Something new!

It has worried us for some time that science carried out on the ISS is not getting through to the general public. The International Space Station hosts a large range of scientific experiments. But just what are they and how are these vital research activities conducted? Absence of a place to get this centrally connected to our monthly coverage in Spaceflight has encouraged us to do something about it.

Each week the monthly Spaceflight reports on general ISS operational activities will be mirrored with a Webnews review of science activities conducted during the preceding seven days. And to start the ball rolling we are backtracking to the beginning of June to give you the last two months of science activity.

Read immediately below for the latest report and scrolled down to look back to earlier weekly reports.

(Highlights: Week of Aug. 15, 2016) – As crew members on the International Space Station prepared for an important spacewalk at the end of the week, investigations continued providing insight in to the mechanisms of the human brain, which could lead to new methods to repairing the brain after injuries.

For decades, astronauts and scientists have studied complex structures with unique properties in space. The station’s microgravity environment allows for the study of microscopic structures in three-dimensions without the potentially distorting properties of gravity. The Advanced Colloids Experiment-Temperature Control (ACE-T1) investigates tiny suspended particles which have been designed by scientists to connect themselves in a specific way to form organized structures in water.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins configured the station’s Light Microscopy Module (LMM), installing the ACE-T1 mixture to be studied, and a surveillance camera. The microgravity environment provides researchers insight into the fundamental physics of micro-particle self-assembly and the kinds of colloidal structures that are possible to fabricate in orbit. Very small-scale, self-assembly of materials can be an efficient method to build new materials and equipment in space. This knowledge is crucial for developing self-assembling, self-moving, and self-replicating technologies for use on Earth, including photonics, diagnostics and drug-delivery.

Among the other human research investigations, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams completed his final on-orbit session with the Spaceflight Effects on Neurocognitive Performance: Extent, Longevity, and Neural Bases (NeuroMapping) investigation. This study looks at whether long-duration spaceflight causes any changes to the brain, including brain structure and function, motor control, and multi-tasking, as well as measuring how long it takes for the brain and body to recover from those possible changes. Previous research and anecdotal evidence from crewmembers returning from a long-duration mission have shown that movement control and cognition are affected in microgravity. The NeuroMapping investigation uses structural and functional magnetic resonance brain imaging to assess any changes to crewmembers after long-duration missions. This may also provide additional insight into research on the neural mechanisms associated with behavioral and physiological changes, as well as brain rehabilitation after injury.

Sun Visibility Window number 104 continued with daily solar observation and calibration measurements for a pair of solar radiation monitoring investigations. Solar Spectral Irradiance Measurements (Solar-SOLSPEC) observes the sun’s light spectrum radiation in the short term and long term as it strikes the space station. The ESA (European Space Agency) investigation works in conjunction with the Solar Auto-Calibrating EUV/UV Spectrophotometers (Solar-SOLACES), which measures extreme ultraviolet and ultraviolet radiation intensities. Data from these investigations are used to examine the impact of solar radiation on Earth’s climate and to improve our understanding of the interaction between different layers of the atmosphere.

Monitoring the sun radiation outside of Earth’s atmosphere over a large electromagnetic spectrum and comparing it to ground measurements from the same time frame help provide the accurate data required to support predictive models and anticipate the influence of sun radiation on our climate and environment.

Rubins and Williams finished the week with a six-hour spacewalk to attach the first of two new international docking adapters to the orbiting laboratory. These adapters will be used on the future arrivals of human-rated spacecraft being built by NASA’s commercial partners. Capsules built by The Boeing Co., of Chicago, and SpaceX, of Hawthorne, California, and launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will restore America’s human launch capability. These launches will also increase the amount of time space station crew members can dedicate to scientific research by eventually allowing for an additional crew member in orbit, bringing the compliment of astronauts on board to seven. Essentially doubling the amount of science that can be performed on the station, these discoveries will not only continue to benefit people on Earth, but also help prepare astronauts for deep space missions, including the journey to Mars.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including BRIC-NP, Mouse Epigenetics, Heart Cells, Viable, Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, Meteor, Combustion Integrated Rack, SABL, ISS Ham and NanoRacks Modules 43-46.

Human research investigations conducted this week include At Home in Space, Dose Tracker, Fine Motor Skills, Fluid Shifts, Habitability, and Space Headaches.

(Highlights: Week of August 8, 2016) – International Space Station crew members continued an important study into the human heart, and also held the championship round of a space-based robotics competition for middle school students.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins completed the third microscopy session for the Effects of Microgravity on Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocytes (Heart Cells) investigation, recording videos of beating heart cells in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Spaceflight can cause a variety of health issues with astronauts, which may become problematic the longer crew members stay in microgravity. The Heart Cells study looks at how human heart muscle tissue contracts, grows and changes genetically in microgravity and how those changes vary between subjects. Understanding how heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, change in space can improve efforts to study disease, screen drugs and conduct cell replacement therapy for future space missions.

