ISS Science Highlights for Week of Feb. 3

JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata works on the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata works on the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

ISS Science Highlights
Week of Feb. 3, 2014

John Love, Lead Increment Scientist
Expedition 37/38

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata installed the Medaka chamber in preparation for the Medaka Osteoclast 2 microscope observation, which will last seven days. During spaceflight, bone mineral density is decreased by the influence of osteoclast activation. Its molecular mechanism is under investigation. To determine the effect of microgravity, imaging analyses for gene expression and cell mobility are performed. In combination with a long-term growth study, the principal investigator examines the alteration of osteoclast activity under microgravity with a microscope. The results of this investigation will provide additional information to develop pharmaceuticals for treating senescent osteoporosis.

For the Microbiome study, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio performed saliva collections, subject sampling and survey questionnaires. Microbiome 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 be used to benefit people on Earth who live and work in extreme environments. This study could further research in preliminary detection of diseases, alterations in metabolic function and immune system deficiency.

Wakata deployed bubble detectors in the Japanese Experiment Module and took photographs for the RaDI-N2 Neutron Field Study (RaDI-N2) study. Newly developed bubble spectrometers measured neutron radiation levels in different areas of the International Space Station. The spectrometers 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.

NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins replaced the Multi-User Droplet Combustion Apparatus (MDCA) fuel reservoirs, both igniter tips and the fiber arm in the Combustion Integrated Rack-Fluids and Combustion Facility (CIR). CIR hardware safely performs experiments to further research combustion in microgravity. Wakata completed the reconfiguration activities from the Flame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX) to FLEX-02. This study assesses the effectiveness of fire suppressants in microgravity and quantifies the effect of different possible crew exploration atmospheres on fire suppression. This research will 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.

The NanoRacks CubeSat Deployers (NRCSD) electronics box was installed, and photos were taken and assessed by JAXA and the safety team. The plan for deployments is in development. The NRCSD CubeSat investigations are NanoRacks-Planet Labs-Dove, ArduSat-2, LituanicaSat-1, SkyCube, UAPSat-1 and LitSat-1. NASA’s CubeSat Launch initiative (CSLI) provides opportunities for small satellite payloads to fly on rockets planned for upcoming launches. These CubeSats are flown as auxiliary payloads on previously planned missions. The cube-shaped satellites measure about 4 inches on each side, have a volume of about 1 quart and weigh less than 3 pounds. CubeSat research addresses science, exploration, technology development, education or space missions. To participate in the CSLI program, CubeSat investigations should be consistent with NASA’s Strategic Plan and the Education Strategic Coordination Framework. By providing a progression of educational opportunities including CSLI for students, teachers and faculty, NASA assists the nation in attracting and retaining students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.

Other human research investigations continued for various crew members, including Body Measures, Circadian Rhythms, Journals, Ocular Health, Reaction Self Test, Space Headaches, Spinal Ultrasound, Sprint and BP Reg.

To learn more about BP Reg and other science investigations aboard the space station, watch the Feb. 7 Space to Ground episode below, with a special visit from legendary news anchor Dan Rather.