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.

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.

Cargo Operations and Space Research Keeping Crew Busy

Astronaut Kate Rubins checks out radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.
Astronaut Kate Rubins checks out radish plants growing for the Plant Habitat-02 experiment that seeks to optimize plant growth in space.

Cargo operations are underway at the International Space Station as a U.S. resupply ship prepares for launch and another prepares for departure. Meanwhile, a host of microgravity research is keeping the Expedition 64 crew busy.

SpaceX is preparing its upgraded SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for a launch from Florida on Dec. 5 and a rendezvous with the orbiting lab about 24 hours later. This will be the first automated docking of the Cargo Dragon. Astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover will be monitoring Dragon’s arrival to the Harmony module’s space-facing port with more than 6,400 pounds of space freight, including the NanoRacks Bishop airlock.

However today, Rubins worked on science gear stowing external experiments brought in from outside the Kibo laboratory module then cleaned up the Advanced Plant Habitat after Monday’s radish harvest. Glover joined JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi for a physical fitness test on the station’s exercise bike to evaluate microgravity’s impact on their cardiopulmonary function.

The Earth-facing port of the Unity module hosts the outgoing Cygnus resupply ship from Northrop Grumman. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins worked today packing the cargo craft with trash and old gear. Cygnus will depart the space station later this month, conduct an automated space combustion experiment then reenter the atmosphere for a fiery, but safe demise above the Pacific Ocean.

Hopkins later joined fellow NASA Flight Engineer Shannon Walker for health checks Wednesday morning consisting of temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory measurements. Walker then spent the afternoon reorganizing food items making space for additional cargo aboard the station.

Commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos worked on electronics and life support maintenance tasks throughout Wednesday. Cosmonaut and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov primarily worked on life support gear before servicing the power supply system in the Zarya module.

Spacesuit Cleanup Work as Soyuz Crew Preps for Departure

Soyuz 40 Crew Members
JSC2014-E-079951 (19 June 2014) — NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore (left), Expedition 41 flight engineer and Expedition 42 commander; Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova, both Expedition 41/42 flight engineers, attired in Russian Sokol launch and entry suits, take a break from training in Star City, Russia to pose for a portrait. Photo credit: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center

As a pair of astronauts cleans up their spacesuits after completing a set of spacewalks, more nanosatellites were deployed from Japan’s Kibo lab module. The International Space Station also raised its orbit Tuesday morning to set the stage for the upcoming crew departure.

Astronauts Barry WiImore and Terry Virts scrubbed the cooling loops inside the spacesuits after their third and final spacewalk on Sunday. They also sampled the water from the loops and talked about their experiences with spacewalk experts on the ground.

Wilmore is also getting ready to return home March 11 with Soyuz crewmates Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova. Samokutyaev and Serova spent Tuesday getting their Soyuz spacecraft ready for next week’s undocking and packing gear for the return home.

Dovesat Nanorack
One of four Dovesat NanoRacks satellites is seen launching from the deployer mechanism outside the Kibo laboratory. Credit: NASA TV