Crew Exploring Life Science Before Relaxing on New Year’s Day

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker sets up hardware inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox for an experiment to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth to benefit Earth and space industries.
NASA astronaut Shannon Walker sets up hardware inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox for an experiment to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth.

The seven Expedition 64 crew members aboard the International Space Station will see the New Year sixteen times today and take the day off on the first day of 2021. The orbital residents are also exploring how microgravity affects mice and protein crystals to improve human health.

The station orbits the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour) giving the crew the opportunity to see 16 sunrises and sunsets each day. The space residents set their clocks to GMT, or Greenwich Mean Time, and will start their new year at 12:00 a.m. GMT on Jan. 1, or five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Rodent research has been taking place all December aboard the station so scientists can understand how living in space impacts vision and bone tissue. NASA astronaut Victor Glover tended to mice today for the two studies before they will return in January aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon for analysis on Earth.

NASA Flight Engineer Kate Rubins photographed scientific samples for a study that seeks to commercialize the production of medical therapies in space. The Monoclonal Antibodies investigation is specifically exploring the creation of protein crystals that target cancer cells and could improve the crystallization process on Earth.

Rubins also joined Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi as the trio packed the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter throughout Thursday. The trio packed Cygnus with trash and discarded gear for its departure scheduled on Jan. 6. After its separation, Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own until Jan. 26 for flight tests and science experiments.

Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov serviced a variety of Russian hardware today before loading the Progress 76 cargo craft ahead of its February departure from the Pirs docking compartment. Cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov spent Thursday on engineering and plumbing tasks in the orbiting lab’s Russian segment.

Cargo Packing and Radish Harvesting Aboard Station Today

Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is pictured inside the U.S. Quest airlock carrying a pair of pistol grip tools used for maintenance work during spacewalks.
Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Kate Rubins is pictured inside the U.S. Quest airlock carrying a pair of pistol grip tools used for maintenance work during spacewalks.

The Expedition 64 crew is packing a pair of U.S. resupply ships for departure next month. The International Space Station is also humming with microgravity research to benefit humans on and off the Earth.

Space agriculture is key to the long-term success of human exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Astronauts and botanists are learning how to manage food production aboard the station and have been harvesting a variety of edible plants for several years.

NASA Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins spent Wednesday harvesting radish plants and readying them for consumption for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment. Their short cultivation time is ideal for research and evaluating nutrition and taste in microgravity.

Rodents are being studied to understand the impacts to vision and bone tissue while living in space. Today, JAXA Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi fed the mice and cleaned their specialized research habitats. Those mice will be returned to Earth for analysis next month aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Shannon Walker packed trash inside the Cygnus space freighter today ahead of its Jan. 6 departure. Following its separation, Cygnus will orbit Earth on its own for an extended period of flight tests and science experiments. Walker also readied research and development hardware and sample modules for return to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon less than a week after Cygnus departs.

Station Commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos spent the day configuring communications gear and cleaning ventilation systems inside the orbiting lab’s Russian segment. His fellow cosmonaut Sergey Kud-Sverchkov wiped down module surfaces to rid the station of microbes and vacuumed the Zarya module.

U.S. Cargo Ships Depart In January; Crew Exploring Biology and Physics

Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins checks on young radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.
Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins checks on young radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.

Two U.S. resupply ships are being readied for their departure next month from the International Space Station. Meanwhile, the Expedition 64 crew continued its intense schedule of space research with cardiac studies and radish harvesting today.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is due to be the first cargo craft to leave the station in 2021 on Jan. 6. Ground controllers will remotely command the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus into Earth orbit after 93 days attached to the Unity module. Cygnus will separate to a safe distance away from the station and continue orbiting Earth for an extended mission of flight tests and science experiments.

Less than a week later, the SpaceX Cargo Dragon will undock from the Harmony module’s space-facing international docking adapter. The upgraded version of the returnable space freighter will splash down the same day in the Atlantic Ocean loaded with space station hardware and science investigations for analysis.

The station residents also focused Tuesday on a host of space studies exploring heart cells, semiconductors and botany. These studies and others being hosted on the station may benefit human health and improve products around the world and on future space missions.

Samples of engineered heart tissues were serviced aboard the orbiting lab today for the Cardinal Heart study that seeks to understand space-caused cell and tissue abnormalities. Hardware is being set up this week to learn more about the process of semiconductor crystal growth to benefit Earth and space industries. Finally, radish plants are being harvested on the station this week helping botanists learn to manage food production in space and evaluate nutrition and taste in microgravity.

Eyesight, Bone and Cancer Studies Fill Weekend After Christmas

This view from a window on the docked SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle looks at the coast of Brazil near the mouth of the Amazon River.

