. “We were supposed to start two weeks earlier,” Ellie
said. “It just so happened the new start date was May the Fourth!” Along with
the Star Wars imagery, the patch includes a hurricane symbol, to pay tribute to
hurricane Harvey which caused a previous crew to end their mission early, and
an image of the HERA habitat. Will joked that designing the patch
was “our first team task.”
How much free time did you have and
what did you do with it?
Mission XVII crew looking down the ladders inside the habitat.
“It was a decent amount,” Michael said. “I could have used
more on the harder days, but in a way it’s good we didn’t have more because
it’s harder to stay awake when you have nothing to do.” (The mission included a
sleep reduction study, which meant the crew only got five hours of sleep a
night five days a week.) “With the time I did have, I read a lot,” he said. He
also drew, kept a journal, and “wrote bad haikus.” Because of the sleep study, Ellie
didn’t read as much. “For me, had I tried to read or sit and do anything not
interactive, I would have fallen asleep,” she said.
crew’s art gallery, where they hung drawing and haikus they wrote.
Journaling and drawing were popular ways to pass the time. “We
developed a crew art gallery on one of the walls,” Will said. They also played
board games—in particular a game where you score points by making words with
lettered tiles on a 15×15 grid. (Yes that
one!) “Playing [that game] with two scientists wasn’t always fun though,” Ellie
joked, referencing some of the more obscure vocabulary words Will and Michael
had at the ready. “I was like, ‘What does that word mean?’ ‘Well that word
means lava flow,” she said laughing.
(The rest of the crew assured us she fared just fine.)
Chi tried reading, but found it difficult due to the dimmed
lights that were part of an onboard light study. She took on a side project
instead: 1000 paper cranes. “There is a story in Japan—I’m half Japanese—that
if you make a 1000 cranes, it’s supposed to grant you a wish,” she said. She
gave hers to her grandmother.
whole crew having dinner together on “Sophisticated Saturdays!” From left to
right: Will, Ellie, Chi, and Michael. They’re wearing their Saturday best,
which includes the usual research equipment.
On weekends, the crew got eight hours of sleep, which they
celebrated with “Sophisticated Saturdays!” “Coming in, we all brought an outfit
that was a little fancy,” Ellie said. (Like a tie, a vest, an athletic
dress—that kind of thing.) “We would only put it on Saturday evenings, and we’d
have dinner on the first level at the one and only table we could all sit at
and face each other,” she said. “We would pretend it was a different fancy
restaurant every week.”
table set for a “civilized” Saturday dinner. Once the crew’s hydroponics grew,
they were able to add some greenery to the table.
“It was a way to feel more civilized,” Will said, who then
offered another great use of their free time: establishing good habits. “I
would use the free time to journal, for example. I’d just keep it up every day.
That and stretching. Hydrating. Flossing.”
Like real astronauts, you were in
contact with Mission Control and further monitored by HERA personnel. Was it
weird being on camera all the time?
personnel and the monitors they use for a typical HERA mission.
“I was always aware of it,” Michael said, “but I don’t think
it changed my behavior. It’s not like I forgot about it. It was always there. I
just wasn’t willing to live paranoid for 45 days.” Ellie agreed. “It was always
in the back of my mind,” she said, further adding that they wore microphones
and various other sensors. “We were wired all the time,” she said.
After the study, the crew met up with the people
facilitating the experiments, sometimes for the first time. “It was really fun
to meet Mission Control afterwards,” Will said. “They had just been this voice
coming from the little boxes. It was great getting to meet them and put faces
to the voices,” he said. “Of course, they knew us well. Very well.”
This 45 day mission – which began May 5, 2018 and ends today, June 18 – will help our researchers learn how isolation and close quarters affect individual and group behavior. This study at our Johnson Space Center prepares us for long duration space missions, like a trip to an asteroid or even to Mars.
The Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA) that the crew members will be living in is one compact, science-making house. But unlike in a normal house, these inhabitants won’t go outside for 45 days. Their communication with the rest of planet Earth will also be very limited, and they won’t have any access to internet. So no checking social media, kids!
The only people they will talk with regularly are mission control and each other.
The HERA XVII crew is made up of 2 men and 2 women, selected from the Johnson Space Center Test Subject Screening (TSS) pool. The crew member selection process is based on a number of criteria, including criteria similar to what is used for astronaut selection. The four would-be astronauts are:
What will they be doing?
