Laboratory in Space

Lots of fun and interesting science with a quick break for the arrival of Progress (unpiloted resupply ship). That means even fresher fruit and care packages for us, as well as lots of supplies, including our EVA cables…more on that in a later post.


We are not the experts in all the science that we do up here – there are many people on the ground ready to support us when we are doing the experiments.  Experts on the science and systems are located all over the world.  They get “patched” into our communications loops so at times we get to talk to them WHILE we are performing the tasks.  We usually have a video camera set up over our shoulders so they can “watch” what we are doing and how the experiment is going.  We have experiments that need our eyes on them to watch for changes, and to report.  Remember, things up here act differently than on Earth.  We all think we know what will happen, but the beauty of science is that sometimes we get surprised, especially when this is really the only place to do this type of stuff.



Cleopatra and Nefertiti


Cleopatra and Nefertiti are our two spiders.  Cleopatra, the zebra spider seems to be either very clever or very shy.  She has disappeared.  She was the first one I met and was pretty active when I first saw her.  She is sort of small, like the size of the holes where the fruit flies live…so, we think she was maybe really hungry and went into one of the holes.  If so, she was having a buffet in there.  There are cameras on them in the habitat so the ground can watch and they saw evidence that there was webbing in one of the fruit fly holes.  My only worry about her is that she will eat too much, grow a lot and get stuck in there…the life of a Spidernaut.


Nefertiti on the other hand is too big.  She is sort of scary; in fact I am so glad I am not a fruit fly.  I opened up the habitat and actually saw her running around at full speed looking for something to eat.  It was difficult to even get a steady picture.  Then a fruit fly came out. Nefertiti stopped, she stalked and then she pounced.  It was amazing to see this with my own two eyes.  Apparently they inject some acidic fluid in the fly body, which liquefies the insides, and then she sucks everything out of the fly.  The only thing left is the carcass…and I saw many carcasses floating around in her twisted web.  Note her 4 eyes and the fruit fly in her mouth!  I was told she has excellent vision.  Again, I am so happy to not be a fly – reminded me of that futuristic movie Starship Troopers. Yikes!


Pro K Investigation

Dietary Intake Can Predict and Protect Against Changes in Bone Metabolism During Spaceflight and Recovery


This is a controlled diet investigation.  It is interesting when you can’t choose for yourself…immediately you start feeling deprived.  I think this is why diets don’t seem to work in the end.  You just can’t wait to get off it and then go crazy!  At least that is my personality.  The idea has been to see if a high animal protein diet contributes to bone loss.  This is not as important on the ground as it is here in space. Living in space immediately starts to change the body, and one of the unfortunate side effects is bone density loss because we don’t need a skeletal structure to hold us up.  Immediately the body starts to redistribute calcium.  That is why we do weight bearing exercises up here – to help prevent it.  Well, an additional theory is that the acid created in breaking down animal protein also leaches calcium out of the bones as it is used as a neutralizing agent for the acid.  So, we are testing out a high animal protein diet versus a low animal protein diet.  Associated with the menu is how to test it.  Of course there is sampling after 4 days of these diets – that means 24 hours continuous of taking urine samples, which we insert in the MELFI freezer (Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer)



Binary Colloidal Alloy Test-5: Phase Separation


There are many different types of samples that potentially form colloids differently here than on Earth.  We get them ready, place them somewhere on the ISS in a certain orientation, let them sit for a while and then photo document them.  This is pretty difficult photography with micro lenses to try to take a picture of the potential crystals.  The depth of field is small with crystals, making it hard for the camera to “see” them.  It is like trying to take pictures of a prism.  I need more photography work on this small scale!  Very interesting though how the crystals vary from sample to sample.



Advanced Colloids Experiment


Working with a high-powered microscope to look at samples here in space.  I was essentially a technician.  We mix samples with a magnet, install samples that we have here, change out lenses for the microscope and get it all ready for the ground teams to run sessions to look at and analyze the samples.  Pretty meticulous work, but fun to see how we can work together with the ground teams.



Treadmill Kinematics

Biomechanical Analysis of Treadmill Exercise on the International Space Station

Treadmill Kinematics evaluates the difference between running in space and running on the ground.  We sort of assume that it is the same when the folks on the ground have us do exercise up here.  But in fact, with the harness and microgravity, we aren’t even sure we are working the correct parts for bone density and muscle mass deficits. By videotaping ourselves at different speeds, the folks on the ground can figure out the differences.  I saw a similar thing on training Olympic swimmers when they push off the wall – you’ve seen the dolphin kick thing they do now.  Folks analyze the position of the ankle, knee and hip to record and see the motion and see what the result is – speed in that case.  Maybe proper position in ours.



Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study


I am into SPRINT now.  The interval running workouts are getting intense.  Weight lifting workouts have been difficult with 12 repetitions per exercise.  We’re decreasing the repetitions and increasing the weight….should be fun?


After all that working out, and finally not having to eat “what I am told to eat” for the Pro-K, it was time to really EAT!  After all of us were off the “diet” we opened some of our bonus containers and had a smorgasbord while watching the Olympics together.  We had chips (corn tortillas broken in pieces) with bean dip from Joe, nacho cheese spread from me, fish in miso sauce from Aki.  Gennady, Yuri and Sergei joined in and we had fun all eating together and cheering for our teams.


I felt like continuing the Mexican theme and had beef fajitas the next day on a flour tortilla with spicy corn.


Notice our “table” in the background.   It just consists of a place to Velcro the food; stick it down with duct tape, and a place for baby wipes to clean our silverware.  We got some grapefruits and apples from the Progress cargo ship — crunchy and REAL!


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