Following a day off on Christmas, the Expedition 64 crew went into the weekend with a variety of space biology to help researchers gain therapeutic insights not possible on Earth.

Long-term exposure to microgravity affects organisms adapted to living on Earth in many ways. That same weightless phenomena also reveals unique physical properties that doctors can use to develop advanced medicines and therapies.

A pair of studies taking place over the weekend explored new treatments for joint injuries and cancer. Saturday’s investigation observed samples of bone, cartilage, and synovium (connective tissue) housed in an artificial gravity chamber for insights into bone loss and joint damage. Sunday’s space research explored space-grown protein crystals, which are higher quality than those created on Earth, and their ability to target cancer cells.

A separate pair of investigations is examining several dozen mice aboard the International Space Station to learn about space-caused impacts to vision and bone tissue. The eyesight study seeks to understand whether the vascular changes created in space can impair visual function. Space radiation and fluid shifts toward the head are also suspected of affecting vision in 40 percent of space residents.

The second experiment is looking at genetic changes that occur in space and how they impact the degeneration/regeneration of bone tissue. Scientists are investigating how microgravity modifies the molecular mechanism of bone formation and cell growth.

The mice live in specialized research habitats on the station and are compared to a similar group of rodents on the ground. Following the completion of the studies, the mice will be returned to Earth inside the SpaceX Cargo Dragon spaceship in January for analysis by scientists in Florida. The results from both experiments may lead to better treatments for conditions affecting humans on and off the Earth.

Astronauts Studying Vision, Genetic Changes and Heart Conditions Today

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker unpacks hardware inside the Quest airlock where U.S. spacewalks are staged.
NASA astronaut Shannon Walker unpacks hardware inside the Quest airlock where U.S. spacewalks are staged.

The seven Expedition 64 residents living aboard the International Space Station will be going into the Christmas holiday focusing intensely on space biology. The entire crew will be off duty on Christmas day relaxing following an increased pace of microgravity research.

Rodent research will be the highlight through Christmas eve as the astronauts explore how living in space affects eyesight and bones. Scientists are observing mice launched to the orbiting lab earlier this month to understand why 40 percent of crew members living in space have reported vision impairment. A combination of factors, such as headward fluid shifts and space radiation, is suspected of impacting eyesight off the Earth.

Another group of mice is being analyzed for space-caused genetic changes in bone tissue. The study is exploring the molecular mechanisms of tissue degeneration that may provide preventative therapies for astronauts in space and humans on Earth.

The mice from both biomedical studies will be returned to Earth aboard the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship in January for analysis by scientists in Florida. The Cargo Dragon completes its mission on January 11 when it undocks from the Harmony module and splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean. It will be packed with finalized science experiments and space station hardware for servicing.

Heart research continued today with Flight Engineer Kate Rubins exploring engineered heart tissues to gain insights into aging and weakening heart muscles. The cardiovascular study was activated shortly after its arrival aboard the Cargo Dragon and may improve treatments for heart conditions on and off Earth.

Microbes are also being examined for the risk they pose to spacecraft systems and astronaut health. The experiment may provide insight into better ways to control their growth and disinfect surfaces on Earth and in space.

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.

Space Biology on Station Seeks to Improve Human Health

Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi gives a "thumbs up" inside the seven-windowed cupola, the International Space Station's "window to the world."
Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Soichi Noguchi gives a “thumbs up” inside the seven-windowed cupola, the International Space Station’s “window to the world.”

Space biology was the dominant research theme aboard the International Space Station today. The Expedition 64 crew explored heart cells, muscles and more to understand how microgravity impacts the human body.

The Cardinal Heart study has been under way all week with the crew observing engineered heart tissue samples through a microscope in Japan’s Kibo laboratory module. The samples are being processed inside the Life Sciences Glovebox to help researchers understand and treat abnormal heart cells and tissues that can lead to disease both on Earth and in space.

The lack of gravity aboard the space station means astronauts exert less energy when moving around the orbiting lab resulting in muscle atrophy. Daily exercise offsets this loss and keeps crew members healthy and strong during long term missions and prepares them for the return to Earth after months of living in space.

The Myotones study taking place today seeks to understand the biochemical properties of muscles exposed to weightlessness. Analysis of ultrasound scans and blood samples taken from crew members could give scientists insights into muscle conditions caused by lack of movement and aging.

Organ transplants are critical on Earth especially with demand exceeding supply. Doctors are exploring generating cell growth in three dimensions and creating artificial organs in space since Earth’s gravity limits this growth. The new Space Organogenesis study ongoing this month uses the space station to enable 3D cell growth to promote regenerative technology and someday support patients on Earth who need transplants.