Aging Studies, Muscle Investigations, and Other Biological Research Keeping ISS Expedition 43 Busy

Expedition 43 crew member and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti working with the C.Elegans muscle experiment last week on the ISS. Photo Credit: Twitter via @AstroSamantha

Expedition 43 crew member and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti working with the C. elegans muscle experiment last week on the ISS. Photo Credit: Twitter via @AstroSamantha

The Expedition 43 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) kept busy last week working on a large variety of research and experiments, most of which focused on learning how to improve the health of those living both on and off the planet.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly worked on tasks related to two investigations last week. He conducted a dry run for the first study, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Nematode Muscles investigation, by starting the growth cycle for the small roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (which is a commonly used as a model for larger organisms) by transferring the set of worms being used for the experiment to a culture bag. Researchers will study the muscle fibers and cytoskeleton of C. elegans in order to better understand the way these physiological systems change when they are exposed to microgravity. Two sets of worms will be grown on the ISS: one in microgravity, and the other in 1g by putting it in a centrifuge. The purpose of the centrifuge is to mimic gravitational forces as the worms are still in orbit. This will give investigators a way to compare the way different levels of gravity affect the C. elegans samples while they live in space.

Expedition 43 crew member and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly getting hs first dose of "space coffee". Photo Credit: Twitter via @StationCDRKelly

Expedition 43 crew member and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly getting hs first dose of “space coffee”. Photo Credit: Twitter via @StationCDRKelly

Kelly also worked the Space Aging study, which also utilizes C. elegans. Space Aging will observe the way spaceflight affects the way the worms age by recording their movements both in an environment with microgravity and one where gravity is created. Data will be compared to control specimens kept back on Earth. Kelly arranged the samples in their observation units. He then exposed them to microgravity and 1g prior to packing them away to be returned to Earth at a later date.

Back on Earth, similar batches are being grown in a laboratory in Japan so that when the worms in space return, they can be compared to their counterparts on Earth. Data gained from this study may help scientists better understand the molecular changes that happen in the microgravity environment. This could potentially lead to the development of treatments or therapies that may halt physical changes, like muscle atrophy or osteoporosis, that occur during aging and extended bed rest. This research could play a role in future space flight, too, as it may lead to treatments and exercises for crews on long duration missions.

Work was also done by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on the Osteocytes and mechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation. Cristoforetti moved two sets of bioreactors housing samples for the investigation to the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for the International Space Station (MELFI), in preparation for operations. The samples will stay in the freezer until they are sent back to Earth.

Osteocytes are the most commonly found cells in mature bones. They have the ability to detect mechanical forces, so when stresses are added they can deposit calcium to give support to the bones. They can also weaken the bones when stresses are taken away from it—for example, when microgravity is present. It is known that microgravity—or when a sensation of weightlessness is present—may play a role in the loss of bone density, since osteocytes are not exposed to the force of gravity.

The Osteo-4 study will let scientists gain more knowledge about what happens during this process. It will also give them the opportunity to study changes in the physical appearance and genetic expression of mouse bone cells when they are in microgravity. The results from this study could play a role in helping people on Earth who suffer from broken bones caused by osteoporosis (a disease that causes reduced bone density). Understanding what causes bone density loss in astronauts during their missions could give insight into how to treat bone disorders in people on Earth.

Also last week, the members aboard the ISS worked on several different biological studies. The Sprint Study looks at the ways that high-intensity, low-volume exercise training can be used to play a role in reducing the risk of losing muscle, bone, and cardiovascular functions astronauts may experience when they are in space for long periods of time.

Crew members also worked on checkouts for the Ocular Health investigation. Ocular Health is aimed at helping researchers gain insight into the role spaceflight plays in the vision changes experienced by astronauts. Work was also conducted on the Microbiome Experiment. This investigation looks at how much space travel influences the human immune system and the individual’s microbiome.

NASA astronaut and ISS commander Terry Virts worked last week troubleshooting the airlock in the Japanese Experiment Module to get the ISS prepared for the Robotics Refueling Mission-2 (RRM-2). He also partnered with ground teams later in the week to further prepare the airlock and to ready the slide table that carries the hardware by extending it. NASA and the Canadian Space Agency are working in conjunction on RRM-2. The study looks at different techniques that can be used to repair and service satellites in space. Ground crew uses Dextre, the special purpose dexterous manipulator on the end of Canadarm2, for delicate robotics manipulation. The results from the study will allow engineers to decide if it is feasible to use robots to refuel satellites and test electrical connections.

 

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4 comments to Aging Studies, Muscle Investigations, and Other Biological Research Keeping ISS Expedition 43 Busy

  • Gary Church

    -ISS commander Terry Virts worked last week troubleshooting the airlock in the Japanese Experiment Module to get the ISS prepared for the Robotics Refueling Mission-2 (RRM-2)-

    So the Skipper had to turn wrenches to get ready for the robot that will supposedly be doing it in the future. Kinda funny.

    “-different techniques that can be used to repair and service satellites in space. Ground crew uses Dextre, the special purpose dexterous manipulator on the end of Canadarm2, for delicate robotics manipulation. The results from the study will allow engineers to decide if it is feasible to use robots to refuel satellites and test electrical connections.”

