Category: research

Space-Grown Crystals May Lead to More Efficien…

The International Space
Station
is a perfect environment for
creating protein crystal structures for research.

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In microgravity, protein molecules
form more orderly, high-quality crystals. Studying these structures helps
scientists understand their function and contributes to development of more
effective treatments for diseases.

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Experiments often need more than
one try to generate ideal crystals, though. Researchers may have to return
samples to Earth for analysis and then try again on a later mission on the
space station.

Scientists are testing new methods
of growing crystals that allow crew members to observe imperfections, make
real-time adjustments, and try growing them again right away. This dramatically
reduces the time and cost of conducting experiments aboard the space station
and opens up the orbiting lab to more users. More efficient use of time and
resources can produce research results in less time and lead to development of
better drugs sooner.

Learn more @ISS_Research!

Your Gut in Space

Finding the Right Balance for the Microbiota

Trillions of microorganisms live on and in the human body, many of them essential to its function and health. These organisms, collectively known as the microbiota, outnumber cells in the body by at least five times. 

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Microorganisms in the intestinal tract, the gut microbiota, play an especially important role in human health. An investigation on the International Space Station, Rodent Research-7 (RR-7), studies how the gut microbiota changes in response to spaceflight, and how that change in turn affects the immune system, metabolic system, and circadian or daily rhythms. 

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Research shows that the microbiota in the mammalian digestive tract has a major impact on an individual’s physiology and behavior. In humans, disruption of microbial communities has been linked to multiple health problems affecting intestinal, immune, mental and metabolic systems.

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The investigation compares two different genetic strains of mice and two different durations of spaceflight. Twenty mice, ten of each strain, launch to the space station, and another 20 remain on the ground in identical conditions (except, of course, for the absence of gravity). Mice are a model organism that often serves as a scientific stand-in for other mammals and humans. 

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Fecal material collected from the mice every two weeks will be examined for changes in the gut microbiota. Researchers plan to analyze fecal and tissue samples after 30 and 90 days of flight to compare the effects of different durations of time in space. 

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With a better understanding of relationships between changes such as disruption in sleep and an imbalance of microbial populations, researchers can identify specific factors that contribute to changes in the microbiota. Further studies then can determine proactive measures and countermeasures to protect astronaut health during long-term missions. 

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Distance: Hazard Far From Home

A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount
of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, our Human
Research Program
has
organized some of the hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis
into five classifications.

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The third and perhaps most apparent hazard is, quite
simply, the distance.

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Rather than a three-day lunar trip, astronauts would
be leaving our planet for roughly three years. Facing a communication delay of
up to 20 minutes one way and the possibility of equipment failures or a medical
emergency, astronauts must be capable of confronting an array of situations
without support from their fellow team on Earth.

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Once you burn your engines for Mars, there is no
turning back so planning and self-sufficiency are essential keys to a
successful Martian mission. The Human Research Program is studying and
improving food formulation, processing, packaging and preservation systems.

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While International Space Station expeditions serve as
a rough foundation for the expected impact on planning logistics for such a
trip, the data isn’t always comparable, but it is a key to the solution.

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Exploration to the Moon and Mars
will expose astronauts to five known hazards of spaceflight, including distance
from Earth. To learn more, and find out what our Human Research
Program is doing to protect humans in space, check out the “Hazards
of Human Spaceflight
" website. Or,
check out this week’s episode of “Houston We Have a Podcast,” in which host Gary Jordan
further dives into the threat of distance with Erik Antonsen, the
Assistant Director for Human Systems Risk
Management at the Johnson Space Center.

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Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com. 

Isolation, Hazard of the Mind

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, our Human Research Program has organized hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis into five classifications. (View the first hazard). Let’s dive into the second hazard:

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Overcoming the second hazard, isolation and confinement, is essential for a successful mission to Mars. Behavioral issues among groups of people crammed in a small space over a long period of time, no matter how well trained they are, are inevitable. It is a topic of study and discussion currently taking place around the selection and composition of crews.

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On Earth, we have the luxury of picking up our cell phones and instantly being connected with nearly everything and everyone around us. 

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On a trip to Mars, astronauts will be more isolated and confined than we can imagine. 

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Sleep loss, circadian desynchronization (getting out of sync), and work overload compound this issue and may lead to performance decrements or decline, adverse health outcomes, and compromised mission objectives.

