Science in Short: Remote Sensing and Genomics Studies

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The Campaign Good Earth Gap Analysis Report , commissioned by CASIS, is a study to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the ISS as a host for commercial remote sensing payloads, including the products and needs of the data analytics community. Credits: CASIS

The Campaign Good Earth Gap Analysis Report , commissioned by CASIS, is a study to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the ISS as a host for commercial remote sensing payloads, including the products and needs of the data analytics community. Credits: CASIS

On April 28, CASIS released their Good Earth Technology Gap Study (PDF). Compiled for them by From James Goodman of Hyspeed Computing, this report is part external facility researchers guide, part market study, and recommends particular lines of interest in sensors: hyperspectral, Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR); and for next generation on-board data compression and computing capabilities.

The ISS provides a unique vantage point for Earth observation, and the ISS infrastructure itself provides many advantages as a robust platform for sensor deployment. Real-time and time-series information gathered from remote sensing applications have proven invaluable to resource management, environmental monitoring, geologic and oceanographic studies, and assistance with disaster relief efforts. This report, an analysis of the gaps between ISS capabilities and limitations in the remote sensing market, is meant to initiate a path toward optimal use of the ISS National Lab as a platform for project implementation and technology development. (credit: CASIS)

The WetLab RNA SmartCycler allows station crew members to extract RNA from multiple types of biological specimens in less than 30 minutes. Credits: NASA

The WetLab RNA SmartCycler allows station crew members to extract RNA from multiple types of biological specimens in less than 30 minutes. Credits: NASA

On orbit last week the Wetlab-2 technology demonstration runs have declared success in their ability to show that the device can amplify RNA (ribonucleic acid) using a commercially adapted quantitative polymerase chain reaction machine (qPCR) in space. Scientists studying a wide range of biology questions need quality gene-expression information, which requires specialized equipment that can extract DNA and RNA. Wet Lab RNA SmartCycler (Wetlab-2) validates a new system that can take a sample grown in orbit, extract RNA, and set up reactions that record gene expressions in real time. Data can be downlinked to Earth for analysis, improving scientists’ ability to study biological processes in microgravity. Specifically, last week, they have showed that they were able to achieve Simplex, Duplex and Triplex qPCR amplification which refers to the number separate reagents targeting areas of gene expression being amplified in a single batch. This week, the crew has begun the final of four WetLab-2 sessions by conducting the validation operations and processing a cell sample to extract the RNA.

Kirt Costello
ISS Deputy Chief Scientist and Program Science Office Manager

Science in Short: National DNA Day

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Anna-Sophia Boguraev, age 17, is pictured with her winning Genes in Space experiment, the miniPCR. The experiment was recently checked out and run aboard the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/ Kim Shiflett, NASA

Anna-Sophia Boguraev, age 17, is pictured with her winning Genes in Space experiment, the miniPCR. The experiment was recently checked out and run aboard the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/ Kim Shiflett, NASA

National DNA Day is a holiday celebrated on April 25. It commemorates the day in 1953 when James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and colleagues published papers in the journal Nature on the structure of DNA.

In the United States, DNA Day was first celebrated on April 25, 2003 by proclamation of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, they only declared a one-time celebration, not an annual holiday. Every year from 2003 onward, annual DNA Day celebrations have been organized by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). April 25 has since been declared “International DNA Day” and “World DNA Day” by several groups.

The goal of National DNA Day is to offer students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the latest advances in genomic research and explore how those advances might impact their lives.

Today also marks the student submission deadline for the second year Genes in Space (GiS) student proposals. The first Genes in Space winner’s experiment using the miniPCR is currently operating on ISS. Checkout and two sample runs were completed on station this past week, and the final “Blue” sample is scheduled to be completed on Wednesday morning 4/27. The mini-polymerase chain reaction is a COTS instrument which replicates DNA in order to have enough to analyze. The specific objectives of this experiment are to use PCR technology to study epigenetic changes and how they affect the human immune system.

