Each day, the station completes 16 orbits of our home planet as the six humans living and working aboard our orbiting laboratory conduct important science and research. Their work will not only benefit life here on Earth, but will help us venture deeper into space than ever before.
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:
As we travel farther into space, the need for artificial intelligence (AI) within a spacecraft increases.
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.
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.
ECOSTRESS measures the temperature of plants and uses that information to better understand how much water plants need and how they respond to stress.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Studying DNA Aboard the International Space Station
What do astronauts, microbes and plants all have in common? Each relies on DNA – essentially a computer code for living things – to grow and thrive. The microscopic size of DNA, however, can create some big challenges for studying it aboard the International Space Station.
The real question about DNA in space: but why, tho?
Studying DNA in space could lead to a better understanding of
microgravity’s impact on living organisms and could also offer ways to identify
unknown microbes in spacecraft, humans and the deep space locations we hope to
visit one day.
molecular research equipment is large and requires significant amounts of power
to run. Those are two characteristics that can be difficult to support aboard
the station, so previous research samples requiring DNA amplification and sequencing had to be stored in space until they
could be sent back to Earth aboard a cargo spacecraft, adding to the time
required to get results.
Fun science pro tip:
amplification means to make lots and lots of copies of a specific section of
However, all of
that has changed in a few short years as we’ve worked to find new solutions
for rapid in-flight molecular testing aboard the space station.
“We need[ed] to
get machines to be compact, portable, robust, and independent of much power
generation to allow for more agile testing in space,” NASA astronaut and molecular biologist Kate
Rubins said in a 2016 downlink with the National Institutes of Health.
The result? An advanced
suite of tabletop and palm-sized tools including MinION, miniPCR, and Wet-Lab-2, and more tools and processes on the
the MinION sequencer and a Surface Pro 3 tablet for analysis, the
tool was used to sequence DNA in space for the first time with Rubins at the helm.
In 2017, that tool was used again for Genes in Space-3, as NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson
collected and tested samples of microbial growth from around the station.
astronauts also tested miniPCR, a thermal cycler used to perform the polymerase
chain reaction that had been downsized to fit workbenches aboard the space
station. Together these platforms provided the identification of unknown
station microbes for the first time EVER from space.
This year, those testing capabilities translated
into an even stronger portfolio of DNA-focused research for the orbiting
laboratory’s fast-paced science schedule. For example, miniPCR is being used to
test weakened immune systems and DNA alterations as part of a student-designed
investigation known as Genes in Space-5.
The study hopes
to reveal more about astronaut health and potential stress-related changes to
DNA created by spaceflight. Additionally, WetLab-2 facility is a suite of tools aboard the station
designed to process biological samples for real-time gene expression analysis.
More tools for filling out the complete
molecular studies opportunities on the orbiting laboratory are heading to space
revolution has begun,” said Sarah Wallace, our principal investigator for
the upcoming Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) investigation. “These are very small, efficient tools. We
have a nicely equipped molecular lab on station and devices ideally sized for
scheduled to launch to the station later this spring and will compare
swab-to-sequencer testing of unknown microbes aboard the space station against current
sequencing and identification processes could keep explorers safer on missions
into deep space. On Earth, these technologies may make genetic research more
accessible, affordable and mobile.
To learn more
about the science happening aboard the space station, follow @ISS_Research for daily updates. For opportunities to
see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot
How does a microgravity garden grow when there’s no up or down? An advanced chamber, about the size of a mini-fridge, is giving us a clearer perspective of plant growth habits. Without gravity and the addition of a wide variety of light and humidity settings, the plants cultivated on the International Space Station provide a world of opportunity to study space-based agricultural cycles.
Heads up: a new batch of science is headed to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon on April 2, 2018. Launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Falcon 9 rocket, this fire breathing (well, kinda…) spacecraft will deliver science that studies thunderstorms on Earth, space gardening, potential pathogens in space, new ways to patch up wounds and more.
Let’s break down some of that super cool science heading 250 miles above Earth to the orbiting laboratory:
These include sprites, flashes caused by electrical break-down in the mesosphere; the blue jet, a discharge from cloud tops upward into the stratosphere; and ELVES, concentric rings of emissions caused by an electromagnetic pulse in the ionosphere.
