Space Station Science Highlights: Week of March 29, 2021

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins conducts operations for the Plant Water Management investigation, which tests using concepts of capillary fluidics to deliver adequate water and nutrients to plants. Sample preparation kit for Mochii, shown during set up of the miniature scanning electron microscope on the space station. This tool enables real-time, on-site imaging and measurement of the composition of tiny particles on the space station. This image taken from the space station shows the Moon rising over Earth. Scientific activities conducted aboard the International Space Station the week of March 29 included testing the use of capillary fluidics to water plants, demonstrating a small optical communications system, and measuring tiny particles with a miniature scanning electron microscope. The seven crew members currently inhabiting the station include four from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program , providing increased crew time for science activities on the orbiting lab. The space station has been continuously inhabited by humans for 20 years and has supported many scientific breakthroughs during that time. The station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space, experience that supports Artemis , NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars. Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place: Better cosmic watering cans A number of investigations aboard the space station have looked at how plants grow in microgravity, with the aim of developing ways to produce fresh food on future long-duration missions. Microgravity makes it challenging to provide adequate fluid and nutrition for plant growth. The Plant Water Management series of investigations tests using concepts of capillary fluidics – such as surface tension, wetting, and geometry – to deliver adequate water and nutrients to plants. During the week, the crew transferred fluid to test kits and performed system priming and various tests. Small system, big data SOLISS , an investigation from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), demonstrates the capabilities of an optical communications system that allows transmission of large amounts of data from the space station and satellites to the ground. One advantage of SOLISS technology is lower cost, since it eliminates the need to retrieve physical data stored on the space station, and it supports scientific activities by making possible real-time downlink of large amounts of data. On Earth, the technology could help people stay connected and enable sending and receiving of data in remote locations. This week, crew members installed the SOLISS hardware. Hunting down tiny particles Mochii is a miniature scanning electron microscope with spectroscopy that conducts real-time, on-site imaging and measures the composition of tiny particles on the space station. These particles can cause vehicle and equipment malfunctions and threaten crew health. Currently, samples must be returned to Earth for analysis, leaving the crew and vehicle at risk. On-board analysis of particles is a critical need for future deep space exploration when samples cannot be sent back to Earth. Mochii also provides a powerful platform for commercial microgravity research on the space station and a springboard for applications beyond low-Earth orbit, including planetary science on manned and robotic missions. Crew members inspected Mochii during the week in preparation for scientific operations. Other investigations on which the crew performed work: GRIP studies how spaceflight affects a person’s ability to regulate the force of their grip and the trajectory of upper limbs when manipulating objects. It is an ESA (European Space Agency) investigation. The ESA GRASP investigation examines how the central nervous system integrates information from the senses to coordinate hand movement and visual input, in part to determine whether gravity is a frame of reference for control of this movement. Transparent Alloys , a set of five ESA experiments, seeks to improve the understanding of melting-solidification processes in plastics. Solidification of organic transparent substances serves as a model for solidification of metallic alloys, so these studies add to basic knowledge for solidification dynamics and microstructure formation. SERFE demonstrates a technology using evaporation of water to remove heat from spacesuits and maintain appropriate temperatures for crew members and equipment during space walks. The ISS Experience uses footage captured by crew members to create an immersive virtual reality series documenting life and research aboard the space station. The first episode premiered in fall 2020 on multiple platforms, and episode 2, “Advance,” releases on March 29. RTPCG-2 demonstrates new methods for producing high-quality protein crystals in microgravity for analysis on Earth to identify possible targets for drugs to treat disease. Standard Measures collects a set of core measurements from astronauts before, during, and after long-duration missions to create a data repository to monitor and interpret how humans adapt to living in space. Antimicrobial Coatings tests a coating to control microbial growth on several different materials that represent high-touch surfaces. Some microbes change characteristics in microgravity, potentially creating new risks to crew health and spacecraft. Ribosome Profiling , an investigation from JAXA, uses a state-of-the-art technique to provide insight into how gravity affects gene expression, with a special focus on translation regulation. The work could help researchers understand why aging-related changes often occur in space and may lead to better treatments for those changes. Food Acceptability looks at how the appeal of food changes during long-duration missions. Whether crew members like and actually eat foods directly affects caloric intake and associated nutritional benefits. For daily updates, follow @ ISS_Research , Space Station Research and Technology News or our Facebook . Follow ISS National Lab for information on its sponsored investigations. For opportunities to see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot the Station . John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 64

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