Marybeth Edeen
ISS, Research Integration Office Manager 

Science in Short: ARTE

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NASA astronaut Tim Kopra installed the Thermal Exchange hardware in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra installed the Thermal Exchange hardware in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Credits: NASA

Our small devices have to dump a lot of heat from their electronics, if you have been sitting with your laptop on your lap wondering why it is getting so hot, you might also be interested in future improvements being sought through research on the International Space Station. Heat pipes are used to cool things like laptop computers and rely on an interface between liquid and gas phases in a liquid, plus capillary flow to return the cooled liquid back to the heated end. Previous research on the space station discovered inefficiencies in heat pipes and other research identified the new fundamental equations for capillary flow from research done on the orbiting laboratory. During the first week of April, and experiment called Advanced Research Thermal Passive Exchange (ARTE) , one of a number of new experiments testing this new knowledge to get practical applications, was completed on the space station. The Thermal Exchange hardware performed a series of powered test runs within the microgravity science glovebox to determine the impact of using various working fluids and different groove shapes on capillary action for heat pipes operating in a microgravity environment. The data collected will be used to further understand and validate numerical modelling of heat pipe behavior in microgravity, which can then be used to develop more passive and reliable thermal control systems for future exploration. This particular experiment was sponsored by the Italian Space Agency, and was led by scientists from DIMEAS – Dipartimento di Ingegneria Meccanica e Aerospaziale, I Facoltà di Ingegneria, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy; related investigations testing various aspects of capillary flow and heat transfer are coming in the next few years, including some sponsored by CASIS as part of the ISS National Laboratory, and some sponsored by NASA.

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

Science in Short: Surprising Space Research Connections

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Sometimes to understand the dramatic effects of spaceflight on living organisms, a picture can tell more than a lot of words about science.

Recently, Liz Blaber and Eduardo Almeida shared the following picture with me from their 2014 publication in Stem Cell Research. The image is a microscopic view of the bone marrow inside the hip bone (femoral head) of mice that flew to the International Space Station. The picture on the left is the ground “control” and the picture on the right is a mouse that was losing bone from being in the microgravity environment in space.RBC Megakaryocyte

The cells marked in red are red blood cells. The blood cells are increased in numbers, and show increased clustering, but not at a different density. Eduardo and Liz believe that the pores that would normally allow the cells out of the marrow and into the blood have been blocked as part of the bone loss process, and so the red blood cells cannot get out of the marrow. Depending on the fluid shifts and effects on the total plasma volume, the differences could lead to anemia. Investigators looking at the blood of astronauts are also struggling to understand data on blood cell counts and functional immunity using data from the Integrated Immune investigation, and are eagerly awaiting results from the Fluid Shifts Investigation to understand changes in plasma volume. Fluid shifts is a new investigation that began with Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, and will continue on future crewmembers.

The cells marked in green are megakaryocytes, which are cells that are important in the production of platelets, cells that enable our blood to clot. In this sample, there is only one of these important cells in the image, while in the Earth sample there were three. Liz and Eduardo think that they might have moved out into the circulation due to cardiac deconditioning, but we really don’t know the full mechanism in play.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak to a group of scientists and doctors working on new treatments for patients with hemophilia. They were interested in the ways that we integrate different types of data on astronauts to understand the interactions of different systems in their health. Just like hemophilia patients, astronauts are a small group of people that can have very dramatic health effects is the disruption in their bodies affects different physiological systems. There are a wide variety of physiological impacts in hemophilia patients (with problems in the blood clotting proteins in their blood). Of all the things that could go wrong, much of the medical care of hemophilia patients gets focused on presenting small bleeds in their joints which eventually cause permanent damage. The root cause of an illness and the many different effects it can have on our bodies can be surprising. What is amazing to me about the space station is that each time we understand more about the response of a system in the body to microgravity as a stimulus, it also gives us insights that apply to other related needs on Earth. Stem cells and tissue regeneration are disrupted in many ways in space, and that window into physiology gives us the opportunity to make innovative connections in solving health problems on Earth.

