Scientific studies recently conducted by the Expedition 60 crew include a variety of student-designed experiments, research on how bacteria adjust to space and astronaut nutrition, and more. The SpaceX Dragon cargo ship departed the station and splashed down on Tuesday, August 27, returningsamples, hardware and data from completed investigations to Earth. The International Space Stationis a crucial stepping stone for Artemis, NASA’s plans to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars. The space station is the only platform for long-duration research on how living in microgravity affects the human body and testing technologies for traveling farther into deep space.
Here are details on some of the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory during the week of August 26:
Giving students experience with real flight experiments
The crew performed operations for the NanoRacks-National Center for Earth and Space Science Education-Gemini (SSEP Mission 13) (NanoRacks-NCESSE-Gemini), which includes 41 microgravity experiments chosen out of submissions from more than 23,000 U.S., Canadian, and Brazilian students. The experiments cover a range of topics including synthetic soil production, rust formation, antibiotic effectiveness, and growth and development of plants, fungi, and bacteria. The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) allows student teams to design experiments subject to the real constraints of microgravity research. SSEP is an initiative of NCESSE in partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks. The investigations use NanoRacks MixStix, miniature laboratories activated by space station crew and returned to the student teams on Earth for analysis.
Watching multiple generations of bacteria adapt to space
Scientists do not yet fully understand how living organisms adapt to the space environment. Some adaptations, such as increased strength in organisms that cause disease, could pose risks for future long-term space explorers. Others could be beneficial. The crew initiated the MVP Cell-02investigation, which studies multiple generations of a bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, aboard the space station. This model organism grows rapidly, creating thousands of generations over just a few weeks, and is small enough to allow repeated treatments to identify slight effects. The investigation can help predict how life in general adapts to long-term space travel.
Fine-tuning astronaut nutritional needs
The NutrISS investigation conducts periodic assessment of body composition (body weight, fat and fat-free mass) during spaceflight using a dedicated device that allows measurement of changes in long-term energy balance over time. Nutrition experts and flight surgeons can use this information to fine-tune nutritional plans for crew members. The crew performed the nutritional assessment using the investigation’s EveryWear app.
Other investigations on which the crew performed work:
- Astrobee is a demonstration of three free-flying robots designed to help scientists and engineers develop and test technologies that can assist astronauts with routine chores and give ground controllers additional eyes and ears on the space station
- The Micro-15 investigation examines the mechanisms behind observations that microgravity affects stem cell differentiation and proliferation and gene expression using three-dimensional cultures of mammalian stem cells.
- Space Moss determines how microgravity affects the growth, development and other features of moss. Tiny plants without roots, mosses need only a small area for growth, an advantage for their potential use in space and future bases on the Moon or Mars.
- The ISS Experience creates virtual reality videos from footage taken during the yearlong investigation covering different aspects of crew life, execution of science and the international partnerships involved on the space station.
- Fluid Shifts measures how much fluid shifts from the lower to the upper body and in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines how these shifts affect fluid pressure in the head, vision and eye structures. More than half of American astronauts experience vision and eye changes during and after long-duration space flight.
- BEST studies the use of DNA sequencing to identify unknown microbial organisms on the space station and to understand how humans, plants and microbes adapt to living in space. It uses a swab-to-sequencer process that does not require culturing of organisms.
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Palm Tree Growth Experiment examines germination of palm tree seeds to determine the best conditions for generating tissue samples for research. Such a process could be adapted for testing other indigenous plants of scientific, commercial or educational interest in the UAE.
- Food Acceptability examines changes in the appeal of food aboard the space station during long-duration missions. “Menu fatigue” from repeatedly consuming a limited choice of foods may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases.
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Vic Cooley, Lead Increment Scientist