Here’s a graphic showing the layers of the atmosphere for reference:
Science term of the day:Liquid phase sintering works like building a sandcastle with just-wet-enough sand; heating a powder forms interparticle bonds and formation of a liquid phase accelerates this solidification, creating a rigid structure. But in microgravity, settling of powder grains does not occur and larger pores form, creating more porous and distorted samples than Earth-based sintering.
Sintering has many applications on Earth, including metal cutting tools, automotive engine connecting rods, and self-lubricating bearings. It has potential as a way to perform in-space fabrication and repair, such as building structures on the moon or creating replacement parts during extraterrestrial exploration.
Plants in space! It’s l[a]unch time!
Understanding how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrating reliable vegetable production in space represent important steps toward the goal of growing food for future long-duration missions. The Veggie Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System (Veggie PONDS) experiment will test a passive nutrient delivery system in the station’s Veggie plant growth facility by cultivating lettuce and mizuna greens for harvest and consumption on orbit.
The PONDS design features low mass and low maintenance, requires no additional energy, and interfaces with the Veggie hardware, accommodating a variety of plant types and growth media.
Quick Science Tip: Download the Plant Growth App to grow your own veggies in space! Apple users can download the app HERE! Android users click HERE!
A continuation of a previous experiment, this version’s new design eliminates the need for astronauts to perform spacewalks for these investigations. New technology includes power and data collection options and the ability to take pictures of each sample on a monthly basis, or more often if required. The testing benefits a variety of industries, including automotive, aeronautics, energy, space, and transportation.
Patching up Wounds
NanoRacks Module 74 Wound Healing (Wound Healing) experiment will test a patch containing an antimicrobial hydrogel that promotes healing of a wound while acting as a foundation for regenerating tissue. Reduced fluid motion in microgravity allows more precise analysis of the hydrogel behavior and controlled release of the antibiotic from the patch.
For the first part of the experiment, the hydrogels will be assembled aboard the station and returned to Earth for analysis of mechanical and structural properties. The second part of the experiment assembles additional hydrogels loaded with an antibiotic. Crew members will collect real-time data on release of antibiotics from these gels into surrounding water during spaceflight. This patch could serve as a non-surgical treatment for military combat wounds and reduce sepsis, or systemic inflammation, usually caused by contamination of an open wound.
Follow @ISS_Research on Twitter for your daily dose of nerdy, spacey goodness.
What did the astronauts on the International Space Station see when they looked upon the Earth from orbit in 2017? See some of the top Earth observations from the year and download these pics, as chosen by our Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Astronauts have used hand-held cameras to photograph the Earth for more than 55 years. Beginning with the Mercury missions in the early 1960s, astronauts have taken more than 1.5 million photographs of the Earth. Today, the International Space Station continues this tradition of Earth observation from human-tended spacecraft. Operational since November 2000, the space station is well suited for documenting Earth features. The orbiting laboratory maintains an altitude of about 250 miles above the Earth, providing an excellent stage for observing most populated areas of the world.
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!
As massive wildfires continue to rage in southern California, our satellites, people in space and aircraft are keeping an eye on the blazes from above.
This data and imagery not only gives us a better view of the activity, but also helps first responders plan their course of action.
A prolonged spell of dry weather primed the area for major fires. The largest of the blazes – the fast-moving Thomas fire in Ventura County – charred more than 65,000 acres.
Powerful Santa Ana winds fanned the flames and forecasters with the LA office of the National Weather Service warned that the region is in the midst of its strongest and longest Santa Ana wind event of the year.
These winds are hot, dry and ferocious. They can whip a small brush fire into a raging inferno in just hours.
Our Aqua satellite captured the above natural-color image on Dec. 5. Actively burning areas are outlined in red. Each hot spot is an area where the thermal detectors on the satellite recognized temperatures higher than the background.
From the vantage point of space, our satellites and astronauts are able to see a more comprehensive view of the activity happening on the ground.
The crew living and working 250 miles above Earth on the International Space Station passed over the fires on Dec. 6. The above view was taken by astronaut Randy Bresnik as the station passed over southern California.
Our satellites can even gather data and imagery of these wildfires at night. The above image on the right shows a nighttime view of the fires on Dec. 5.
For comparison, the image on the left shows what this region looked like the day before. Both images were taken by the Suomi NPP satellite, which saw the fires by using a special “day-night band” to detect light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses light intensification to detect dim signals.
Having the capability to see natural disasters, like these wildfires in southern California, provides first responders with valuable information that helps guide their action in the field.
