CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Four astronauts are headed to the International Space Station (ISS) this Halloween (Oct. 31), the place they’re going to spend six months conducting analysis for scientists again on Earth. During their keep, the worldwide crew will work on greater than 200 completely different analysis investigations.
NASA astronauts Raja Chari, who will command the mission, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, together with European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer, make up the quartet of astronauts that may be a part of the Expedition 65 crew already on board the space station. This would be the first spaceflight for Chari, Barron and Maurer.
The astronauts will launch on the Crew-3 mission to the orbiting lab in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 2:21 a.m. EDT (0621 GMT) on Sunday (Oct. 31), and you’ll watch the launch and prelaunch action live here at Space.com.
Live Updates: SpaceX’s Crew-3 astronaut mission
During their keep, the crew will work on a whole lot of experiments, together with new medical analysis. Those experiments will assist scientists right here on Earth to fight ailments and assist space businesses all over the world higher perceive how space impacts the human physique to allow them to higher put together astronauts for future, longer-duration space journey to the moon, Mars and past.
Among the analysis investigations, the crew will work on is a protein crystal development experiment from the National Cancer Institute. As a part of this experiment, referred to as Uniform Protein Crystal Growth (UPCG), tiny crystals of RNA (ribonucleic acid) will likely be grown in microgravity after which examined utilizing a strong gentle supply to have a look at their three-d form.
The crew may also examine the impacts of an enhanced spaceflight food regimen on astronaut well being, as a part of a meals physiology experiment.
The astronauts will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as a part of the third operational crew launch for SpaceX which adopted the profitable take a look at flight of its Crew Dragon car as a part of the Demo-2 mission in May 2020. The personal spaceflight firm is certainly one of two business companions that NASA has contracted to ship its astronauts to and from the space station as a part of its business crew program — Boeing is the opposite. (Boeing has but to launch astronauts on its Starliner crew capsule; a second uncrewed Starliner take a look at flight was scheduled to launch in August, however was placed on maintain indefinitely because the groups proceed to attempt to repair valves caught within the car’s propulsion system.)
NASA’s business crew program was created to not solely return the aptitude of launching astronauts again to the U.S. but in addition to allow extra analysis to be carried out on the space station. By having a fourth U.S. crew member on station, NASA says it is in a position to considerably enhance the quantity of science being carried out on the orbiting lab.
“One of the benefits that the relatively new Commercial Crew Program (CCP) provides to ISS research is being able to launch science alongside the crew,” David Brady, NASA’s affiliate program scientist for the International Space Station Program at Johnson Space Center (JSC) advised reporters throughout a science briefing held on Thursday afternoon (Oct. 28). “And by being able to do so, we’ve increased our ability to conform to schedules that are based upon the needs of our researchers, which makes for better science.”
The upcoming protein crystal development experiment is an efficient instance of that, says Brady, because the experiment is driving as much as space with Crew-3 after which returning to Earth with the Crew-2 astronauts per week later.
The business crew automobiles have one other additional advantage: faster return time for experiments. “Another advantage of the CCP program is that it keeps the transportation path close to the lab,” Brady mentioned. “For Dragon vehicles, the science launches from Florida and is then recovered just off the Florida coast, which is perfect for expediting samples back to the lab.”
That functionality is due to some upgrades the Crew Dragon and its cargo-toting counterpart obtained. Each reusable capsule is able to flying as many as 5 occasions and, as an alternative of being recovered off the coast of California after which trucked throughout nation, every Dragon is scooped up out of the water after which transferred to a facility right here on the Cape the place it’s prepped to fly once more, whereas the science is distributed to investigators inside just some hours of coming back from space, in comparison with different craft and missions that might take a number of days.
Let’s check out a number of the science investigations that the Crew-2 astronauts will carry out throughout their six-month keep on orbit:
Protein crystal development
With the assistance of highly effective lasers, researchers hope to find out the three-d form of protein crystals grown in microgravity. As a part of the UPCG experiment, researchers will develop a bunch of RNA crystals in space and ship them again to Earth the place researchers will analyze their 3D atomic construction.
This is vital as a result of the shapes of those proteins are instantly correlated with their organic capabilities. When the protein crystals are forming, there are a variety of things that may peterb their development, which might in flip alter their construction and in the end have an effect on how effectively they perform.
In microgravity, the crystals are in a position to develop in a extra uniform trend, enabling the manufacturing of extra excellent crystals than can be potential with gravity on Earth. This in flip might result in higher therapies and coverings for illness, says Jason R. Stagno, employees scientist within the Structural Biophysics Laboratory on the National Cancer Institute, and researcher on the mission.
This investigation focuses on X-ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL) expertise, which allows imaging of organic molecules that can not be grown into giant crystals — similar to viruses, nanoparticles and single molecules (like ribose) — and lets researchers observe time-resolved structural modifications of vital organic molecules.
As a part of the experiment, the researchers are specializing in riboswitch RNA as a result of it controls gene expression. This sort of non-coding RNA is very prevalent in micro organism and has the potential for the event of novel antibiotics in addition to engineering RNA-based therapeutic switches. ( Riboswitches are referred to as “switches” as a result of they will flip genes on and off by way of a sequence of structural modifications, that are managed by the binding of a small molecule.)
