Crew-1 Heads to Space Station to Conduct Microgravity Science

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, second from left, Mike Hopkins, second from right, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, right, are introduced by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana after arriving at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center ahead of SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Expedition 1 and Crew-1. These historic International Space Station missions lifting off 20 years apart share the same goals: advancing humanity by using the space station to learn how to explore farther than ever before, while also conducting research and technology demonstrations benefiting life back on Earth.

Crew-1, made up of NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, continues the legacy of two decades of living and working in low-Earth orbit by becoming space scientists for the next six months.

Not only will the Crew-1 astronauts and fellow Expedition 64 NASA astronaut Kate Rubins conduct hundreds of microgravity studies during their mission, they also deliver new science hardware and experiments carried to space with them inside Crew Dragon.

Food Physiology: A better diet for better health

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy processes biological samples for the Food Physiology experiment, which examines the effects of an enhanced spaceflight diet on immune function, the gut microbiome, and nutrition. (Credits: NASA)

Spaceflight affects our bodies in numerous ways, including how our immune system functions. The Food Physiology investigation documents the effects of dietary improvements on immune function and the gut microbiome and how those improvements can help crews adapt to spaceflight. A better understanding of food’s effects on physiology in microgravity can help scientists continue to improve the spaceflight diet and crew health.

Resupply hardware for the Food Physiology study launches on the Crew Dragon spacecraft along with the Crew-1 astronauts. Once in orbit, NASA astronaut Victor Glover will collect biological samples to provide data to the scientists back on the ground for their continued study of how the dietary changes affect his body.

Genes in Space-7: A look at astronauts’ brains

Genes in Space-7 student team members Finsam Samson and Yujie Wang. (Credits: Genes in Space)

Also launching aboard Crew Dragon is a student-designed experiment, Genes in Space-7. While attending Troy High School in Troy, Michigan, students Finsam Samson and Yujie Wang proposed a study of neural function aboard the space station as a part of the Genes in Space competition. Samson and Wang’s winning experiment aims to better understand how spaceflight affects brain function, enabling scientists to keep astronauts healthy as they prepare for long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond.

The competition invites students in grades 7 through 12 to design biology experiments that address real-world space exploration challenges. Previous contest winners have achieved significant milestones through their experiments, including the first use of gene editing technology in space. Learn more about student research on the space station.

Plant Habitat-02: Growing radishes in space

Radish plants are shown at mid-stage growth in the Ground Plant Habitat during Experiment Verification Testing. The Ground Plant Habitat is identical to the Plant Habitat on space station. (Credits: Matthew Bates/Techshot, Inc.)

A new crop awaits Crew-1 aboard the space station. Radish seeds launched aboard Northrop Grumman’s 14th commercial resupply mission will be tended to by the soon-to-be space farmers as a part of Plant Habitat-02.

When astronauts travel to the Moon and Mars, they are likely to grow edible plants to supplement food brought from Earth. To produce nutritious food in space, we need to understand how the differences in gravity, atmosphere, and soil conditions affect the way plants grow. As part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space, the Crew-1 astronauts will tend radishes growing in different types of light and soils inside the Advanced Plant Habitat. Radishes are nutritious, grow quickly, and are genetically similar to Arabidopsis, a plant that scientists have frequently studied in microgravity.

BioAsteroid: Microscopic microgravity miners

Microscopic miners are going to work in space. Microbes that interact with rock have many potential uses in future space exploration. They could help create life support systems that use regolith (the dust-like material on the surface of the Moon and other planets), break down rocks into soils for plant growth, and extract useful minerals from rocks. Gravity may affect how microbes and rocks interact.

The Expedition 64 crew will work on the BioAsteroid experiment to study these interactions, as well as whether physical and genetic changes occur in communities of microbes, also known as biofilms, in space. Results could help us understand the physical interactions of liquid, rocks, and microorganisms and could improve the chance of using locally found materials on future missions to build Lunar or Martian bases, requiring fewer resources to be brought from Earth, saving room and fuel on the trip.

Tissue Chips: Using space to study organs

During Expedition 64, investigations utilizing organ on a chip technology will include studies on muscle loss, lung function, and the blood brain barrier – all on devices the size of a USB flash drive. (Credits: National Institutes of Health)

Check out some of the research flying to the space station alongside Crew-1, and scientific investigations the astronauts will work on during their stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Tissue chips are thumb drive-sized devices that contain human cells in a 3D matrix, simulating the functions of an organ. They represent a giant leap in the ability of scientists to test how those cells respond to stresses, drugs, and genetic changes.

A series of investigations to test tissue chips in microgravity aboard the space station is planned during Crew-1’s mission through a collaboration between the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the ISS National Laboratory (ISSNL) in partnership with NASA. The Tissue Chips in Space initiative seeks to better understand the role of microgravity on human health and disease and to translate that understanding to improved human health on Earth.

While Crew-1 is in orbit, they will conduct numerous tissue chip experiments including studies of lungs, bone marrow, the blood-brain barrier, and loss of muscle mass, known as sarcopenia.

Cardinal Heart: An experiment with heart

Microgravity affects heart tissues; some of the changes have the potential to pose a risk on future long-duration space missions. An investigation known as Cardinal Heart is designed to study changes in cardiovascular cells and tissues in microgravity using engineered heart tissues (EHTs). The investigation could help establish ways to predict cardiovascular risk prior to spaceflight. This work also could help identify how heart diseases develop on Earth and better ways to treat them. In addition, it advances the potential of EHTs to serve as a way to monitor systemic changes in diseased versus healthy individuals and provide new ways to develop countermeasures.

Cardinal Heart uses tissue chips for part of the study. The investigation calls for the EHTs to be incubated and put under the microscope in space. The EHTs receive frequent media exchanges to keep them under appropriate conditions, and samples are collected at different times.

SERFE: Testing a cool space suit

Artemis and Orion spacesuits. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Astronauts on spacewalks outside the space station would be exposed to wide temperature variations if not for the protection from their spacesuits. Those variations become more extreme as we explore the lunar surface. Spacesuits must insulate crew members from the significant changes outside while regulating any heat generated by the astronaut and equipment inside the suit. NASA’s next generation spacesuit, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), will use evaporation of water to remove heat from astronauts and maintain appropriate temperatures. The xEMU’s Spacesuit Water Membrane Evaporator is designed to remove the heat in the form of water that evaporates into the vacuum of space. The components of this thermal control loop have been reconfigured into a single package to be tested in the Spacesuit Evaporation Rejection Flight Experiment (SERFE) on station.

SERFE will enable engineers to determine how microgravity affects the thermal loop performance and evaluate how well the garment and technology responds after hundreds of hours of use in microgravity. SERFE will be subjected to 25 simulated eight-hour spacewalks. Once the test campaign is complete, it will return to the ground and be disassembled for material science and water-quality evaluations. The experiment will be conducted during Crew-1’s mission.

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