Various Health Studies and Dragon CRS-6 Preparations Highlight Busy Week for Expedition 43

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) takes a break to enjoy the view earlier this week. Photo via Twitter @Astro Samantha

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) takes a break to enjoy the view earlier this week. Photo via Twitter @Astro Samantha

The six people who make up the Expedition 43 crew in orbit on the International Space Station (ISS) kept busy this week with a full schedule of work to accomplish a variety of science experiments, all the while making final preparations for an upcoming cargo delivery with the SpaceX CRS-6 Dragon.

One Year mission crew members, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, took a series of beginning measurements via ultrasound scan for their flight day 10 Ocular health exams, assisted by crew medical officers European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Gennady Pedalka. As their bodies take time getting used to space, taking measurements during this period is crucial to establish baselines so that the evolution of their health can be accurately analyzed during the year they remain living in space. The Prospective Observational Study of Ocular Health in ISS Crews (Ocular Health) investigation has been an ongoing research study for many years on the ISS, but this is the first time it has been done on-orbit with a Russian subject and operator.

This close up of the huge Typhoon Maysak “eye” of the category 5 (hurricane status on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale) was captured by astronauts on board the International Space Station Mar. 31, 2015. Photo Credit: NASA

This close up of the huge Typhoon Maysak “eye” of the category 5 (hurricane status on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale) was captured by astronauts on board the International Space Station Mar. 31, 2015. Photo Credit: NASA

Altered vision is one of the many risks astronauts deal with from their time spent residing in space. For the study, ocular coherence tomography is used to create a comprehensive 3-D image of the retina and interior of the eyes. Data is recorded on the visual health of the crew members during spaceflight, and it will be compared with measurements taken once they return to Earth. Changes that are thought to take place because of intracranial pressure associated with the effects of microgravity on the visual, vascular, and central nervous systems will also be analyzed, as well as the length of time it takes for restoration of the astronauts’ visual health once they are back on Earth.

Researchers will acquire further knowledge about the changes that occur to the structure of the eyes and nervous system. This information can be useful to doctors on Earth treating patients that suffer from a variety of ocular diseases, like glaucoma. It will also furnish scientists with information that may assist in the treatment of brain diseases, like hydrocephalus and high blood pressure in the brain.

Work was also done by Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Anton Shklaperov last week on the Canadian Space Agency’s RaDI-N2 Neutron Field Study (RaDI-N2). Cristoforetti gathered eight bubble detectors from various locations inside the space station as Shklaperov processed them. Eight neutron “bubble detectors” are positioned in different fixed areas around the ISS to collect measurements on the station’s neutron radiation levels, while ignoring all other types of radiation present. They give scientists the ability to immediately detect and measure neutron doses. Tiny droplets of superheated liquid are sent through a clear polymer. When a droplet comes in contact with a neutron, it is immediately vaporized, which leads to the gas bubble becoming trapped in the gel. The number of bubbles present allows for the measurement of the tissue-equivalent neutron dose.

Because neutrons lack electrical charge, they are highly able to enter the human body and create tissue damage. This investigation will help doctors better piece together a relationship between neutron radiation and DNA damage and mutation rates, cataracts obtained by astronauts during their time in space, as well as a number of other health issues that come from prolonged exposure to radiation. Also, this study will help to further characterize the neutron environment aboard the space station, define the risk posed to astronauts’ health, and allow for better data that is crucial to developing advanced protective measures for future spaceflights.

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti prepares the Biolab experiment rack for starting Triplelux-B on March 19. Ending its run this week, Triplelux-B is investigating changes in the immune system of cells. Photo Credit: NASA

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti prepares the Biolab experiment rack for starting Triplelux-B on March 19. Ending its run this week, Triplelux-B is investigating changes in the immune system of cells. Photo Credit: NASA

Also last week, the final activities occurred for the ESA’s Gene, Immune and Cellular Responses to Single and Combined Space Flight Conditions (Triplelux-B) investigation, which studies the relationship between cellular function and long-duration spaceflight. The next investigation, Triplelux-A, is scheduled to arrive with the sixth SpaceX cargo mission next week.

In order to be ready for lengthy spaceflight missions, such as a journey to Mars, many effects on the human body must be studied and understood to preserve the health of the astronauts. While many risks of the human body being in a space environment show up on the cellular level, the mechanisms that drive these effects must be comprehended. This investigation will use hemocytes (a cellular component of invertebrate blood that plays a vital role in the operation of invertebrate immune systems) from the Mytilus edulis, the blue mussel, and macrophages (white blood cells that eat foreign material) from rodents, and compare the way they function in microgravity.

Two characteristics of cellular function will be looked at during this study. The first is how the relationship between space radiation and microgravity impacts the way cells function. The second is the impairment of immune system function under the conditions of living in space. Information scientists gain from this study could help to create countermeasures for those on Earth that have weakened immune systems.

Preparations for the upcoming SpaceX CRS-6 mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract continued to take place last week. The Falcon-9 rocket, topped with a supply and experiments-filled Dragon spacecraft, is scheduled to launch out of Cape Canaveral, Fla., on April 13, 2015. Once launched Dragon will take two days to get to the ISS, where it will then be captured and berthed to the Harmony module on the station by Cristoforetti and Virts using the Canadarm2.

Follow our CRS-6 “Launch and Events Tracker” for updates and live launch coverage April 13.

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1 comment to Various Health Studies and Dragon CRS-6 Preparations Highlight Busy Week for Expedition 43

  • Gary Church

    Should not have them up there a year. Ethically flawed to use them as space radiation lab rats. The solution to the radiation and debilitation problems are to stop going cheap and provide an Earth environment with massive shielding and tether or torus generated artificial gravity. The way to do that is to use the ice on the Moon.