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

Science in Short: SABL facility

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Space Automated Bioproduct Laboratory (SABL) facility

The Space Automated Bioproduct Laboratory (SABL) facility Credits: Bioserve

Last week the crew performed some setup and preliminary checkout activities of the Space Automated Bioproduct Laboratory (SABL) facility. SABL is a facility that can support a wide range of investigations across life sciences, physical sciences, and materials sciences, with a main focus on research that enables biological systems and processes. Developed by Bioserve, it will replace the existing two Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA) that has been serving a major incubator function on ISS since 2001.

SABL with BioCells

SABL with BioCells Credits: Bioserve

The SABL will have interchangeable inserts that will allow it to support a wide range of fundamental and applied research ranging from microorganisms through small organisms, cell and tissue culture, and small plants. An important feature on the SABL is the USB ports that support any modern scientific tool with USB connectivity to work with SABL, allowing for many future analytical tools to be used on the orbiting laboratory as science technology evolves.

SABL has a front door for the crew to easily access their experiments, and a set of cameras that allow the crew and scientists on the ground to watch experiments as they happen. This is a bonus for the crew, as they’ve often told us that they really enjoy the experiments where they can actually see what’s going on inside the box!

Lastly, a feature that’s important to the science logistics on the space station is the capability for the SABL to efficiently recharge NASA’s Cold Bricks, which is critical for carrying samples to/from ISS at 4 degrees Celsius. Many thanks to the CGBA for keeping so many life sciences and educational experiments running for 15 years! Now let’s get ready to settle into the latest technology that will welcome Earth’s scientific community to research in low-Earth orbit.

Tara M. Ruttley, PhD Associate Program Scientist -International Space Station (ISS) ISS Program Science Office

Tara M. Ruttley, PhD
Associate Program Scientist -International Space Station 
ISS Program Science Office

The One Year Mission Learning Continues Past the Crew’s Landing

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With the return of the One Year Mission crew, many people will be asking, “What did you learn?” The answer: we are still learning, and will be for quite some time.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko’s yearlong mission in space has ended, but the landing is just one milestone in a much larger picture of science. Baseline data collection started a year before the pair left the Earth in 2015, continued throughout their time in space, and will be collected for one or more years now that they have returned. From there, analysis, writing papers and seeing those papers through to publication will take even more time. In the case of the One Year Mission, the science is far from complete.

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Collecting data before, during and after the mission in space

We are already aware of risks to astronauts during spaceflight, and adverse effects caused by long-term living in microgravity. Extending that knowledge base to longer missions is one piece of the focus of studies for the One Year Mission, but another piece that is even more important is watching the astronauts’ recovery once they return home, and that will take time.

One example of the time it takes to understand astronaut recovery from life in microgravity is the Subregional Bone study, with Adrian LeBlanc, Ph.D. in a time when crew members were still losing a lot of bone, before the ARED was introduced on the space station. LeBlanc studied what was happening inside crew members’ bones as they rebuilt over time once astronauts returned to Earth. He learned that it took three years before the bones returned to their pre-flight bone mass density, and even when the bones reached that point, they still hadn’t completely recovered the same structure they had as before the astronauts’ flight. The bone was larger and more porous on the inside; it didn’t rebuild back to the original bone structure. Although our new exercise regimes are significantly reducing or eliminating the loss of bone mass density, studying the structural recovery is still a key part of the puzzle for reducing the risks of broken bones while astronauts operate on the surface of Mars someday.

