2017 was busy for the 17th year of science aboard the International Space Station. Investigations ranged from growing leafy greens in microgravity to expanding small satellite science capabilities, and even studying the behavior of new experimental fuels in space.
Here’s a look back on some of the investigations crew members have been working on over the past 12 months:
Harvesting Greens in Microgravity
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough shows off his Veggie-03 harvest. Crew members aboard the orbiting laboratory grew a variety of leafy greens in space with the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) to learn about plants’ response to microgravity and improve growing techniques to provide fresh food for long duration spaceflight. With the success of the Veg-03 investigation, 2017 marked the first time multiple greens were grown at the same time. The crew had the opportunity to eat some of what they grew and sent the rest home for study.
Small Drops of Fire
Kimbrough prepares the Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus (MDCA) for the Combustion Integrated Rack. The MDCA is used to conduct miniature combustion tests by igniting small droplets of various fuels. This year’s Cool Flames Investigation was conducted in the MDCA and advanced our understanding of how fuels burn in microgravity.
Controlling Robots from Space
Thomas Pesquet, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut, tests a set of haptic controls. Crew members aboard the space station use integrated technology that allows them to control robotic devices on Earth and feel what a robot’s sensors detect with this year’s Haptics-1 and Haptics-2. The investigations validated hardware needed for future interactions with these robots, and it is hoped that the technology will be useful for controlling robots on Mars or the Moon from orbit.
Planting the Seeds of Curiosity for Students
Pesquet checks out batches of tomato seeds that will be delivered back to Earth and distributed to classrooms across the U.S. and Canada. The Tomatosphere project exposes seeds to microgravity and allows students to judge the differences in germination between seeds flown on the space station and regular Earth seeds. The Tomatosphere project has given millions of children the chance to participate in real-life science in space, helping organizations like NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Let’s Talk Science and the First the Seed Foundation prepare for deep-space missions while also cultivating a love for science in the minds of young students.
Faster Cell Growth for Better Medicine
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson checks out stem cell growth samples for the Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation. The investigation studies whether stem cells will grow faster in microgravity, and the results may allow scientists to replicate faster growth on Earth to produce needed stem cells for treating of a variety of medical conditions. Stem cells are important for medicine because they are undifferentiated cells that can grow into any needed kind of cell to repair the body.
Seeing More with Microscopes
Whitson prepares the Light Microscopy Module (LMM). This facility is used for a variety of experiments requiring light imaging and magnification to view microscopic samples. It is one of the most powerful microscopes of its kind, and in 2017 the LMM was prepped for the ACE-T-7 study of colloidal solutions set to begin in 2018.
Capillaries to the Rescue
NASA astronaut Jack Fischer examines hardware for the Capillary Structures for Exploration Life Support investigation (Capillary Structures). The structures at the center of the hardware are 3-D printed pieces called contractors, and a network of tubing, valves, and pumps connects with these to test capillary behavior in microgravity. The investigation tests a new way to recycle water and remove carbon dioxide from the air.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) JEM Internal Ball Camera floats freely through the space station, capturing imagery of the scenes around it. This camera is equipped for both video and pictures and can assist in recording the crew, investigations and imagery of Earth. As the satellite improves, it should be able to free up crew time previously occupied with imagery tasks.
Testing for Microbial Growth
Whitson shows off the microgravity lab for Genes in Space-3. For this study, crew members were able to take samples from surfaces on the space station and identify the microbial DNA using the minIONä device and the miniPCRä thermal cycler. The data from Genes in Space-3 will tell us more about microbial behavior in microgravity and help NASA prepare for the medical challenges of sending humans beyond low-Earth orbit.
Staying Healthy Aboard the Space Station
Whitson takes measurements for Fisher as he participates in the Integrated Aerobic and Resistance Training Study (SPRINT). This long-duration study spanning years aboard the space station allows us to better understand the impact of microgravity on the human body as crew members use high intensity, low volume exercise to maintain their muscle, bone and cardiovascular health.
Bacteria in Space
The E. coli AntiMicrobial Satellite (EcAMSat) is released from the space station to begin a study of bacterial growth and resistance to current antibiotics. This investigation exposes two strains of E. coli to three different doses of antibiotics to determine which might be best suited for treatment during long-duration spaceflight, including missions far away from medical assistance beyond low-Earth orbit.
Calling all Ham Enthusiasts
ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli uses the ham radio aboard the space station to talk with amateur radio operators back on Earth as part of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program. The ham radio program is an easy way for students and curious radio enthusiasts of all ages to learn more about life aboard the space station. As part of NASA and ESA’s commitment to educational outreach, astronauts participate in the ham radio program regularly throughout the year.
Four to BEAM Up
Nespoli poses with NASA astronauts Joe Acaba, Mark Vande Hei and Randy Bresnik inside the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). This module is revolutionary for the space station and its mission was extended earlier this year to allow continued study of expandable habitat performance data.
Small Labs for Serious Research
Vande Hei examines and prepares equipment for ongoing Tango Lab investigations. This facility includes several small, reconfigurable CubeLabs to carry out a variety of experiments at once. The labs can be used for various research objectives, including cell culture and plant growth.
Satellite Competitions Bring Space Closer to Students on Earth
Acaba and cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos host the Spheres-Zero-Robotics competition. This yearly competition is hosted in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and allows students to program and “battle” SPHERES satellites aboard the space station with unique coding and programs.
Testing Fluids Aboard Space Station
Acaba floats beneath the Zero Boil-off Tank (ZBOT) investigation. This new addition to the space station allows crew members to study tank pressurization and control in microgravity. Simulant fluids can be tested within the tank to increase our understanding of new rocket fuels and fluid dynamics.
Keeping Muscles Active in Microgravity
Bresnik sits in the Muscle Atrophy Research and Exercise System (MARES) for the Sarcolab-3 investigation. The investigation could help scientists learn more about muscle deterioration in microgravity since the MARES unit tracks detailed physiology information for each of its users.
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