Extended stays aboard the station are becoming more common, and future crews will stay in space for even longer periods as they travel on deep-space missions or a journey to Mars. Living without gravity’s influence for long periods can cause negative health effects such as muscle atrophy, including potential atrophy of heart muscle. This investigation cultures heart cells on the station for a month to determine how those muscle cells change on a cellular and molecular level in space, improving understanding of microgravity’s negative effects. Understanding changes to heart muscle cells benefits cardiovascular research on Earth, where heart disease is a leading cause of death in many countries.

Ground scientists captured some amazing images of the Perseid meteor shower using an investigation on the space station to catch video and photos of space rocks falling toward Earth.

The Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) investigation makes space-based observations of the chemical composition of meteors. The investigation captures high-resolution video and photographs of the atmosphere and uses a software program to search for bright spots, which can later be analyzed on the ground. Measurements made by a spectrograph help determine a meteor’s chemical makeup.

Meteors are relatively rare, and are difficult to monitor from the ground because of the interference created by Earth’s atmosphere, which is why the annual Perseid meteor shower was a great opportunity to capture data. Investigating the elemental composition of meteors is important to our understanding of how planets developed. Continuous measurement of meteors and their interaction with Earth’s atmosphere could help spot previously undetected or unnoticed meteors as they descended toward the ground. The investigation is installed in the station’s Window Observational Research Facility (WORF).

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka collaborated with a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge to complete the final round of competition for the middle school division of the SPHERES Zero Robotics competition. Student teams are challenged to design research for the station by writing programs for tasks the SPHERES satellites can accomplish that would be relevant to future space missions. The bowling-ball-sized satellites can be programmed to move about the space station cabin.

SPHERES stands for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites. A major outreach tool as well as scientific investigation, SPHERES Zero Robotics provides a unique and valuable opportunity for students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — careers. In all, 12 U.S. teams sent computer code to the station to be tested with the SPHERES satellites, and a team representing the state of Florida won the competition. A group of Russian teachers also participated as they will start a version of the competition in Russian middle schools next year.

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Takuya Onishi completed his flight day 30 session of the Circadian Rhythms investigation. Circadian rhythm is the phenomenon of one’s “body clock” indicating when it is time to sleep or wake. Astronauts in orbit around Earth are subjected to more than a dozen sunrises every day. Researchers believe a non-24-hour cycle of light and dark affects crewmembers’ circadian rhythm. This ESA (European Space Agency) investigation looks at the role of circadian rhythms and how they change during long-duration spaceflight. The investigation addresses the effects of reduced physical activity, microgravity and an artificially controlled environment.

Changes in body composition and body temperature, which also occur in microgravity, can affect crew members’ circadian rhythms as well. Understanding how these phenomena affect the biological clock will improve performance and health for future crew members and provide a unique comparison for sleep disorders, autonomic nervous system disorders and shift work-related disorders on Earth.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including Mouse Epigenetics, Meteor, NREP, ISS Ham and NanoRacks Module-9.

Human research investigations conducted this week include Dose Tracker, Fine Motor Skills, Fluid Shifts, Habitability, Neuromapping, and Space Headaches.

(Highlights: Week of August 1, 2016) – Crew members on the International Space Station worked on an investigation in to why some astronauts come home with symptoms resembling heart disease. Results could provide insight into potential countermeasures to help maintain crew member health and quality of life for everyone.

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Takuya Onishi and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins assembled the NanoRacks-Evaluation of Gumstix Performance in Low-Earth Orbit (NanoRacks-Gumstix) and NanoRacks-Earth Abundant Textured Thin Film Photovoltaics (NanoRacks-Nanotube Solar Cell) investigations on the NanoRacks External Platform (NREP) inside the station. The next day, Onishi extended the platform through the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Airlock Slide Table allowing ground teams to maneuver the NREP to the external platform via the JEM Remove Manipulator System (RMS).

The Nanotube Solar Cell investigation studies a new type of three-dimensional solar cell that absorbs sunlight more efficiently on Earth and in space. Scientists are investigating the response of the solar cell to the continually changing sun angles and the hard environment of space. This tubes trap sunlight streaming from any direction, eliminating the need for mechanical arrays to turn solar panels. The investigation uses carbon nanotubes, which are single-layer sheets of carbon atoms, and a thin film of copper, zinc, tin and silicon to absorb sunlight. Results from the study could improve solar panels built for use in space — including the space station and future spacecraft — and improve the efficiency of solar panels used on Earth.

Computers used in space must be designed to withstand radiation, and the lengthy testing process often means that space-based computers are two or three generations behind state-of-the-art computers on Earth. The NanoRacks-Gumstix investigation tests small computers called Gumstix modules — small gum-stick-sized processors based on open-source software — as an alternative off-the-shelf option for use in space. The investigation studies whether the Gumstix microprocessors can withstand the radiation environment on the orbiting laboratory and used in future spacecraft.