The crew are going on a simulated journey to an asteroid, a 715-day journey that we compress into 45 days. They will fly their simulated exploration vehicle around the asteroid once they arrive, conducting several site surveys before 2 of the crew members will participate in a series of virtual reality spacewalks.
They will also be participating in a suite of research investigations and will also engage in a wide range of operational and science activities, such as growing and analyzing plants and brine shrimp, maintaining and “operating” an important life support system, exercising on a stationary bicycle or using free weights, and sharpening their skills with a robotic arm simulation.
They work 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This includes time for daily planning, conferences, meals and exercise.
Mission: May 5 – June 18, 2018
But beware! While we do all we can to avoid crises during missions, crews need to be able to respond in the event of an emergency. The HERA crew will conduct a couple of emergency scenario simulations, including one that will require them to respond to a decrease in cabin pressure, potentially finding and repairing a leak in their spacecraft.
Throughout the mission, researchers will gather information about living in confinement, teamwork, team cohesion, mood, performance and overall well-being. The crew members will be tracked by numerous devices that each capture different types of data.
This super science-heavy flight will deliver experiments and equipment that will study phenomena on the Sun, materials in microgravity, space junk and more.
Here are some highlights of research that will be delivered to the station:
ZBLAN Fiber Optics Tested in Space!
The Optical Fiber Production in Microgravity (Made in Space Fiber Optics) experiment demonstrates the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment. This investigation will attempt to pull fiber optic wire from ZBLAN, a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass.
When ZBLAN is solidified on Earth, its atomic structure tends to form into crystals. Research indicates that ZBLAN fiber pulled in microgravity may not crystalize as much, giving it better optical qualities than the silica used in most fiber optic wire.
Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor is Totally Teaching us About Earth’s Climate
The Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, or TSIS, monitors both total solar irradiance and solar spectral irradiance, measurements that represent one of the longest space-observed climate records. Solar irradiance is the output of light energy from the entire disk of the Sun, measured at the Earth. This means looking at the Sun in ways very similar to how we observe stars rather than as an image with details that our eye can resolve.
Understanding the variability and magnitude of solar irradiance is essential to understanding Earth’s climate.
Sensor Monitors Space Station Environment for Space Junk
The Space Debris Sensor (SDS) will directly measure the orbital debris environment around the space station for two to three years.
Above, see documentation of a Micro Meteor Orbital Debris strike on one of the window’s within the space station’s Cupola.
Research from this investigation could help lower the risk to human life and critical hardware by orbital debris.
Self-Assembling and Self-Replicating Materials in Space!
Future space exploration may utilize self-assembly and self-replication to make materials and devices that can repair themselves on long duration missions.
The Advanced Colloids Experiment- Temperature-7 (ACE-T-7) investigation involves the design and assembly of 3D structures from small particles suspended in a fluid medium.
Melting Plastics in Microgravity
The Transparent Alloys project seeks to improve the understanding of the melting and solidification processes in plastics in microgravity. Five investigations will be conducted as a part of the Transparent Alloys project.
These European Space Agency (ESA) investigations will allow researchers to study this phenomena in the microgravity environment, where natural convection will not impact the results.
Studying Slime (or…Algae, at Least) on the Space Station
Arthrospira B, an ESA investigation, will examine the form, structure and physiology of the Arthrospira sp. algae in order to determine the reliability of the organism for future spacecraft biological life support systems.
The development of these kinds of regenerative life support systems for spaceflight could also be applied to remote locations on Earth where sustainability of materials is important.
Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for more space science and watch the launch live on Dec. 15 at 10:36 a.m. EDT HERE!
Here are some of the really neat science and research experiments that will be delivered to the station:
What’s Microgravity Got to do with Bacterial Antibiotics?
Antibiotic resistance could pose a danger to astronauts, especially since microgravity has been shown to weaken human immune response. E. coli AntiMicrobial Satellite (EcAMSat) will study microgravity’s effect on bacterial antibiotic resistance.
Results from this experiment could help us determine appropriate antibiotic dosages to protect astronaut health during long-duration human spaceflight and help us understand how antibiotic effectiveness may change as a function of stress on Earth.