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To address this hazard, methods for monitoring behavioral health and adapting/refining various tools and technologies for use in the spaceflight environment are being developed to detect and treat early risk factors. Research is also being conducted in workload and performance, light therapy for circadian alignment or internal clock alignment, and team cohesion.

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Exploration to the Moon and Mars will expose astronauts to five known hazards of spaceflight, including isolation and confinement. To learn more, and find out what the Human Research Program is doing to protect humans in space, check out the “Hazards of Human Spaceflight” website. Or, check out this week’s episode of “Houston We Have a Podcast,” in which host Gary Jordan further dives into the threat of isolation and confinement with Tom Williams, a NASA Human Factors and Behavior Performance Element Scientist at the Johnson Space Center. 

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Space Radiation: Hazard of Stealth

A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount of complexities. To bring a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, our Human Research Program has organized hazards astronauts will encounter on a continual basis into five classifications.

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The first hazard of a human mission to Mars is also the most difficult to visualize because, well, space radiation is invisible to the human eye. Radiation is not only stealthy, but considered one of the most menacing of the five hazards.

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Above Earth’s natural protection, radiation exposure increases cancer risk, damages the central nervous system, can alter cognitive function, reduce motor function and prompt behavioral changes. To learn what can happen above low-Earth orbit, we study how radiation affects biological samples using a ground-based research laboratory.

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Exploration to the Moon and Mars will expose astronauts to five known hazards of spaceflight, including radiation. To learn more, and find out what our Human Research Program is doing to protect humans in space, check out the “Hazards of Human Spaceflight” website or check out this week’s episode of “Houston We Have a Podcast,” in which our host Gary Jordan further dives into the threat of radiation with Zarana Patel, a radiation lead scientist at the Johnson Space Center.

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Get to Know the 9 Astronauts Set to #LaunchAme…

Our Commercial Crew Program is
working with the American aerospace industry to develop and operate a
new generation of spacecraft to carry astronauts

to and from low-Earth orbit!

As we prepare to launch humans from American soil for the first time since the final space shuttle mission in 2011, get to know the astronauts who will fly with Boeing and SpaceX

as members of our commercial crew!

Bob
Behnken

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Bob Behnken

served as Chief of the NASA Astronaut Office from July 2012 to July
2015, where he was responsible for flight assignments, mission preparation, on-orbit
support of International Space Station crews and organization of astronaut
office support for future launch vehicles. Learn more about Bob

Eric Boe

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Eric
Boe first dreamed of being an astronaut at age 5 after his parents woke him up to
watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps onto the lunar surface. Learn more
about Eric
.

 Josh
Cassada 

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Josh Cassada  holds a Master of Arts Degree and a Doctorate in Physics with a
specialty in high energy particle physics from the University of Rochester, in
Rochester, New York. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2013, and his first
spaceflight will be as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Learn more about
Josh
.

Chris Ferguson

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Chris
Ferguson served as a Navy pilot before becoming a NASA astronaut, and was
commander aboard Atlantis for the final space shuttle flight, as part of the
same crew as Doug Hurley. He retired from NASA in 2011 and has been an integral
part of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner program. Learn more about Chris

Victor
Glover

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Victor Glover was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2013 while working as a Legislative Fellow in the United States Senate. His first spaceflight will be as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Learn more about Victor. 

Mike
Hopkins

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Mike Hopkins

was a top flight test engineer at the United States Air Force Test
Pilot School. He also studied political science at the Università degli Studi
di Parma in Parma, Italy, in 2005, and became a NASA astronaut in 2009. Learn
more about Mike
.

Doug Hurley

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In
2009, Doug Hurley was one of the record-breaking 13 people living on the space
station at the same time. In 2011, he served as the pilot on Atlantis during the
final space shuttle mission, delivering supplies and spare parts to the
International Space Station. Now, he will be one of the first people to launch
from the U.S. since that last shuttle mission. Learn more about Doug.

Nicole Mann

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Nicole
Mann is a Naval Aviator and a test pilot in the F/A-18 Hornet. She was selected
as a NASA astronaut in 2013, and her first spaceflight will be as part of the Commercial
Crew Program. Learn more about Nicole.

Suni
Williams 

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Suni Williams

has completed 7 spacewalks, totaling 50 hours and 40 minutes. She’s
also known for running. In April 2007, Suni ran the first marathon in space,
the Boston Marathon, in 4 hours and 24 minutes. Learn more about Suni.

