The Expedition 43 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) completed work on more biological investigations last week, along with performing maintenance on components of their $100 billion orbiting home and workplace. Studies for ongoing research on the ISS, along with experiments specifically taking place for the One Year Mission, also continued.
The next set of experiments for the Effects of Long-Duration Microgravity on Fine Motor Skills (Fine Motor Skills) study was completed by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Under this investigation, the astronauts work on a series of tasks that require them to interact with a touchscreen tablet. This is the first time long term microgravity exposure, different phases of microgravity adaptation, and sensorimotor recovery after returning to gravity on Earth, has been studied in a fine motor skills investigation.
This study is important since crew members so often use their fine motor skills to work with touch-based technologies, repair delicate equipment, and to perform a number of other duties. Simple tasks have been created to use in this investigation and they could be used on Earth to help elderly patients, patients with motor disorders, and patients with brain injuries that are going through rehabilitation.
Ground crews are scheduled to begin doing checkouts to prepare for scientific studies that will take place next month for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Soret Facet investigation. European Space Agency (ESA) Samantha Cristoforetti reconfigured hardware needed for this task. The study, which takes place in the Solution Crystallization Observation Facility (SCOF) on the ISS, looks at the role microgravity has in the thermal diffusion process called the Soret effect. According to NASA, the Soret effect, which was named after Swiss physicist Charles Soret, can be seen in liquid mixtures of particles where contrasting particles display different responses to the force of a temperature gradient, where temperatures can change in different areas and directions.
The goal of the study is to get a better understanding of the Soret effect, specifically the supercooled liquid phase, as it might be the first proof of a link between Soret physics and thermodynamics. Information learned by scientists may also be used to further understand mass transport phenomena, including the creation of planets, the movement of items in the ocean, and crude oil refinement.
Cristoforetti also worked on experiments for the Gene, Immune and Cellular Responses to Single and Combined Space Flight Conditions (TripleLux-A) study, which arrived when the sixth SpaceX cargo mission saw the successful delivery of the Dragon spacecraft last month. The effects of long-duration spaceflight missions (for example, a journey to Mars), must be studied and understood to find the best ways to keep astronauts’ health optimal. A number of risks to the human body from being in space show up on a cellular level, but the mechanisms that drive these effects must be fully comprehended.
TripleLux-A will study leukocytes in rats, which are model organisms since they are a simple creature to maintain, reproduce and study in a laboratory. Specifically, the study will use a rat macrophage cell line to look at a pair of characteristics of cellular function that may possibly be medically significant. The first is the way the effects of the environment with space radiation and with microgravity interact with cellular function. The second is the way the immune system’s functions are impaired when exposed to spaceflight conditions.
The information learned from investigating the immune system during spaceflight can be used both in space and on Earth. The results from the studies can be used to understand the cellular mechanisms behind the aggravation of radiation responses and the impairment of immune functions while an astronaut is in space, which will assist in keeping astronauts on long-duration missions stay healthy. On Earth, scientists can use data to create remedies for patients with compromised immune systems.
Cristoforetti also contributed to the Skin-B experiment last week. Skin ages very slowly on Earth, but it does the opposite in space, where it ages at greater speeds. The Skin-B experiment will help researchers gain more knowledge into how the aging process works in other body tissues similar to skin. When astronauts travel on missions in the future, the information from this study could help measure how different environments may impact their bodies, particularly in more taxing environments, such as the Moon or Mars. For use on Earth, the study will show how the skin (used as a model for the other organs) changes and adapts over a certain time period under stress placed on it in a specific environment and the speed at which it can be regenerated, if it is possible. Getting a firmer grasp on tissue change processes will give doctors the ability to develop better diagnostic and treatment options.
NASA astronauts Terry Virts and Scott Kelly performed work on the International Space Station’s Carbon Dioxide Removal Assemblies (CDRA) last week. This system filters carbon dioxide out of the air from inside the cabin of the ISS, creating a safe environment for the crew members. Virts spent time replacing components inside the system, and then both crew members wrapped up the tasks when they reconnected the power, data and fluid lines on the unit. Once a set of checkouts was completed by ground controllers, the astronauts powered the unit back on.
Kelly also took a break from his work schedule to do an interview with the Today Show along with his brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who is living on Earth. Of his first month on the space station, Kelly had the following to say, “So far, so good. When I got here about 40 days ago, it almost felt like I had never left. It’s amazing how your body adapts to this environment and how it remembers actually being here. Even though there is a long road ahead of me, I’m feeling pretty good about the thing so far.” He also let viewers know that included in his work coming up, some remodeling of the space station will occur.