ISS Science Highlights: Week of Jan. 6, 2013
By John Love, Lead Increment Scientist
NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Richard Mastracchio reviewed the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus Science Insert-06: Ants in Space (CSI-06) reference materials in preparation for the runs planned. Students in grades K-12 will observe videos of these “ant-ronauts” recorded by cameras on the International Space Station. The students will conduct their own ant interaction investigations in their classrooms as part of a related curriculum. Educational investigations such as Ants in Space are designed to motivate budding scientists in primary and secondary school to pursue their interest in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
The study examines the behavior of ants by comparing groups living on Earth to those in space. The idea is that ant interactions are dependent upon the number of ants in an area. Measuring these interactions may be important in determining behavior of ants in groups. This insight may add to existing knowledge of swarm intelligence, or how the complex behavior of a group is influenced by the actions of individuals. Developing a better understanding of swarm intelligence may lead to more refined mathematical procedures for solving complex problems, like routing trucks, scheduling airlines or telecommunications efficiency.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata deployed eight bubble detectors in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) and took photographs of the detectors in their deployed position for the RaDI-N2 Neutron Field Study (RaDI-N2). This investigation uses newly developed bubble spectrometers to measure neutron radiation levels in different areas of the space station. The spectrometers have been designed to only detect neutrons and ignore all other radiation. The objective of this investigation is to better characterize the station neutron environment and define the risk posed to the crew members’ health and provide the data necessary to develop advanced protective measures for future spaceflight.
Wakata started the second of 10 runs for the Aniso Tubule investigation by watering the samples and inserting them in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). From the results of ground experiments, plants would develop a long and thin body by changing orientation of cortical microtubules under microgravity conditions in space. To confirm this hypothesis, the crew will examine growth modifications of Arabidopsis hypocotyls in space. They also will analyze the changes in dynamics of cortical microtubules and microtubule-associated proteins by observing Arabidopsis hypocotyls and microtubule-associated proteins with a fluorescence microscope. Information on the mechanism of gravity resistance, brought about by the present study, will enable efficient plant production indispensable for human life not only in space but also on Earth.
The Fluid Physics Experiment Facility (FPEF) software was successfully updated and three runs were performed for the Dynamic Surf-1 study. Dynamic Surf examines Marangoni convection, a flow driven by the presence of a surface tension gradient as produced by a temperature difference at the liquid/gas interface. By understanding how these fluids move, scientists can learn how heat is transmitted in microgravity, and ultimately drive the design and development of more efficient fluid flow-based systems and devices. The knowledge from Marangoni space experiment is applicable to the high-performance heat exchanger and heat pipe in space and on Earth. Designing more efficient, lightweight radiators that remove unwanted heat from spacecraft is critical for long-duration space missions.
Mastracchio completed the final operations for Binodal Colloidal Aggregation Test-4 (BCAT-4). It is planned for return to Earth on SpaceX-4, which is scheduled to launch later this year. BCAT-4 samples contain microscopic spheres of different diameters suspended in a liquid, which are photographed over time to document the way they crystallize in microgravity. Results from these experiments will help improve the materials fabrication processes and new techniques.
Other human research investigations continued for various crew members including Body Measures, Cardio Ox, Biochemical Profile, Repository, Circadian Rhythms, Journals, Ocular Health, Reaction Self Test, Space Headaches, Sprint, and Dietary Intake Can Predict and Protect Against Changes in Bone Metabolism During Spaceflight and Recovery, or Pro K.