A few weeks ago I talked about an innovative applied research experiment being done aboard the International Space Station for Eli Lilly. They are interested in the process by which tablets dissolve, since this can be a problem for helping patients get the dose of medicine they need. Because microgravity allows study of diffusion without buoyancy or density-driven convection, these processes can be slower, allowing for better visualization and mathematical modeling.
The PIs of this experiment have allowed us to share the early visual results from their ISS experiment. In the image above, you can see an example of a significant gel interface that formed between the tablet and the solution which was not observed to the same extent on Earth. The ground controls are pending, but based on preliminary results, the rate of dissolution was significantly longer in the microgravity experiment, an unexpected and interesting result.
In chemistry, wetting refers to spreading of a liquid over a solid material’s surface, and is a key aspect of the material’s ability to dissolve. This investigation studies how certain materials used in the pharmaceutical industry dissolve in water while in microgravity. Results from this investigation could help improve the design of tablets that dissolve in the body to deliver drugs, thereby improving drug design for medicines used in space and on Earth.
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)
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
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.
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.