When the Gumstix microprocessors were activated outside the station, communications were established to the payload using the new external Wi-Fi signal from the space station. Gumstix became the first external investigation to use Wi-Fi, confirming wireless communications are possible with experiments mounted to the outer hull of the station. Astronauts won’t be surfing the web during extra-vehicular activities (EVA), but fewer hard-wire connections could mean fewer connections that need repairs in the future.

Rubins installed and activated the Long Duration Sorbent Testbed (LDST) to assist scientists in creating a more efficient life support system for long-duration, crewed space missions. A silica gel is currently used on the space station to remove humidity or water from the air which allows for life support hardware to more efficiently filter carbon dioxide from the air, making it breathable. These filters on the station need water removed from the air so carbon dioxide can be more easily processed along with waste hydrogen from the oxygen generator, converting two waste products into water, a precious commodity in space.

After a year, that silica gel loses up to 75 percent of its capacity to absorb water, making it necessary to replace it frequently. This investigation will study 12 potential replacements for the gel to determine which would be most effective for use on long-duration missions. Data from the study will help determine the best material to use to build better filters, which would reduce the number of replacements that would be sent on deep-space missions, leaving more mass for other payloads. Ground crews will conduct a similar experiment in a laboratory on Earth using the same materials for comparison.

Onishi completed blood pressure measurements and ultrasound scans studying Cardiac and Vessel Structure and Function with Long-Duration Space Flight and Recovery (Vascular Echo). The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) investigation examines the changes in blood vessels and the heart while crew members are in space and follows their recovery after returning to Earth.

As humans get older on Earth, arteries can stiffen and cause an increase in blood pressure, elevating the risk of heart disease. Physicians have observed that crew members returning from the space station also have much stiffer arteries than before they went into space. The Vascular Echo investigation will give researchers a better understanding of the changes in the cardiovascular system, which may provide insight into potential countermeasures to maintain health in space and on Earth.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including BRIC NP, Heart Cells, Mouse Epigenetics, Meteor, ISS Ham, SPHERES Zero Robotics-Roscosmos, NanoRacks Module 29, Biolab and Payload Card Multilab-X.

Human research investigations conducted this week include Airway Monitoring, Dose Tracker, ESA-Active-Dosimeters, Fine Motor Skills, Fluid Shifts, Habitability, Multi-Omics, Skin-B, and Space Headaches.

(Highlights: Week of July 25, 2016) – Crew members on the International Space Station initiated an investigation used to track the world’s shipping lanes on the oceans.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins installed the Global Automatic Identification System on Space Station (Maritime Awareness) payload, connecting it to an antennae to help track cargo ships on the sea. Nearly all commercial ships have transponders broadcasting their identity, location and course. They are tracked and monitored from Earth’s surface, but the signals can be lost when ships are far from shore. The Maritime Awareness system uses a space-based receiver on the orbiting laboratory to acquire real-time global tracking information from each ship’s transponder on the planet, including cargo and destination, and continuously monitors them for safety and security. After the year-long monitoring period, the system and data acquired from the investigation will be evaluated for potential environmental and educational applications.

Crew members also spent time tracking how fluids move around the human body in microgravity. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin completed multiple ultrasounds and baseline tests for the study Fluid Shifts Before, During, and After Prolonged Space Flight and Their Association with Intracranial Pressure and Visual Impairment (Fluid Shifts).

One of the main risks for humans during long-duration space missions is change in vision. More than half of American astronauts experience vision changes and other physical alterations to parts of their eyes during and after long-duration spaceflight. It is hypothesized that the fluid shift toward the head that occurs during spaceflight leads to increased pressure in the brain, which may push on the back of the eye, causing it to change shape. Fluid Shifts measures how much fluid shifts from the lower body to the upper body, in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the impact these shifts have on fluid pressure in the head, changes in vision and eye structures.

The early activities and baseline scans were in preparation for measurements while wearing the Chibis suit. These special pants, which look like a pair of fishing waders, provide negative pressure on the lower body to help redistribute fluids in the body. Scientists want to develop preventive measures against physiological changes during spaceflight. Results from the Fluid Shifts investigation also may improve understanding of how blood pressure in the brain specifically affects eye shape and vision, which could benefit people confined to long-term bed rest, or suffering from disease states that increase swelling and pressure in the brain.

Rubins exchanged multiple plates for the NanoRacks-Fluorescent Polarization in Microgravity (NanoRacks Module 29) within the station’s new Plate Reader in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). Scientists study chemical reactions using fluorescence polarization, which produces changes in light when molecules bind together. This technique enables researchers to measure the interactions of proteins with DNA or antibodies, and many other biomedical functions.