    As an avionics technician and autopilot troubleshooter my expert opinion is that working outside in space looks like something to avoid if at all possible. Replacing large assemblies is far more preferable to trying to troubleshoot and fix system faults in that environment. In tech parlance it is called “shotgunning.” You just replace the biggest piece you can. The principle being the same as replacing a whole engine if it is not behaving instead of screwing around with it on the airframe and keeping the plane down trying to figure out what is wrong with it.

    Since telecommunications is the ONLY real industry in space and the majority of revenue comes from GEO these fantastically expensive evolutions on the space station to nowhere do not impress me. Do not confuse this with not being impressed by the astronauts and people working to make all this happen- I am criticizing the concept of LEO operations as a dead end. The people all have my admiration. If you ask them what they think of what they do for a living they are not going to say where they work is a dead end. So I am saying it.

    The public has not been informed with even the basic facts about spaceflight- such as why we do not have a ISS in GEO maintaining telecommunication systems? What we have is a junkyard of dead satellites and space debris. Why? The elephant in the room nobody will talk about- space radiation.

    Like the early rocket scientist adage that space flight is not about the science of rockets- it is about the science of cracks, Human Space Flight is not about humans flying through space- it is about shielding them from radiation.

    Radiation is square one and determines almost everything having to do with Human Space Flight- Beyond Earth Orbit. The comparatively tiny domain of LEO is not really space- it protected from space radiation by the Van Allen belts. The harsh radiation environment in GEO is why there are no human crewed space stations up there taking care of business. The problem is the thousands of tons of shielding that would be required for these true space stations. The solution is the ice on the Moon.

    Assembling space stations in lunar orbit, filling their radiation shields with water derived from lunar ice, and then transiting them back across cislunar space to GEO would replace the satellite junkyard and improve telecommunications capabilities by an order of magnitude. But since this obvious step in expanding into space requires Super Heavy Lift Vehicles that spells death for the LEO entrepreneurial business plan- nobody hears a word about it and any discussion brings immediate and intense criticism.

    What we have with these useless medical studies is an attempt to go cheap instead of providing what everyone is beginning to understand cannot be avoided; massive shielding and artificial gravity. There is no cheap.

  • Mark P

    Devices similar to Canadarm and Dextre would probably necessary on a station at GEO or EML-2. So, since we have the ISS, I see no problem in developing this tech.

    • Gary Church

      “I see no problem in developing this tech.”

      It seems worthwhile by itself but….it is part of the ongoing diversion of time, effort, and resources poured into the dead end of LEO and is a part of that mistaken project even if useful in itself.

      In my view every penny spent in LEO since 2010 has been a complete waste and a tragic mistake due to the “compounding interest in errors” incurred in pursuing the NewSpace agenda.

      In 2010 the first really strong evidence for large quantities of ice on the Moon was in. Because of the money that had already changed hands promoting the NewSpace LEO business plan any acknowledgement and action on this evidence was suppressed- as typified by the infamously blunt “been there” Obama Moon speech. What should have been the abandonment of LEO and the beginning of a second space age has instead turned into a bizarre libertarian-flavored sideshow of Tony Stark exploding hobby rocket stages on barges and toxic dragons designed to boost inflatable playboy clubs.

      The two required tools for expanding the human presence beyond the tiny domain of Low Earth Orbit into true space are Super Heavy Lift Vehicles (with wet workshop upper stages) and robot landers (to harvest the lunar polar ice). The billions that have been poured into the space station to nowhere and “cheap” astronaut taxis have been a tragicomic diversion. The public relations hoopla that NASA has resorted to in recent years is truly a national embarrassment added to the humiliation of paying Russians (and the Russian Mafia) for rides into LEO.

      This sad procession of clickbait includes cloud cities on Venus, astronauts with light sabers, warp drives, and various other ridiculous publicity devices. The ultimate absurdity though is of course Mars as the “Horizon Goal.” It all bears the NASA brand and has damaged confidence in the space agency to the point where only a tiny segment of the population takes space exploration seriously anymore.

      The close-to-perfect vision for space exploration was that of the American prophet of space colonization Gerard K. O’Neill in the mid 70’s- immediately after Apollo. Comparing O’Neill’s revolutionary vision with the NewSpace tourist scam is a depressing exercise and has been best kept out of the public eye. Only by refuting the NewSpace infomercial and undoing all the misinformation by accurately informing the pubic of basic space technology issues can the damage be repaired and a second space begin.

      • Gary Church

        “Only by refuting the NewSpace infomercial and undoing all the misinformation by accurately informing the pubic of basic space technology issues can the damage be repaired and a second space age begin.”

        I proofread these comments and I always miss something. Sure would like a temporary edit feature.

        I would add to the closing statement that it is radiation that is the most illuminating when discussing Human Space Flight. For years the standard response, especially by NewSpace fans, has been to trivialize radiation concerns. In 2006 Eugene Parker wrote the classic layman guide to space radiation for Scientific American Magazine with his article “Shielding Space Travelers.”

        What he wrote almost a decade ago is finally becoming impossible to ignore. The unavoidable consequence of cosmic radiation and to a lesser degree zero gravity debilitation is massive shielding and artificial gravity systems. The mass penalty for the combination means chemical propulsion is essentially useless for interplanetary travel. Only nuclear energy will work and the only place to acquire the cosmic ray shielding, assemble, test, and launch nuclear missions is the Moon. LEO is the worst place to go.