Crew Studies Immunology, Genetic Expression and Space Manufacturing

This image from International Space Station as it was flying 261 miles over Iran looks southeast across the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
This image from International Space Station as it was flying 261 miles over Iran looks southeast across the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The seven-member Expedition 64 crew, consisting of five astronauts and two cosmonauts, will spend the rest of the year conducting valuable space research aboard the International Space Station.

Tuesday’s slate of science investigations explored a range of space biology and physics phenomena to benefit human health and manufacturing. Results from these microgravity studies could also boost the commercialization of space.

The crew has been looking at tiny organisms including microbes and fruit flies today to gain insights into immunology and genetic expression. These experiments will return to Earth on Jan. 11 for analysis when the SpaceX Cargo Dragon undocks from the Harmony module and splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Weightlessness has the potential to increase the virulence of microbes and the Micro-14A study seeks to understand why. The astronauts are looking at the opportunistic pathogen Candida albicans in a human cell host to see how it adapts to space. Results could help doctors quantify the health risk to space crews and formulate countermeasures.

The Genes in Space-7 investigation examines the central nervous system of fruit flies for space-caused changes in genetic expression. The lack of a day-night cycle in space can create cognitive changes to molecular pathways that scientists want to track. Monitoring the changes to neural systems in space will help scientists understand how the biological clock adapts to long-term space missions.

A pair of physics studies is under way aboard the station seeking to promote the manufacturing of high-quality fiber optics that only microgravity can provide. Optical fiber samples were swapped out inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox today for the Fiber Optic Production study that is testing commercial production on the station. A secondary experiment, Space Fibers-2, explores a custom fiber fabrication method that operates autonomously inside its own specialized device that can be examined back on Earth.

The 2,400-pound NanoRacks Bishop research airlock is now part of the orbiting lab’s Tranquility module and will be activated and pressurized for operations at a later date. Bishop will increase the station’s capacity for private and public research and also enable the release of larger satellites and the transfer of cargo inside and outside the station.

New Science Airlock Expands Station’s Research Capacity

The new NanoRacks Bishop research airlock is installed on the port side of the Tranquility module and significantly expands the capacity for commercial space research on the outside of the orbiting lab.

Science operations continue to expand aboard the International Space Station with the installation of a new research airlock over the weekend. The seven-member Expedition 64 crew also stayed busy exploring a variety of space biology and physics phenomena.

Robotics controllers on Earth spent Saturday remotely commanding the Canadarm2 robotic arm to install the new NanoRacks Bishop science airlock delivered Dec. 7 aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship. During a series of hours-long maneuvers, Bishop was extracted from Dragon’s unpressurized trunk and installed on the port side of the Tranquility module adjacent to BEAM, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module.

Bishop significantly increases the capacity for public and private research on the outside of the orbiting lab. The new science airlock also enables the deployment of larger satellites and the transfer of spacewalking tools and hardware inside and outside the station.

Dragon also delivered over 2,000 pounds of new science investigations to the orbiting lab keeping the seven-member crew busy throughout December. Some of that research took place over the weekend with the astronauts studying planetary exploration technologies and potential treatments for heart conditions on and off the Earth.

The new BioAsteroid experiment is looking at microbes as a way to breakdown space rocks into fertile soils or extract valuable metals and minerals. The crew serviced samples inside the Kubik incubator on Sunday for the study seeking to enable biomining that may advance space exploration and settlement.

Flight Engineer Kate Rubins has been leading the Cardinal Heart study since activating the experiment shortly after its arrival aboard the Cargo Dragon. She serviced engineered heart tissues over the weekend to understand the cardiovascular response to microgravity. Results may give deeper insights into aging and weakening heart muscles that may lead to more effective therapies for humans living on and off the Earth.

Human Research, Technology Science as Spacesuit Work Wraps Up

Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Victor Glover works on U.S. spacesuits in the Quest airlock.

The Expedition 64 continued its human research studies today while also focusing on space manufacturing and technology investigations. Spacesuit maintenance has also wrapped up for the week aboard the International Space Station.

The lack of gravity in space is not the only factor affecting the human body. Solar radiation is also a concern as NASA plans crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. The station astronauts have been wearing the new AstroRad Vest this week testing for more than just radiation protection, but also comfort and fit. The vest design expands upon protective gear designed for emergency personnel responding to radiation exposure incidents on Earth.

Muscle measurements and ultrasound scans were back on the schedule today for the long-running Myotones experiments. Blood samples are also taken to help doctors understand and treat muscle atrophy that occurs during spaceflight. Daily exercise offsets this loss, but insights from the investigation may provide alternate therapies for space crews, as well as more Earthbound muscle conditions.

Microgravity provides an ideal environment for producing high quality optic fibers superior to those created on Earth. Samples of optic fibers produced in the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox were swapped out today for the ongoing Fiber Optic Production manufacturing study that may help commercialize space exploration.

Another study looking at optical communications today is testing the high-speed, high-capacity downlink of data from the orbiting lab. A unique, tiny pointing mechanism was installed for operations from Japan’s Kibo laboratory module for the SOLISS technology demonstration. The experiment uses lasers and could advance space communications and the transmission of data to and from remote locations on Earth.

The crew cleaned up the U.S. Quest airlock today after a weeklong series of spacesuit maintenance tasks inside the spacewalk staging module. U.S. spacesuit components were upgraded, swapped and cleaned throughout the week as station managers begin planning spacewalks for 2021. Another spacesuit was packed inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship for return to Earth in January.

The new NanoRacks Bishop airlock, delivered Dec. 7 in the SpaceX Cargo Dragon’s unpressurized trunk, will be installed to the Tranquility module this weekend using the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Bishop will increase the capacity for commercial research, enable the release of larger satellites, and expand equipment transfers in and out of the station.

Cancer, Heart Research Today Ahead of Science Airlock Installation

A U.S. Cygnus and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft are pictured docked to the station as it orbited above the Pacific Ocean.
A U.S. Cygnus and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft are pictured docked to the station as it orbited above the Pacific Ocean.

The Expedition 64 crew is busy this week with a full slate of life science to promote healthier humans on and off the Earth. Cancer and heart research took precedence today alongside muscle and rodent studies for unique therapeutic insights on the International Space Station.

The microgravity environment on the station enables the production of high-quality protein crystals that are imaged using a microscope for the purpose of improving drug development. The Monoclonal Antibodies study taking place today will use the observations to improve medical cancer treatments and the space manufacturing process.

Engineered heart tissue samples are being observed this week for the Cardinal Heart investigation. NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is leading that experiment to understand why weightlessness seems to induce cell and tissue abnormalities similar to heart conditions on Earth. Results may help doctors understand and predict cardiovascular risks for Earthlings and astronauts.

More muscle work was on the research schedule today as the crew continued with measurements and ultrasound scans today. The Myotones investigation monitors how microgravity changes muscles and tendons in an astronaut’s body to provide countermeasures for crews in space and therapies for patients on Earth.

Rodents are also being studied this month for insights into tissue and bone loss as well as eye changes caused by living in space. One study will study explore how genetic modifications affect bone and tissue regeneration. The second will look at new treatments for space-caused and Earthbound eye problems.

Robotics controllers are preparing to remove a new science airlock delivered to the station last week inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. Using the Canadarm2 robotic arm, the NanoRacks Bishop airlock will be attached to the Tranquility module this weekend ramping up commercial research opportunities in space.