This investigation helps validate the new Plate Reader — an instrument that detects changes in light for these types of reactions in a multiwell plate. This particular plate has 384 wells or tiny test tubes to examine the effect of microgravity on fluorescent polarization, which paves the way for advanced biological research and drug development in space and new treatments for a range of human diseases.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including Heart Cells, Mouse Epigenetics, Meteor, NREP, ISS Ham, and MSL Batch 2b.

Human research investigations conducted this week include Airway Monitoring, At Home in Space, Biological Rhythms 48hrs, Body Measures, Dose Tracker, ESA-Active-Dosimeters, Fine Motor Skills, Habitability, and Space Headaches.

(Highlights: Week of July 18, 2016) – Crew members on the International Space Station began a new round of studies of the human heart in space.

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Takuya Onishi began his first investigation into the effect of long-term microgravity exposure on cardiac autonomic function by analyzing 48-hours electrocardiogram (Biological Rhythms 48hrs). This study collects data analyzing an astronaut’s heart patterns over a period of 48 hours. Onishi wore a special electrocardiograph monitor for a full 48 hours. His readings, combined with data measured from previous space station crew members, will be analyzed to improve the health care technology for space travelers on long-duration missions. The data and technology created for astronauts as a results of this investigation could also be used on Earth to promote a healthy lifestyle.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams activated four canisters for the Biological Research in Canisters-23 (BRIC-23) study before adding them to the Minus Eight-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). The BRIC-23 investigation studies Bacillus subtilis spores and Staphylococcus aureus cells to understand how they respond to the stressful environment of space. Spaceflight weakens the immune system and simultaneously makes certain microbes grow stronger — a combination that could lead to serious infections to crew members on future space missions, especially in the case of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Results from this investigation will be used to understand how microbes adapt to spaceflight, including whether their adaptations change effectiveness of antibiotics, which benefit efforts to maintain the health of crew members.

Bacteria are continually evolving to resist antibiotic compounds that can kill them, and multiple drug-resistant bacteria species also are a threat in hospital settings. Like a spacecraft, hospitals are enclosed environments where there may be people with weakened immune systems. Understanding how bacteria adapt to spaceflight has implications for infection control in hospitals. This investigation helps scientists understand various gene pathways involved in bacterial adaptation to stressful environments, benefiting people on Earth.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins completed a session of the Skin-B investigation. The ESA (European Space Agency) investigation will improve understanding of skin aging, which is slow on Earth but accelerated in space. It will provide insight into the aging process in other similar bodily tissues and could help scientists identify the impacts on astronauts during future long-duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit where environmental conditions are more challenging.

Rubins measured the hydration level of her skin’s outer layer, the skin barrier function and the skin surface topography of her forearm. The data will be compared to measurements performed before she began her stay on the space station and those collected during her mission on orbit. Data gathered on the station can provide insight into the mechanisms by which all organs covered with epithelial and connective tissue adapt and age over time and under the physical stress imposed by the microgravity environment. Gaining an understanding of how biological tissue can change should allow for better diagnoses of skin problems and treatment on Earth.

Williams successfully recalibrated one of the Personal CO2 Monitors and wore it during six hours of activity on the station. Much like the proverbial canary in a coalmine, the Personal CO2 Monitor demonstrates a new capability of wearable technology to continuously monitor the astronauts’ immediate surroundings on the space station. Humans produce carbon dioxide through the natural breathing process, but too much CO2 in the air can cause headaches, dizziness, increased blood pressure, and more severe symptoms. All spacecraft built for humans must be designed with environmental control systems that remove this gas from the air supply. But the space environment can still lead to pockets of CO2 that are difficult to detect and remove.

Many industries on Earth require their workers to enter enclosed spaces where this technology can be useful. They work in places such as mines, submarines, construction tunnels and pipes, where environmental monitoring is critical to safety. With the addition of an alarm system, the Personal CO2 Monitor may serve as a warning device for hazardous conditions. The focus is on designing these monitors so they are small and comfortable to wear, making the device particularly well-suited for continuous wear.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including Heart Cells, Mouse Epigenetics, Stem Cells, ISS Ham, Nanoracks Module-9 and STRATA-1.

Human research investigations conducted this week include Airway Monitoring, Biochem Profile, Cardio Ox, Marrow, Repository, Dose Tracker, Fine Motor Skills, Habitability, and Space Headaches.

(Highlights: Week of July 11, 2016) – Crew members on the International Space Station prepared for the arrival of new investigations on the ninth SpaceX resupply mission, scheduled to arrive July 20, which included setting up hardware to receive cells from a human heart.

Spaceflight can cause a variety of health issues with astronauts, which may become more problematic the longer crew members stay in orbit. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins configured the Microgravity Science Glovebox life science hardware to support upcoming operations for the Effects of Microgravity on Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocytes (Heart Cells) investigation, which studies the human heart. More specifically, how heart muscle tissue contracts, grows and changes genetically in microgravity and how those changes vary between subjects. Understanding how heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, change in space can improve efforts for studying disease, screening drugs and conducting cell replacement therapy for future space missions.

