ISS Science Update for Late December

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata performs a VO2max protocol for the Sprint investigation while using the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS). (Credit: NASA)
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata performs a VO2max protocol for the Sprint investigation while using the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS). (Credit: NASA)

ISS Science Highlights:
Weeks of Dec. 16 and 23, 2013

by John Love, Lead Increment Scientist
Expedition 37/38

The International Space Station SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System (ISERV) continued taking Earth images during the holiday week. In January 2013, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield helped install ISERV in the Earth-facing window of the space station’s Destiny module. From the station’s vantage point, nearly 95 percent of the planet’s populated area is visible during the station’s orbit, so the window provides the perfect perch for taking photos of Earth from space. Researchers on the ground use the high-resolution camera to acquire image data of specific areas of the globe. These images help decision-makers address environmental issues, humanitarian crises and disasters. The ISERV system, based on a modified commercial telescope and driven by custom software, obtains near real-time images and transmits the data within hours to scientists and decision-makers on Earth.

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins began his session for the Microbiome study, which included questionnaires, and gastrointestinal, body and saliva sampling. The study investigates the impact of space travel on the human immune system and on an individual’s microbiome (the collection of microbes that live in and on the human body) to help predict how long-term space travel may impact human health. It is known that factors such as stress, diet and an impaired immune system can trigger changes in the human microbiota, increasing the risk of contracting a disease. The product of this study will be an assessment of the likelihood and consequences of alterations in the microbiome due to extreme environments, and the related human health risk. Findings could benefit people on Earth who live and work in extreme environments. Other potential applications of this study could be to further research in preliminary detection of diseases, alterations in metabolic function and immune system deficiency.

The Portable Pulmonary Function System (PPFS) software was updated in preparation for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata’s Sprint VO2max protocol. Researchers documented changes in maximum oxygen uptake for crew members during long-duration missions and found that VO2max declines at the beginning of a flight and slowly recovers during flight. However, not all crew members return to preflight levels and vary substantially in their responses. These results help to tailor extravehicular activities and guide adjustments to exercise countermeasures on future missions. VO2max uses the PPFS, Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS), Pulmonary Function System (PFS) gas cylinders and mixing bag system, plus multiple other pieces of hardware to measure oxygen uptake and cardiac output.

Wakata saved his armband data to the European Physiology Module (EPM) laptop for the Circadian Rhythms investigation. He removed the battery, and cleaned and stowed the armband. The team confirmed a nominal downlink of the session. This study investigates the role of synchronized circadian rhythms, or the “biological clock,” and how it changes during long-duration spaceflight. Researchers hypothesize that a non-24-hour cycle of light and dark affects crew members’ circadian clocks. The investigation also addresses the effects of reduced physical activity, microgravity and an artificially controlled environment. Changes in body composition and temperature can affect crews’ circadian rhythms as well. Understanding how these phenomena affect the biological clock will improve performance and health for future crew members. Maintaining regular circadian timing is important to human health and well-being. Understanding how crew members’ circadian rhythms adapt in microgravity provides a unique comparison for sleep disorders, autonomic nervous system disorders and shift work-related disorders on Earth. Results from the Circadian Rhythms investigation can be compared to data collected at the Georg-von-Neumayer Station in Antarctica, where workers experience abnormal light-dark cycles.

For more information, watch the video below beginning at 0:46:

The crew performed Flame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX) maintenance, which included replacing both igniter tips to support continued FLEX operations. The FLEX Helium Diluent Exchange Tests were completed. This study assesses the effectiveness of fire suppressants in microgravity and quantifies the effect of different possible crew exploration atmospheres on fire suppression. The goal of this research is to provide definition and direction for large-scale fire suppression tests and selection of the fire suppressant for next-generation crew exploration vehicles. The investigation will help scientists develop more efficient energy production and propulsion systems on Earth and in space. FLEX will help in the understanding to deal better with combustion-generated pollution, and address fire hazards associated with using liquid combustibles on Earth.

Color image of a burning droplet. (Credit: NASA/GRC)
Color image of a burning droplet. (Credit: NASA/GRC)

Wakata completed the Fluid Physics Experiment Facility (FPEF) cable connection and program file upload closeout activities. This is a JAXA subrack facility used to investigate fluid physics phenomena in microgravity. The FPEF is housed in the Ryutai (fluid) experiment rack along with the Solution Crystallization Observation Facility (SCOF), Protein Crystallization Research Facility (PCRF) and the Image Processing Unit (IPU).

NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio retrieved the Space Bubble Detectors for the RaDI-N2 Neutron Field Study (RaDI-N2), concluding session two. This investigation uses newly developed bubble spectrometers to measure neutron radiation levels in different areas of the space station. The spectrometers are designed to only detect neutrons and ignore all other radiation. This investigation will better characterize the station neutron environment, define the risk posed to the crew members’ health and provide the data necessary to develop advanced protective measures for future spaceflight.

View of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02) and ExPRESS (Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station) Logistics Carrier-2 (ELC-2). (Credit: NASA)
View of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02) and ExPRESS (Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station) Logistics Carrier-2 (ELC-2). (Credit: NASA)

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02) has acquired data for approximately 42 billion particles/cosmic rays. AMS-02 is a particle physics detector that collects information from cosmic sources to advance scientists’ knowledge about the low-Earth orbit space radiation environment. The AMS-02 will use the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the universe and lead to the understanding of the universe’s origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter and measuring cosmic rays.

Other human research investigations continued for various crew members including Biochemical Profile, Journals, Reaction Self Test, and Space Headaches.