Boeing and SpaceX are scheduled to complete their crew flight tests in mid-2019 and April 2019, respectively. Once enabled, commercial transportation to and from the
International Space Station will empower more station use, more research time and more
opportunities to understand and overcome the challenges of living in space, which is critical for us to create a sustainable
presence on the Moon and carry out missions deeper into the solar system, including Mars! 

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Chemical Space Gardens

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.

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Here on Earth, chemical gardens are most often used to teach students about things like chemical reactions.

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Chemical gardens form when dissolvable metal salts are placed in an aqueous solution containing anions such as silicate, borate, phosphate, or carbonate.

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Delivered to the space station aboard SpaceX’S CRS-15 cargo mission, the samples for this experiment will be processed by crew members and grown throughout Expedition 56 before returning to Earth.

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Results from this investigation could provide a better understanding of cement science and improvements to biomaterial devices used for scaffolding, for use both in space and on Earth. 

Follow the growth of the chemical garden and the hundreds of other investigations constantly orbiting above you by following @ISS_Research on Twitter.

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Welcome Home HERA Mission XVII!

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?

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HERA
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?

HERA
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?

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HERA
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.

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The
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.

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The
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.”

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The
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?

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HERA
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.”

For more information on HERA, visit our analogs homepage.

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AI, Cancer Therapy and Chemical Gardens Headed…

A new batch of science is headed to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon on the company’s 15th mission for commercial resupply services. The spacecraft will deliver science that studies the use of artificial intelligence, plant water use all over the planet, gut health in space, more efficient drug development and the formation of inorganic structures without the influence of Earth’s gravity. 

Take a look at five investigations headed to space on the latest SpaceX resupply:

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Credits:

DLR

As we travel farther into space, the need for artificial intelligence (AI) within a spacecraft increases.

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Credits:

DLR

Mobile Companion, a European Space Agency (ESA) investigation, explores the use of AI as a way to mitigate crew stress and workload during long-term spaceflight.

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Credits:

DLR

Plants regulate their temperature by releasing water through tiny pores on their leaves. If they have sufficient water they can maintain their temperature, but if water is insufficient their temperatures rise. This temperature rise can be measured with a sensor in space.

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Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ECOSTRESS measures the temperature of plants and uses that information to better understand how much water plants need and how they respond to stress.

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Credits: Northwestern University

Spaceflight has an on impact many bodily systems. Rodent Research-7 takes a look at how the microgravity environment of space affects the community of microoganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, or microbiota.

The study also evaluates relationships between system changes, such as sleep-wake cycle disruption, and imbalance of microbial populations, to identify contributing factors and supporting development of countermeasures to protect astronaut health during long-term missions, as well as to improve the treatment of gastrointestinal, immune, metabolic and sleep disorders on Earth.

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Credits: Angiex

Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are the leading causes of death in developed countries. Angiex Cancer Therapy examines whether microgravity-cultured endothelial cells represent a valid in vitro model to test effects of vascular-targeted agents on normal blood vessels.

Results may create a model system for designing safer drugs, targeting the vasculature of cancer tumors and helping pharmaceutical companies design safer vascular-targeted drugs.

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Credits: Oliver Steinbock chemistry group at Florida State University

Chemical Gardens are structures that grow during the interaction of metal salt solutions with silicates, carbonates or other selected anions. Their growth characteristics and attractive final shapes form from a complex interplay between reaction-diffusion processes and self-organization.

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Credits: Oliver Steinbock chemistry group at Florida State University

On Earth, gravity-induced flow due to buoyancy differences between the reactants complicates our understanding of the physics behind these chemical gardens. Conducting this experiment in a microgravity environment ensures diffusion-controlled growth and allows researchers a better assessment of initiation and evolution of these structures.

These investigations join hundreds of others currently happening aboard the orbiting laboratory. 

For daily updates, follow @ISS_Research, Space Station Research and Technology News or our Facebook. For opportunities to see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot the Station.

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Navigating Space by the Stars

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A sextant is a tool for measuring the angular altitude of a star above the horizon and has helped guide sailors across oceans for centuries. It is now being tested aboard the International Space Station as a potential emergency navigation tool for guiding future spacecraft across the cosmos. The Sextant Navigation investigation will test the use of a hand-held sextant that utilizes star sighting in microgravity. 

Read more about how we’re testing this tool in space!  

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