Extended stays aboard the station are becoming more common, and future crews will stay in space for even longer periods as they travel to the moon, asteroids or Mars. Living without gravity’s influence for long periods can cause negative health effects such as muscle atrophy, including potential atrophy of heart muscle. This investigation cultures heart cells on the station for a month to determine those muscle cells change on a cellular and molecular level in space, improving understanding of microgravity’s negative effects. Understanding changes to heart muscle cells benefits cardiovascular research on Earth, where heart disease is a leading cause of death in many countries.

Preparations for SpaceX-9 arrival also continued on ISS as the crew made the habitats ready for a batch of 12 mice to see how the rodents change genetically after exposure to space. The Transcriptome analysis and germ-cell development analysis of mice in the space (Mouse Epigenetics) will study the DNA of mice spending one month in space. Those mice will be returned to JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) where scientists will look for any genetic changes in the offspring of the space-flown mice. Results from this investigation will help define the long-term effects of spaceflight on genetic activity, from changes in gene expression in individual organs to changes in DNA that can be inherited later. Mice are an important model for human health, so the data from this investigation serves as a proxy for understanding how the human body changes in space, and how those changes may affect later generations.

Two separate investigations watched developing weather patterns on Earth, one that examined the development of typhoons and hurricanes; and another that looked at the planet’s climate in general.

ISS-RapidScat is a space-based scatterometer — a radar instrument measuring wind speed and direction over the ocean, used for weather forecasting, hurricane monitoring, and observations of large-scale climate phenomena such as El Niño. The ISS-RapidScat instrument enhances measurements from other international scatterometers by crosschecking their data. It measured Super Typhoon Nepartak as it approached Taiwan with wind speeds in excess of 60 mph. ISS-RapidScat also took measurements of Hurricane Blas off the coast of Baja California and another tropical depression that was forming in the same area. The investigation helps take more precise measurements to develop new techniques to predict weather patterns and help communities prepare for strong storms.

The Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) — installed on the outside of the space station — passed a major milestone while observing clouds over Southern Asia. The CATS light detection and ranging system measures the location, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere using lasers. While observing India, CATS surpassed 100 billion laser pulses in orbit. A better understanding of cloud and aerosol coverage over a long period will help scientists create a better model of Earth’s climate system and predict climate changes more precisely.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including SOLAR, Vessel ID System, Dynamic Surf-3, ISS Ham, Gecko Gripper, Radi-N2, Meteor, Manufacturing Device, and 3D Printing in Zero-G.

Human research investigations conducted this week include Dose Tracker, Fine Motor Skills, Habitability, Marrow, and Space Headaches.

(Highlights: Week of July 4, 2016) – On a week when the International Space Station welcomed three new crew members, the current residents on the orbiting laboratory watched the skies over the Pacific Ocean as a super storm struck Asia.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams powered up the hardware for the Cyclone Intensity Measurements from the International Space Station (Tropical Cyclone) investigation. Earth scientists wanted to collect data on Typhoon Nepartak in the Pacific Ocean as it neared Taiwan. The investigation uses a specialized, automated camera and other instruments to acquire data about the storms through one of the portals on the orbiting laboratory.

Scientists are demonstrating new techniques for accurate real-time measurement of the intensities of strong tropical cyclones by using passive instrumentation from low-Earth orbit. This method requires measurements of the temperature of the top of the eye wall clouds of the storm and the height of these clouds above sea level. Combined with information on sea-level surface temperatures and air pressure, scientists can more accurately predict the wind speed, strength and intensities of cyclones prior to landfall. This information would assist emergency responders and coastal residents to better prepare for oncoming storms.

After watching the storm develop on Earth, the station crew turned their attention inward to radiation detection in the orbiting laboratory with the Radi-N2 Neutron Field Study (Radi-N2) investigation. Williams NASA deployed eight radiation detectors around the orbiting laboratory. The Canadian Space Agency‘s bubble spectrometers, placed in predetermined locations throughout the station, measure neutron radiation levels while ignoring all other radiation. This investigation characterizes the station neutron environment, defining the risk posed to crew members’ health, and provides the data necessary to develop advanced protective measures for future spaceflight. Because neutrons carry no electrical charge, they have greater potential to penetrate the body and damage tissue. Radi-N2 will help doctors better understand the connections between neutron radiation, DNA damage and mutation rates and can be applied to other radiation health issues on Earth.