Data collection for the One Year Mission began a year before Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko left Earth, intensified during their 340 days in space, and will continue for a year - or longer - now that they are home. Click to enlarge this infographic to see a breakdown of the data collections for every #YearInSpace investigation. Credits: NASA

Data collection for the One Year Mission began a year before Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko left Earth, intensified during their 340 days in space, and will continue for a year – or longer – now that they are home. Click to enlarge this infographic to see a breakdown of the data collections for every #YearInSpace investigation. Credits: NASA

This is an example of why it’s not just about the study you do in space. You also have to watch the recovery period after the crew members return to Earth. That period might be a year for sensory motor effects, but post-flight data collection could take three years for studies dealing with bone. Investigators will look at Kelly’s return to ground normal after being in space, so those studies – by their nature – will have years between when the spaceflight was completed, and when papers will be published.

Additionally, even now that Kelly’s boots are on the ground, most of the samples collected from him will actually still be orbiting the Earth aboard the space station, waiting to be returned on a cargo flight at a later date. We also have to collect all his post-flight baseline data that will start from the moment he gets back to Earth through as many as three years.

Once all collections are complete, scientists will analyze the data, which can take three to six months or longer. After the data has been analyzed, papers will be written and submitted to journals for publication. Depending on the publication, it could take a few weeks or months to get a response, and when that response does come, it could include a request for additional data analysis, revisions and reviews. When the journal does accept the paper, the scientists will work with the publication to make sure formatting and proofing is completed correctly. At that point, some journals will publish a pre-print version of the article online, while others could take up to a year to release the printed publication. So what that really means is that, while we could expect some published results within a year of his return to Earth, there are a number of studies that would not be expected to publish until three years, or more, later.

A first in genetics data collection

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly (L) and his identical twin brother Scott (R) are participating in a series of genetics studies as part of the One Year Mission.

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly (L) and his identical twin brother Scott (R) are participating in a series of genetics studies as part of the One Year Mission. Credits: TIME

Another special thing about Scott’s mission is that it marks the first time that flying astronauts have ever contributed genetic data to a study. This genetic data is covered under the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA). GINA protects employees from being discriminated against based on their genetic information. When Scott and Mark Kelly first asked NASA to include the fact that they were twins as a research tool, NASA developed an interim policy on the medical ethics of asking a crew member to give genetic information to support the Twins Study. We were able to collect this data, because Scott and his twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, were the ones who said they were open to participate as studies that compared them as genetically identical twins, rather than NASA going to Scott to ask for genetic information in order for him to be an astronaut.

However, Scott and Mark still have the right to restrict use of their data. If something were to come out of these studies that they felt would be a personal compromise to their medical privacy, or the privacy of their families, they could decide to disallow any use of that data. In that case, it would be unethical for the scientists complete the studies or publish the results. Since Scott and Mark are the only participants in the Twins Study, they have almost no privacy when the data gets published. When a person participates in a study with a thousand other subjects, they don’t give up as many rights to privacy, so the ethical issues are not the same.

If Scott or Mark ask to restrict the data, scientists will not be able to talk about the data or share the data; it has to be as though the studies never happened. It is the job of our institutional review board to make sure all the studies that use astronauts as human subjects are carried out ethically and appropriately.

What these studies mean for a mission to Mars

The reason behind these studies is to enable crew members to go to Mars. We have to understand not only the effects of microgravity on the body during long-duration missions, but we also have to understand how the measures we’re using to prevent some of those effects are working to prevent them. For example, we need to understand bone loss in crew members, and if or how the exercise and nutrition measures we’ve put in place are working.

Journey to Mars

We also have to understand how crew members recover one they are home, because it’s all about risk over time. When an astronaut goes to Mars someday, we’ll be concerned about vision issues. It may be that their vision could be compromised on the way to Mars, but if – when they are spending a year on the surface of the planet – everything corrects itself, and then they fly again, the long-term risk might not be too high. On the other hand, if their vision doesn’t recover while they are on the surface of Mars, then it could be a much higher risk as they are returning, so we have to understand the process of recovery as well as the process of impacts. If crew members can recover, and effects are only short-lived, the risks may not be as concerning. All this data collection and analysis – by nature of the recovery time needed to return to “ground normal” – will take time, which means our learning is far from complete.