Laser Beams…Not on Sharks…But on a CubeSat
Traditional laser communication systems use transmitters that are far too large for small spacecraft. The Optical Communication Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) tests the functionality of laser-based communications using CubeSats that provide a compact version of the technology.
Results from OCSD could lead to improved GPS and other satellite networks on Earth and a better understanding of laser communication between small satellites in low-Earth orbit.
This Hybrid Solar Antenna Could Make Space Communication Even Better
As space exploration increases, so will the need for improved power and communication technologies. The Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA), a hybrid power and communication solar antenna that can send and receive messages, tests the use of this technology in CubeSat-based environmental monitoring.
ISARA may provide a solution for sending and receiving information to and from faraway destinations, both on Earth and in space.
More Plants in Space!
Ready for a mouthful…The Biological Nitrogen Fixation in Microgravity via Rhizobium-Legume Symbiosis…aka the Biological Nitrogen Fixation experiment, will examine how low-gravity conditions affect the nitrogen fixation process of the Microclover legume (a plant in the pea family). Nitrogen fixation is a process where nitrogen in the atmosphere is converted into ammonia. This crucial element of any ecosystem is also a natural fertilizer that is necessary for most types of plant growth.
This experiment could tell us about the space viability of the legume’s ability to use and recycle nutrients and give researchers a better understanding of this plant’s potential uses on Earth.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…dragon? A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is set to launch into orbit atop the Falcon 9 rocket toward the International Space Station for its 12th commercial resupply (CRS-12) mission August 14 from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Here are some highlights of research that will be delivered:
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ISS-CREAM!
Cosmic Rays, Energetics and Mass, that is! Cosmic rays reach Earth from far outside the solar system with energies well beyond what man-made accelerators can achieve. The Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (ISS-CREAM) instrument measures the charges of cosmic rays ranging from hydrogen to iron nuclei. Cosmic rays are pieces of atoms that move through space at nearly the speed of light
The data collected from the instrument will help address fundamental science questions such as:
Do supernovae supply the bulk of cosmic rays?
What is the history of cosmic rays in the galaxy?
Can the energy spectra of cosmic rays result from a single mechanism?
ISS-CREAM’s three-year mission will help the scientific community to build a stronger understanding of the fundamental structure of the universe.
Space-grown crystals aid in understanding of Parkinson’s disease
The microgravity environment of the space station allows protein crystals to grow larger and in more perfect shapes than earth-grown crystals, allowing them to be better analyzed on Earth.
Developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Anatrace and Com-Pac International, the Crystallization of Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) under Microgravity Conditions (CASIS PCG 7) investigation will utilize the orbiting laboratory’s microgravity environment to grow larger versions of this important protein, implicated in Parkinson’s disease.
Defining the exact shape and morphology of LRRK2 would help scientists to better understand the pathology of Parkinson’s and could aid in the development of therapies against this target.
Mice Help Us Keep an Eye on Long-term Health Impacts of Spaceflight
Our eyes have a whole network of blood vessels, like the ones in the image below, in the retina—the back part of the eye that transforms light into information for your brain. We are sending mice to the space station (RR-9) to study how the fluids that move through these vessels shift their flow in microgravity, which can lead to impaired vision in astronauts.
By looking at how spaceflight affects not only the eyes, but other parts of the body such as joints, like hips and knees, in mice over a short period of time, we can develop countermeasures to protect astronauts over longer periods of space exploration, and help humans with visual impairments or arthritis on Earth.
Telescope-hosting nanosatellite tests new concept
The Kestrel Eye (NanoRacks-KE IIM) investigation is a microsatellite carrying an optical imaging system payload, including an off-the-shelf telescope. This investigation validates the concept of using microsatellites in low-Earth orbit to support critical operations, such as providing lower-cost Earth imagery in time-sensitive situations, such as tracking severe weather and detecting natural disasters.
Sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory, the overall mission goal for this investigation is to demonstrate that small satellites are viable platforms for providing critical path support to operations and hosting advanced payloads.
Growth of lung tissue in space could provide information about diseases
The Effect of Microgravity on Stem Cell Mediated Recellularization (Lung Tissue) uses the microgravity environment of space to test strategies for growing new lung tissue. The cells are grown in a specialized framework that supplies them with critical growth factors so that scientists can observe how gravity affects growth and specialization as cells become new lung tissue.
