Status Report

Space Station Science Highlights: Week of March 30, 2020

By SpaceRef Editor
April 6, 2020
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The week of March 30, scientific investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station included studies of plant growth and a foam pellet manufacturing process in space.

Now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, the space station 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:

How does your microgravity garden grow?

Future long-duration space missions likely will need to grow their own food, but organisms, including plants, grow differently in space. Understanding how plants respond to microgravity and demonstrating their reliable growth on orbit are important steps toward that goal. Veggie PONDS (Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System) uses a passive nutrient delivery system and the station’s Veggie plant growth facility to cultivate lettuce and mizuna greens that are harvested on-orbit. The crew consumes some of the harvest and returns samples to Earth for analysis. During the week, crew members refilled the water reservoirs for the Veggie PONDS modules.

Students send code into space

This week, crew members upgraded system software on the space station’s AstroPi computers. These two augmented Raspberry Pi computers are equipped with hardware that measures the environment inside the space station, detects how the station moves through space, and picks up the Earth’s magnetic field. One has an infrared camera and the other a standard visible spectrum camera. The ESA (European Space Agency) AstroPi Challenge offers students and other young people the opportunity to conduct scientific investigations in space by writing computer programs or code for the AstroPis, with either ‘Life in Space’ or ‘Life on Earth’ as themes for their experiments.

A study with sole

BOOST Orbital Operations on Spheroid Tessellation (adidas BOOST™) examines the process of particle foam mold filling using different types of pellets. On Earth, adidas makes performance shoe midsoles from thousands of individual foam pellets blown into a mold and fused together. Using only one type of pellet creates uniform foam and shoe sole properties. Including multiple pellet types can give engineers the ability to change mechanical properties and optimize performance and comfort for athletes. Several factors influence the final position of pellets in the mold with multiple pellet types, however, and removing gravity from the equation allows engineers to focus on factors that they can change in the manufacturing process on Earth. During the week, the crew performed operations for the pellet distribution system with new procedures intended to increase the flow.

Determining the effects of long-term space travel

The crew performed routine maintenance for the continuing JAXA Mouse Habitat Unit-5 (MHU-5), which examines the effects of partial gravity on mice using the Centrifuge-equipped Biological Experiment Facility-L (CBEF-L) developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Stress caused by partial gravity may alter gene expression in cells of the body. This investigation analyzes any such alterations and their possible effects on development of germ cells, which carry genetic information and expression to subsequent generations.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

  • Engineered Heart Tissues looks at how adult human heart tissue functions in space using a unique three-dimensional culture of adult human cardiac muscle tissue embedded with tiny magnetic posts and an external magnet-based sensor to provide real-time measurement of muscle contractions.
  • The Probiotics investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) studies whether beneficial bacteria or probiotics can improve the intestinal microbiota and immune function and help protect astronaut health on long-duration space missions.
  • The Fluid Shifts investigation measures how much fluid moves from the lower to the upper body and in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the effect on fluid pressure in the head, vision and eye structures.
  • Bartolomeo is an external payload hosting facility from the ESA (European Space Agency) and Airbus designed to serve commercial and institutional users, hosting payloads as small as 3 Units (3U) and offering an unobstructed view both toward Earth and into space.
  • Cardiac and Vessel Structure and Function with Long-Duration Space Flight and Recovery (Vascular Echo), sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), examines changes in blood vessels and the heart while crew members are in space and follows their recovery on return to Earth. The results could provide insight into potential countermeasures to help maintain the health of crew members on future missions and improve quality of life for people on Earth.
  • Food Acceptability examines the effect of repetitive consumption of the food currently available during spaceflight. “Menu fatigue” resulting from a limited choice of foods over time may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases.
  • Standard Measures captures an ongoing, optimized set of measures from crew members to characterize how their bodies adapt to living in space. Researchers use these measures to create a data repository for high-level monitoring of the effectiveness of countermeasures and better interpretation of health and performance outcomes.

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.

SpaceRef staff editor.