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

Science in Short: Studying Self-Assembly with ACE-H2

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ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake works on the Advanced Colloids Experiment 2 (ACE H2) Hardware Configuration and Mix Part 1 earlier this year. Peake sent out a Twitter message with this image: “Stirring samples using a bar magnet to turn a tiny metal rod – preparing for today’s @ISS_Research. #Principia”.

You might not be familiar with the term “colloids,” but you likely interact with some throughout your daily routines. What are they? Colloids are not pure liquids or pure solids, but rather liquids that have solid particles suspended in them, such as paint, milk and even blood.

On Earth, solid particles could clump together, causing spoilage in the example of food. They could also settle to the bottom of the solution through sedimentation. Removing gravity from the equation, though, makes the environment aboard the International Space Station a perfect place for researchers to study the self-assembly of these particles.

In the Advanced Colloidal Experiment- Heated-2 (ACE-H-2) investigation, researchers are studying a type of colloid that has different sizes of particles suspended within a fluid medium. There are small nanoparticles that are highly charged and large particles that are non-charged. When the suspensions were allowed to settle under gravity, the particles that were stabilized (while in suspension) formed highly ordered, three-dimensional colloidal crystal structures that were composed entirely of the larger, non-charged particles. The nanoparticles remained in suspension but was found to create a charge layer by forming cage or halo around the larger particles. This is a newly discovered process of colloidal stabilization called Nanoparticle Haloing (NPH).

As a result, the ACE-H-2 investigates the nature of the three-dimensional colloidal structures formed by NPH under microgravity conditions, and also assesses the structures when they are heated.

These “self-assembled colloidal structures” are vital to the design of advanced materials, for biomedical applications as an example.

ESA astronaut Tim Peake has participated in the ACE-H-2 investigation aboard the orbiting laboratory, and shared the picture above on social media.

Camille Alleyne, Ed.D., is an assistant program scientist for the International Space Station Program Science Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Camille Alleyne, Ed.D., is an assistant program scientist for the International Space Station Program Science Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Science in Short: BASS-M, Igniting Innovation on the Space Station

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NASA astronaut Tim Kopra performs BASS-M operations in the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox in the Destiny Lab aboard the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra performs BASS-M operations in the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox in the Destiny Lab aboard the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

Things have been heating up in the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox (MSG) in the Destiny Lab aboard the International Space Station as NASA astronaut, Tim Kopra performs operations for the BASS-M, a National Lab investigation which came about as a result of a partnership between CASIS and Milliken. Milliken is a commercial company who, among other things, produces custom engineering textiles, including flame-retardant ones used by a variety of industrial markets, such as the military and fire fighters.

Milliken is interested in seeing how the absence of gravity affects the burning of the textiles and materials. They are testing the hypothesis that materials in microgravity, with adequate ventilation, burn as well, if not better than, the same material being burned here on Earth under the same conditions.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra tweeted this picture of a flame from the BASS-M operations.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra tweeted this picture of a flame from the BASS-M operations. Credits: NASA

The investigation tests 10 different treated flame-retardant cotton fabrics at varying air flow rates, and studies their flammability and their ability to self-extinguish.

Ultimately, Milliken is using innovation in trying to design and engineer the right chemicals so that the textiles don’t burn. This applies specifically to the military and fire-fighters, for whom – if these textiles are designed correctly – could be protected from getting 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

Camille Alleyne, Ed.D., is an assistant program scientist for the International Space Station Program Science Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Camille Alleyne, Ed.D., is an assistant program scientist for the International Space Station Program Science Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Four surprising things we learned from research aboard the International Space Station in 2015

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In today’s A Lab Aloft, International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D., discusses the top research results from space station science in 2015.