The goal of this investigation is to produce bioengineered human lung tissue that can be used as a predictive model of human responses allowing for the study of lung development, lung physiology or disease pathology.
These crazy-cool investigations and others launching aboard the next SpaceX #Dragon cargo spacecraft on August 14. They will join many other investigations currently happening aboard the space station. Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for more information about the science happening on 250 miles above Earth on the space station.
Watch the launch live HERE starting at 12:20 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14!
A growing number of commercial partners use the International Space Station National Lab. With that growth, we will see more discoveries in fundamental and applied research that could improve life on the ground.
Space Station astronaut Kate Rubins was the first person to sequence DNA in microgravity.
Since 2011, when we engaged the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage the International Space Station (ISS) National Lab, CASIS has partnered with academic researchers, other government organizations, startups and major commercial companies to take advantage of the unique microgravity lab. Today, more than 50 percent of CASIS’ experiments on the station represent commercial research.
Here’s a look at five ways the ISS National Lab is enabling new opportunities for commercial research in space.
1. Supporting Commercial Life Sciences Research
One of the main areas of focus for us in the early origins of the space station program was life sciences, and it is still a major priority today. Studying the effects of microgravity on astronauts provides insight into human physiology, and how it evolves or erodes in space. CASIS took this knowledge and began robust outreach to the pharmaceutical community, which could now take advantage of the microgravity environment on the ISS National Lab to develop and enhance therapies for patients on Earth. Companies such as Merck, Eli Lilly & Company, and Novartis have sent several experiments to the station, including investigations aimed at studying diseases such as osteoporosis, and examining ways to enhance drug tablets for increased potency to help patients on Earth. These companies are trailblazers for many other life science companies that are looking at how the ISS National Lab can advance their research efforts.
2. Enabling Commercial Investigations in Material and Physical Sciences
Over the past few years, CASIS and the ISS National Lab also have seen a major push toward material and physical sciences research by companies interested in enhancing their products for consumers. Examples range from Proctor and Gamble’s investigation aimed at increasing the longevity of daily household products, to Milliken’s flame-retardant textile investigation to improve protective clothing for individuals in harm’s way, and companies looking to enhance materials for household appliances. Additionally, CASIS has been working with a variety of companies to improve remote sensing capabilities in order to better monitor our oceans, predict harmful algal blooms, and ultimately, to better understand our planet from a vantage point roughly 250 miles above Earth.
3. Supporting Startup Companies Interested in Microgravity Research
CASIS has funded a variety of investigations with small startup companies (in particular through seed funding and grant funding from partnerships and funded solicitations) to leverage the ISS National Lab for both research and test-validation model experiments. CASIS and The Boeing Company recently partnered with MassChallenge, the largest startup accelerator in the world, to fund three startup companies to conduct microgravity research.
4. Enabling Validation of Low-Earth Orbit Business Models
The ISS National Lab helps validate low-Earth orbit business models. Companies such as NanoRacks, Space Tango, Made In Space, Techshot, and Controlled Dynamics either have been funded by CASIS or have sent instruments to the ISS National Lab that the research community can use, and that open new channels for inquiry. This has allowed the companies that operate these facilities to validate their business models, while also building for the future beyond station.
5. Demonstrating the Commercial Value of Space-based Research
We have been a key partner in working with CASIS to demonstrate to American businesses the value of conducting research in space. Through outreach events such as our Destination Station, where representatives from the International Space Station Program Science Office and CASIS select cities with several major companies and meet with the companies to discuss how they could benefit from space-based research. Over the past few years, this outreach has proven to be a terrific example of building awareness on the benefits of microgravity research.
On June 19, engineers on the ground remotely operated the International Space Station’s robotic arm to remove the Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA) from the trunk of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo vehicle. Here, you see the experimental solar array unfurl as the station orbits Earth.
Solar panels are an efficient way to power satellites, but they are delicate and large, and must be unfolded when a satellite arrives in orbit. The Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA) is a new type of solar panel that rolls open in space like a party favor and is more compact than current rigid panel designs.
ROSA is 20% lighter and 4x smaller in volume than rigid panel arrays!
This experiment remained attached to the robotic arm over seven days to test the effectiveness of the advanced, flexible solar array that rolls out like a tape measure. During that time, they also measured power produced by the array and monitored how the technology handled retraction.