Williams installed three new water pump tubes in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) on the station. This plant incubator is an ESA (European Space Agency) experimental facility dedicated to studying plant biology in a reduced gravity environment. It supports the cultivation, stimulation, and crew-assisted operation of biological experiments under controlled conditions. It can provide dedicated life support for plants, including temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and water supply as well as illumination and observation capabilities for scientists. The EMCS facility’s data and command capabilities allow experiment control by the crew and from ground, downlinking housekeeping, science, and image data.

The facility has already performed multi-generation experiments — growing plants from seeds until those plants create new seeds — and studies the effects of gravity and light on early development and growth. In the future, this facility may be used for experiments with insects, amphibia and invertebrates as well as studies with cell and tissue cultures.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including BRIC NP, Mouse Epigenetics, Ex-HAM-Interstellar Carbonaceous Solids along with various other Ex-HAM samples, Meteor, ISS Ham, DOSIS-3D and 3D Printing in Zero-G.

Human research investigations conducted this week include Dose Tracker, Fine Motor Skills and Space Headaches.

(Highlights: Week of June 27, 2016) – Crew members on the International Space Station re-installed the first 3D printer in orbit to continue research on the developing technology and how it can be used in space.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams installed the printer in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) to begin another round of sample builds for NASA’s 3D Printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration. The 3D printer, originally delivered to the station and tested in 2014, heats a relatively low-temperature plastic filament to build parts layer by layer using designs supplied to the machine.

The goal of having the 3-D printer on the orbiting laboratory is to demonstrate that additive manufacturing can be used to make a variety of parts and tools in space, reducing the need to send replacements from Earth. It is the first step toward establishing an on-demand machine shop in space — a critical component to sustain deep-space crewed missions and in-space manufacturing. These new samples will be returned to Earth for comparison to similar objects manufactured by the printer before it was launched.

Science teams on the ground continued to monitor solar radiation using detectors on the space station as part of the Dose Distribution Inside the International Space Station-3D (DOSIS-3D) investigation.

Space travelers are continually exposed to varying levels of radiation, which can be harmful to their health. Monitoring solar radiation will be critical to astronauts on long missions to deep space. The DOSIS-3D investigation uses several active and passive detectors to determine the radiation doses. The goal of the European Space Agency (ESA) investigation is creating a three-dimensional radiation map covering all sections of the outpost, documenting the nature and distribution of the radiation field inside the orbiting laboratory.

On Earth, flight crews and nuclear plant workers are exposed to greater-than-average radiation. DOSIS-3D also provides insight into combining different devices for dosage monitoring and lessons in how to monitor real-time data. This could improve radiation monitoring for commercial and military airline crews, as well as other workers exposed to radiation on Earth.

Williams continued the long-standing NASA tradition of using short-wave radio to speak to students while on orbit. He spoke to 300 students at Justus-Knecht Gymnasium in Bruchsal, Germany, as part of the ISS HAM program, also known as Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ISS Ham Radio (ARISS)). Since the earliest space station expeditions, ISS Ham Radio has allowed groups of students in schools, camps, museums and planetariums to hold a conversation with the people living in space. As the station passes overhead, students have between five and eight minutes to ask crew members 10 to 20 questions.

The program provides opportunities to engage and educate students, teachers, parents and other members of the community in science, technology, engineering and math, reaching an international audience. In preparation for their conversation with orbiting crew members, students learn about radio waves, amateur radio and related science topics. They conduct research to prepare their questions, which often discuss science activities in orbit and the career choices that led to a trip to space. In addition to inspiring new generations of space engineers, ISS Ham Radio serves as a backup communications network between the station crew and NASA.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including Ex-HAM-Interstellar Carbonaceous Solids along with various other Ex-HAM samples, SPHERES and UBNT.

Human research investigations conducted this week include Dose Tracker and Habitability.

(Highlights: Week of June 20, 2016) – Crew members on the International Space Station are studying how liquids flow on a microscopic scale – which could change the way we deliver drugs to specific parts of the body.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams installed the fourth and final slide of the Microchannel Diffusion investigation in the Light Microscopy Module (LMM). The study looks at liquid particle flows on a microscopic scale by thawing out frozen slides of liquid under a microscope. The state-of-the-art light imaging microscope provides researchers with powerful diagnostic hardware and software on the station, enabling microscopic research of phenomena in microgravity. The LMM also allows ground teams to remotely acquire and download digital images and videos across many levels of magnification.

Science operations began as Williams removed the diffusion plate from the freezer and the samples started thawing. The ground team studied how those liquids thawed on a nanoscale, successfully gathering images of each sample using the microscope. Data from this study of liquid particle flows could help scientists create new methods to deliver drugs to specific places in the body or build air filtration sensors for use in space or on Earth.

Williams wrapped up an investigation that may help build better space vehicles. The Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE) on the space station was removed from the enclosed workspace known as the Microgravity Science Glovebox this week and stowed for eventual return to Earth. The experiment studied the behavior of gases and liquids as they flowed simultaneously through a column filled with fixed porous media, which is of interest in many chemical and biological processing systems, as well as numerous geophysical applications.