Now that utilization of the orbiting laboratory is in full swing, more and more advances in science are coming out of research conducted aboard the International Space Station than ever before. With close to 500 investigations on-going, the space station continues to be not only a test bed for research that will help us travel further into space, but also continues to provide results that benefit humanity back on Earth. You probably know that this year saw the start of the historic One Year Mission and Twins Study, which will provide critical data and understanding for future missions to deep space. It also marked the first time lettuce has been grown and consumed in space, and we celebrated 15 years of continuous human presence aboard the only microgravity laboratory in the universe. What you may not know are some of the top results that came out in the past year, based on research on the International Space Station.  These are my personal top picks.

Hope Crystallizes

In microgravity, crystals grow more slowly, but the molecules have time to more perfectly align on the surface of the crystal which returns much better research data. Credits: NASA

In microgravity, crystals grow more slowly, but the molecules have time to more perfectly align on the surface of the crystal which returns much better research data. Credits: NASA

Clinical trials of a new drug for treating Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) called TAS-205 have begun sponsored by Taiho Pharmaceutical (see the entry in clinicaltrials.gov). This drug was developed using improved  structures of key proteins that were crystallized on the ISS. The microgravity environment supported growth of larger, higher-quality crystals. This allowed scientists to design a drug to fit specifically into a location on the protein associated with DMD. Based on ground research in animals with a similar genetic disease, the research team estimates that the drug may be able to slow the progression of DMD, an incurable genetic disorder that affects the muscles primarily in young males, by half.

For me, starting clinical trials is a real milestone for this ISS research. There are so many things that can stop a science result from making it to a new drug, but once it makes it to clinical trials, data and not fundraising will have the greatest influence.

First genetic results investigate a link between folate and eye health in space

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, Expedition 37 flight engineer, prepares to insert samples into a Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) dewar tray in the International Space Station’s Destiny laboratory. Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, Expedition 37 flight engineer, prepares to insert samples into a Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) dewar tray in the International Space Station’s Destiny laboratory. Credits: NASA

Damage to vision has become one of the top medical concerns of long-duration spaceflight, with increased pressure in the head due to fluid shifting in the body as a top suspect cause. A real puzzle has been why this only occurs in some astronauts, but not all.  In 2015, scientists identified two polymorphisms (versions of genes that are slightly different in different people) present in astronauts who experienced vision impacts in space.. In the prestigious Journal of the  of American Societies for Experimental Biology  paper, researchers describe the polymorphisms are in genes that are part of a metabolic pathway called 1C that also uses B vitamins. In affected individuals, there could be a link between vitamin status and eye health

This was the first time that NASA has ever looked at genetic data from a group of astronauts. What really surprised me is that the One-Carbon Metabolism Pathway associated with folate and DNA synthesis could be correlated with what scientists have been viewing as a pressure disruption from fluid shifts in the brain. And the really surprising thing is that there are similarities between astronaut data and women who have infertility from polycystic ovarian syndrome. These kinds of surprises are the places where new advances come from, and I can’t wait to see the next piece of evidence in the puzzle.

 Better weather warnings help reduce risks

Observation of Hurricane Joaquin taken by the Expedition 45 crew aboard the ISS.

Observation of Hurricane Joaquin taken by the Expedition 45 crew aboard the ISS.

Though the ISS-RapidScat has only been aboard the space station for a little more than a year, its weather observations have already made a difference in reducing risks for humans back on Earth. In 2015, data from the RapidScat instrument on the station improved tracking of hurricane strength prior to and during landfall, and enabled better storm warnings to reduce risk to shipping and coastal populations. RapidScat is the first near-global scientific Earth-observing climate instrument specifically designed and developed to operate from the exterior of the space station. The instrument measures near-surface ocean wind speed and direction, and provides data that is used to support weather and marine forecasting, including tracking storms and hurricanes.

