Multiple ISS National Lab-Sponsored Microbial Research Investigations Presently Being Performed on the Orbiting Platform

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., February 9, 2021 (CASIS PR) – Astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) are currently supporting two investigations sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory that are focused on microbial research. The space station’s unique microgravity environment allows investigators to conduct fundamental research not possible on Earth that may yield valuable insights in the life sciences, ultimately leading to applications to benefit humans on Earth.

Fundamental scientific research is an important focus for the ISS National Lab, and knowledge gained from such investigations could have profound impacts on future inquiries that bring value to our nation and drive a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Fundamental research sponsored by the ISS National Lab includes private-sector research, science funded through other government agencies, and academic investigations. Below highlights two microbial research studies presently taking place on the orbiting laboratory.

Last month, the crew began operations on the Boeing Environment Responding Antimicrobial Coatings (BERAC) investigation. The purpose of this investigation is to evaluate antimicrobial coatings on several different materials used for high-touch surfaces. In space, some microbes have altered characteristics in response to the unique microgravity and radiation environment, which could create new risks to the health of the crew and spacecraft systems.

This research will be particularly useful for Boeing, which is contracted by NASA to launch astronauts from American soil onboard its Starliner spacecraft through the Commercial Crew Program. Boeing is also the prime contractor for the ISS, and insights from this investigation could lead to new areas of inquiry both to improve the current space station and to inform future space-based platforms inhabited by humans.

Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a long history of launching fundamental microbial research to the space station, both under the sponsorship of NASA and the ISS National Lab. On SpaceX’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services mission, which launched from Kennedy Space Center in December, Dr. Venkateswaran and his team (including researchers from the University of California San Diego) launched unique dual-headed swabs in an effort to create a 3D map of bacteria and bacterial products within the space station.

By swabbing 1,000 locations within the ISS, the team seeks to explore the spatial relationship between bacteria and their metabolites (chemicals produced by bacteria). NASA astronaut Kate Rubins began operations on this ISS National Lab-sponsored project last Wednesday, and the project is expected to continue over the next two weeks.

It is important to understand the microbiome of built environments and the resulting effects on human health, and results from this study could lead to the development of technologies that enhance pathogen detection capabilities onboard the ISS, as well as in hospitals, commercial airplanes, or other closed environments where pathogenic microorganisms may present elevated risks to humans.

These two investigations are especially relevant in the midst of the current global pandemic, as the world has focused attention on the importance of clean environments in hospitals and aircraft, for example. On Wednesday, February 10, Rubins and fellow NASA astronaut Shannon Walker will conduct a live downlink from the space station with leadership from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to discuss how investigations such as these help to inform new discoveries that improve how we live and work both on Earth and in space. The downlink is scheduled for 11:25-11:45 a.m. EST and can be viewed at  www.NASA.gov/live.

2021 is shaping up to be an incredibly busy year of science conducted onboard the orbiting laboratory, in addition to new research announcements made available through the ISS National Lab. To learn about current opportunities to further fundamental and applied research onboard the space station, please visit www.issnationallab.org/research-on-the-iss/solicitations

About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Lab allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the ISS are available to support non-NASA science, technology and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) manages the ISS National Lab, under cooperative agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit www.ISSNationalLab.org.