Water-recovery systems, fuel cells and other equipment on the station use packed bed reactors, but currently none are designed to handle both liquid and gas at the same time. Scientists are working to understand how a packed bed two-phase flow would work in microgravity. The results of the experiment could help scientists design more efficient and lightweight thermal management and life support systems that use less energy, benefiting not only the space station, but future Mars missions as well.

Ground teams worked on a study involving the mixing of two liquids in microgravity as the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) investigation called Dynamic Surf completed runs 20 and 21 of the study into heat transfer through liquid fuels. Scientists are observing how a silicone-oil mixture changes when heated in microgravity to learn how heat is transferred in the station’s low-gravity environment.

Dynamic Surf is part of a series of JAXA studies into a specific type of heat transfer called Marangoni convection, the tendency for heat and mass to travel in areas of higher surface tension within a liquid. In the experiment, a silicone oil bridge is suspended between two small, solid discs. One of the discs is heated and another is cooled to create a difference in temperature across the liquid. The difference gradually increases to cause the convective force known as Marangoni flow, becoming more complicated and turbulent. Understanding the physics of this convection will improve the growth of high-quality crystals, such as crystals for semiconductors and optics, and in various micro-fluid applications, such as DNA examination on the space station and on Earth. Space is a particularly good place to study Marangoni flow, because on Earth gravity overwhelms the Marangoni affect, making it difficult to observe.

Williams began a new round of research on the astronaut immune system with JAXA’s Multi-Omics study, completing various sample collections and written surveys.

Scientists believe living on the space station can cause changes in the immune system of crew members. Recent studies indicated an imbalance of the microbiota in the digestive tract, possibly caused by environmental stresses, could be the root cause. The Multi-Omics analysis could identify bacterial or metabolic clues about changes in the gut that may be reducing the effectiveness of the immune system. The ground teams will use the data to create a biomarker test kit that could evaluate the immune system and manage the health of astronauts during space voyages as well as be applied to life sciences technology on Earth.

Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week including Ex-HAM-Interstellar Carbonaceous Solids along with various other Ex-HAM samples and Express Racks.

Other human research investigations conducted this week include Dose Tracker, Habitability, and Neuromapping.

(Highlights: Week of June 13, 2016) – This week officially signaled the transition from Expedition 47 to 48 as three International Space Station crew members left the orbiting laboratory and returned to Earth. A few days before their departure, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra commanded the station’s Canadarm2 to release the Cygnus spacecraft, which contained a unique flame investigation that seeks to improve spacecraft safety.

Despite decades of research into combustion and fire processes in reduced gravity, there have been very few experiments directly studying spacecraft fire safety under low-gravity conditions. None of these experiments studied sample and environment sizes typical of those expected in a spacecraft fire. The Spacecraft Fire Experiment (Saffire-1) intentionally lit a large-scale fire inside the empty Cygnus vehicle after it left the station, but before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. Instruments and cameras measured flame growth, oxygen use, heat generated and more, improving understanding of fire growth in microgravity and safeguarding future space missions.

Full-scale spacecraft fire experiments have not been possible because of the inherent hazards involved in conducting a large fire test in a manned spacecraft. Saffire-1 provided a new way to study a realistic fire on an exploration vehicle. Results may determine microgravity flammability limits for several spacecraft materials, help to validate NASA’s material selection criteria, and show how microgravity and limited oxygen affect flame size. Studying fire in small, sealed environments such as the Cygnus vehicle will benefit fire safety and prevention efforts on Earth, including inside mines, airplanes or submarines.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams finalized setting up an investigation using the perspective of the space station to look toward our planet to glimpse meteors.

The Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) investigation will make the first space-based observations of the chemical composition of meteors. The investigation will take high-resolution video and images of the atmosphere and use a software program to search for bright spots, which can later be analyzed on the ground. Measurements made by a spectrograph will help determine a meteor’s chemical makeup. After powering up the equipment, ground teams recorded and downlinked several test videos before certifying the Meteor study was ready to begin observations.

Meteors are relatively rare, and are difficult to monitor from the ground because of the interference created by Earth’s atmosphere. Investigating the elemental composition of meteors is important to our understanding of how planets developed. Continuous measurement of meteors and their interaction with Earth’s atmosphere could help spot previously undetected or unnoticed meteors as they descended toward the ground. The investigation installed in the station’s Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) will operate for the next two years.

Before leaving the space station, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake removed a tool from the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) that was printed as part of the Future Engineers Space Tool challenge. Additive manufacturing is the process of building a part layer by layer, with efficient use of an engineered plastic polymer. It can lead to a reduction in cost, mass, labor and production time. Further research will also help develop this advanced technology for use on Earth.