Wind maps like these from ISS-RapidScat help enable better storm warnings to reduce risk to shipping and coastal populations. Credits: NASA

Wind maps like these from ISS-RapidScat help enable better storm warnings to reduce risk to shipping and coastal populations. Credits: NASA

NOAA uses the RapidScat data in their hurricane forecasting.  There may not be a NASA logo sitting alongside the NOAA logo. As a resident of Houston, I have a personal understanding of the risks of not preparing for a hurricane as well as the risks of evacuation.  Good forecasts are critical to saving lives.  I am really glad to know the ISS-Rapidscat instrument is doing its part to make those predictions more accurate.

Surprising results from the Constrained Vapor Bubble investigation

CVB

A heat pipe is a system for transferring heat away from a source using thermal transfer and phase change between liquid and gas. They are great options in space because they don’t have moving parts like pumps, and they are also used in electronic devices so they won’t have to have fans or pumps. Joel Plawsky of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: The Constrained Vapor Bubble experiment took a simplified heat pipe into space to measure its performance without the complexities of the bubbles rising due to gravity (buoyancy driven convection). Operation in the microgravity environment provided a number of surprises.One was rapid controlled boiling (they call this “explosive nucleation”!) in the shortest CVB module. Another was that the discovery normal capillary-driven flow of liquid from the cold to the hot end of heat pipe collided with a backward flow of liquid from the hot end toward the cold end due to Marangoni convection. The Marangoni flow also occurs on Earth but is very, very difficult to observe due to the action of gravity. I have to admit I learned a lot about heat pipes from reading this paper and then talking to some experts to better understand how they work. There will be more studies to come—but that collision is a source of inefficiency. This is an exciting and surprising result to me because once the physics are better understood, it can be applied to make smaller and more efficient heat pipes everywhere, including in this hot laptop I am using right now.

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

Julie A. Robinson, Ph.D., is NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist, representing all space station research and scientific disciplines. Robinson provides recommendations regarding research on the space station to NASA Headquarters. Her background is interdisciplinary in the physical and biological sciences. Robinson’s professional experience includes research activities in a variety of fields, such as virology, analytical chemistry, genetics, statistics, field biology, and remote sensing. She has authored more than 50 scientific publications and earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Utah State University, as well as a Doctor of Philosophy in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology from the University of Nevada Reno.

Science in Short: Vascular Echo

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Before and after spaceflight the Vascular Echo research team takes measurements of the arteries with ultrasound and pressure sensors to determine arterial stiffness. (Credit: Dr. Richard Hughson) © Canadian Space Agency.

Before and after spaceflight the Vascular Echo research team takes measurements of the arteries with ultrasound and pressure sensors to determine arterial stiffness. (Credit: Dr. Richard Hughson) © Canadian Space Agency.

Anyone over 40 who is interested in their heart health can relate to a study that began on the International Space Station last week. As we get older, our arteries stiffen and this causes an increase in blood pressure (hypertension) and elevates the risk for cardiovascular disease. In so many ways, the effects of space on the human body look a lot like ageing, and there is evidence that when some astronauts go to the ISS their arteries stiffen. Could the effect be similar to the effects of lack of physical activity on Earth?

On Jan. 7 and 8, Tim Peake performed the first Vascular Echo Ultrasound session and used the Portable Doppler for the first time on orbit as part of the Vascular Echo study. The study is led by the Canadian Space Agency and its PI, Dr. Richard Hughson has a long career of innovative studies on heart and vascular health in space. Dr. Hughson is also a great international collaborator. Scientists from Canada and France are collaborating on this study, and the US, Germany and the UK were involved in the operations. It will be interesting for scientists from around the world to better understand if the challenges to the human body from being in space have an effect on stiffening of the arteries.

Julie A. Robinson, Ph.D. International Space Station Chief Scientist

Julie A. Robinson, Ph.D.
International Space Station Chief Scientist

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