When the space station flies overhead, it’s usually easy to spot because it’s the third brightest object in the night sky. You can even enter your location into THIS website and get a list of dates/times when it will be flying over you!
Then, on Saturday, Dec. 2, just one day before the peak of this month’s supermoon, the space station was seen passing in front of the Moon.
Captured by another NASA HQ Photographer, this composite image shows the space station, with a crew of six onboard, as its silhouette transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second.
Here’s an animated version of the transit.
To top off all of this night sky greatness, are these beautiful images of the Dec. 3 supermoon. This marked the first of three consecutive supermoons taking the celestial stage. The two others will occur on Jan. 1 and Jan. 31, 2018.
A supermoon occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest to Earth at the same time that it is full.
Are you this pilot? An aircraft taking off from Ronald Reagan National Airport is seen passing in front of the Moon as it rose on Sunday.
It’s Thanksgiving time…which means you’re probably thinking about food…
Ever wonder what the astronauts living and working on the International Space Station eat during their time 250 miles above the Earth? There’s no microwave, but they get by using other methods.
Here are some fun facts about astronaut food…
Astronauts are assigned their own set of silverware to use during their mission (they can keep it afterward too). Without a dishwasher in orbit, they use special wipes to sterilize their set between uses, but it’s still better for everyone if they keep track of and use their own! So many sets of silverware were ordered during the space shuttle program that crews on the space station today still use silverware engraved with the word “shuttle” on them! So #retro.
You probably know that astronauts use tortillas instead of bread to avoid crumbs floating everywhere. Rodolfo Neri Vela, a payload specialist from Mexico, who flew on the space shuttle in 1985, introduced tortillas to the space food system. Back then, we would buy fresh tortillas the day before launch to send on the 8-10 day space shuttle missions.
We then learned how to reduce the water activity when formulating tortillas, which coupled with the reduction of oxygen during packaging would prevent the growth of mold and enable them to last for longer shuttle missions. Now, we get tortillas from the military. In August 2017, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot ate a meal that included tortillas from 2015!
Our food menu is mostly all made from scratch so it can meet the requirements of the nutrition team and ensure astronauts eat enough fruits and vegetables. The space station is stocked with a standard menu that includes a mix of the more than 200 food and drink options available. This ensures lots of variety for the station crews but not too many of each individual item.
The food is packaged into bulk overwrap bags, referred to as BOBs, which are packed into cargo transfer bags for delivery to the space station. Each astronaut also gets to bring nine personalized BOBs for a mission, each containing up to 60 food and drink options so they can include more of their favorites – or choose to send a few specific items for everyone to share on a particular holiday like Thanksgiving. As a result, the crew members often share and swap their food to get more variety. Astronauts also can include any food available at the grocery store as long as it has an 18-month shelf life at room temperature and meets the microbiological requirements.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are a special treat for astronauts, so nearly every cargo resupply mission includes fresh fruit and veggies – and sometimes ice cream!
The Dragon spacecraft has freezers to bring science samples back to Earth. If there is space available on its way to orbit, the ground crew may fill the freezer with small cups of ice cream or ice cream bars.
Some food arrives freeze-dried, and the astronauts rehydrate it by inserting a specific amount of hot or ambient water from a special machine.
Other food comes ready to eat but needs to be reheated, which crew members do on a hot-plate like device. We recently also sent an oven style food warmer to station for the crew to use. And of course, some food like peanuts just get packaged for delivery and are ready to eat as soon as the package is opened!
Our nutritional biochemists have discovered that astronauts who eat more fish in space lost less bone, which is one of the essential problems for astronauts to overcome during extended stays in space. In the limited area aboard the space shuttle, not all crew members loved it when their coworkers ate the (aromatic) fish dishes, but now that the space station is about the size of a six-bedroom house, that’s not really a problem.
Astronauts on station have had the opportunity to grow (and eat!) a modest amount of fresh vegetables since the first lettuce harvest in August 2015, with new crops growing now and more coming soon. Crew members have been experimenting using the Veggie growth chamber, and soon plant research will also occur in the new Advanced Plant Habitat, which is nearly self-sufficient and able to control every aspect of the plant environment!
Growing food in space will be an important component of future deep space missions, and our nutritionists are working with these experiments to ensure they also are nutritious and safe for the crew to eat.
Thanksgiving in Space
The crew on the space station will enjoy Thanksgiving together. Here’s a look at their holiday menu:
Learn more about growing food on the space station HERE.