The AMF — created by Made In Space of Moffett Field, California — printed a Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool designed by Robert Hillan, a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The tool is designed to provide astronauts with a single item that can help with a variety of tasks, including tightening nuts or bolts of different sizes and stripping wires.

The AMF is another step toward a permanent manufacturing capability on the space station. This device will enable the production of components and tools on demand in orbit, which provides further research into manufacturing for long-term missions. The station crew can use the AMF to print a variety of items to perform maintenance, build tools and repair sections in case of an emergency.

Progress made on other investigations and facilities this week included various samples for ExHAM, ISS Ham, DOSIS-3D, PBRE, PK-4, AMO-2 Express, REBR-W, and CBEF.

Human research investigations conducted this week included Microbiome, Fine Motor Skills, Dose Tracker, Habitability, Multi-Omics, Salivary Markers, and Space Headaches.

(Highlights: Week of June 6, 2016) – Crew members on the International Space Station investigated the building blocks of the solar system this week while preparing groundbreaking recordings of a spacecraft re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake installed the Exposed Experiment Handrail Attachment Mechanism (ExHAM) to the Japanese Experiment Module Airlock (JEMAL) Slide Table to prepare for retrieval of several samples that have been exposed to the space environment for more than a year on the JEM Kibo’s Exposed Facility (EF), including a study into interstellar dust called the Quest for the Compositional identification and Chemical evolutional understanding of the Interstellar Dust (ExHAM-Interstellar Carbonaceous Solids) investigation.

Grains of dust formed in the stellar ejecta of dying stars fills the space between stars in a galaxy affected by various astrophysical events. Scientists have been unable to identify the precise nature of the carbon-containing compounds included in interstellar dust, which makes for an incomplete picture of the cycling of matter in galaxies. The Ex-HAM Interstellar Carbonaceous Solids investigation takes dust-like particles that have been created in the laboratory and exposes them to space, providing new information about the chemical and physical processes that may link the laboratory dust and the cosmic dust grains.

This JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) investigation will provide new information about the changes that take place in carbonaceous compounds while exposed to the harsh environment of space. The space station is the better laboratory for this investigation because scientists cannot simultaneously replicate the microgravity, radiation, and bombardment by high energy photons and cosmic rays on interstellar dust while on Earth.

ExHAM enables more experiments in the exposed environment of space by attaching to the exterior of JAXA’s Kibo module. It is a cube that can carry up to 20 samples. ExHAM is equipped with grapple fixtures where the JEM Remote Manipulator System Small Fine Arm can attach it to one of Kibo’s handrails.

Crew members spent part of the week preparing for the June 14 departure of the Cygnus resupply ship, including activating a device that will provide insight into just how the ship breaks apart as it falls toward Earth.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams installed and activated the Reentry Breakup Recorder with Wireless Sensors (REBR-W) into the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft attached to the station. When the capsule re-enters Earth’s atmosphere June 22, the device inside the vehicle will record data about when and how the craft breaks apart. This information can be used for reentry hazard prediction studies, reducing risks and improving planning for spacecraft that eventually will deorbit.

If a spacecraft’s mission ends because of an accident, a broken part, low propellant, or failing components, NASA and the Department of Defense require that it re-enter over unpopulated areas — such as the open ocean — to prevent injury to people or damage to property. This sometimes means de-orbiting a spacecraft before it fails completely to ensure control over where it comes down. Data from the REBR-W device will provide new insight that could eliminate the need for deorbiting a spacecraft before it naturally falls to Earth. This would extend mission life and reduce cost and complexity while minimizing risk. The investigation may also lead to new ways for scientists to perform hypersonic flight testing, test new thermal protection materials, and study the uppermost layers of the atmosphere.

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra gathered up the hard drives containing valuable data for the Plasma Kristall-4 investigation to send back to Earth in the coming weeks. This ESA study is the latest in a series of investigations of complex plasma containing micro-particles. These particles can become highly charged and interact with each other to form plasma crystals.

Gravity plays an important role for the structure of plasma crystals. In microgravity, large three-dimensional plasma crystals can be grown. As a fundamental state of matter in our universe, studying plasma is critical for space exploration. PK-4 investigates transport properties, thermodynamics, kinetics and statistical physics of the plasma structures. The investigation will provide a better understanding of the space environment, the phenomenon of plasma, and could provide answers to Earth plasmas such as lightning.

Progress made on other investigations and facilities this week included Auxin Transport, EPO Peake, ISS Ham, MagVector, MSL Batch 2b, PBRE, AMO2-Express, Manufacturing Device, NanoRack Cubesat Deployer, Radi-N2, BEAM, and SAMS.

Human research investigations conducted this week included At Home in Space, Biochemical Profile, Cardio Ox, Microbiome, Repository, Cognition, Immuno-2/EDOS-2, Fine Motor Skills, Marrow, Dose Tracker, Habitability, Multi-Omics, Vascular Echo, Skin-B, and Space Headaches.

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