“The RNA is like a light switch, and whether or not it’s in the on or off position is determined by what it interacts with,” Stagno mentioned throughout the briefing. “So like a camera with a very fast shutter speed, we’re going to try to capture the moment the RNA structure changes in response to stimulation.”
The analysis crew is hoping to make a mini RNA film of kinds. To do this, they want tens of millions of tiny crystals as an alternative of just some giant ones, which usually has been the main focus of different space station protein crystal development experiments.
Grace Douglas, lead scientist for NASA’s Advanced Food Technology analysis effort, is trying on the impression of food regimen on human response to intestine microbiota and dietary standing throughout spaceflight. “We wanted to start this experiment because when we look at current spaceflight, we learn a lot,” she mentioned. “And some of the things that we learn are that astronauts do have changes in their immune system like dysregulation of the immune system, reduced immune cell function, bone and muscle loss.”
Douglas mentioned that these modifications happen throughout the timeframe of a six-month ISS mission, in order humanity pushes additional out into the solar system, researchers need to have the ability to counteract these points and enhance astronaut well being. To do that, food regimen is a good place to start out, she mentioned. “What we eat, our microbiome eats,” says Douglas. “[The microbiome] essentially influences everything, so if we’re eating the right diet, we can promote health and performance.”
Astronaut diets are inclined to comprise extra processed meals, because it must be shelf steady or in any other case endure the atmosphere of space journey. Douglas says that the crew’s objective is to provide the astronauts entry to more healthy meals which might be wealthy in omega three fatty acids in addition to a better choice of vegetables and fruit, after which decide the impression of this modification on the astronaut’s immune system perform and microbiome over the course of the mission.
The crew goals to do this by searching for particular markers in organic samples that the astronauts present. Douglas says that they tried out this Food Physiology experiment right here on the bottom throughout some Human Exploration Research analog missions right here on Earth and did discover enhancements in each dietary and cognitive outcomes. “And so over 45 days, I can say one of the very apparent outcomes was a reduction in cholesterol, and, and some other nutritional benefits similar to that. So pretty quickly, you can start seeing benefits just from increasing these numbers of fruits and vegetables and things like that,” she mentioned.
Now, Douglas and her crew need to attempt their Food Physiology experiment in space. “Some of the things that were developed specifically to support this study were some freeze dried vegetables, like butternut squash and sweet and savory kale,” she mentioned. “And then also some extra fish products were developed, like barramundi, which is a farmed fish that’s rich in omega threes and has a less fishy taste than the traditional salmon or tuna.”
Smartphone video steering sensor
Hector Gutierrez, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Florida Institute of Technology has been working with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to develop a software program sensor referred to as Smartphone video steering sensor, or SVGS.
The objective of their investigation is to show that it is potential to have a software program sensor — able to getting used on a number of platforms — that may calculate the place and angle of illuminated beacons. “That is a very valuable means to provide guidance and navigation information when you are doing proximity maneuvers with a small spacecraft or drones or mobile robots,” says Gutierrez.
He says that because the investigation’s identify says, one model of SVGS could be deployed utilizing a mobile phone. “The code can be programmed to run on a cell phone as an app that uses the phone camera to take photos of a target and navigate and obtain position and attitude information from two dimensional images coming from the phone,” he mentioned throughout the briefing.
According to Gutierriez, most robots could have a number of CPUs, and lots of of them could have cameras. So SVGS is a expertise that may be deployed on a wide range of robotics platforms. “We are going to demonstrate this by deploying it on the free flying robot currently on the ISS, called Astrobee,” he mentioned.
Astrobee has been on the station for over a 12 months, and is the alternative for a earlier group of free-flying robots referred to as spheres. These robots are used to assist out with a number of the analysis investigations, like SVGS. Gutierriez says that the bees will likely be positioned within the Japan pressurized module (JPM) with 4 LED beacons that will likely be used to conduct a sequence of 5 maneuvers that will likely be carried out with the intention to take a look at the sensors.
Spaceflight normal measures
NASA’s Human Research Program is hoping to mitigate the human well being threat related to spaceflight by surveying its astronauts and accumulating information utilizing tech and measures like smartwatches from now till the tip of the space station.
The dangers related to spaceflight may very well be attributable to a wide range of components just like the absence of gravity, radiation, isolation and confinement and in addition to completely different spacecraft design. NASA has been accumulating organic samples, medical information and extra from its astronauts for years with the intention to higher perceive how microgravity impacts the human physique. However, what’s completely different with this mission is that it spans a number of disciplines.
“This project is a cross-cutting project,” mentioned Giles Clement, of Lyon Neuroscience Center in France. “And by that we mean that we collect response, not from just one discipline like muscle or bone, or immune system, but we collect response from all of the disciplines at once in physiology, human biology, and psychology as well.”
According to Clement, the astronauts collaborating within the investigation will likely be carrying smartwatches that they may put on all day (even when sleeping). They will do that for 2 weeks each different month throughout their spaceflight. It will assist researchers on the bottom measure issues like how lengthy they sleep.
Clement additionally says that the crew members will likely be requested to finish month-to-month surveys about how they work together with the crew with the intention to consider equations and efficiency. “We also have a laptop on the space station in which they can test over 10 different neurocognitive tests to measure their reaction time, their attention concentration, working memory, spatial orientation,” he mentioned. “We are also collecting some blood and saliva samples to look at the given status and function and in general blood and urine chemistry at different periods during the flight.”
This mission started in 2018 and Clement says that the researchers have already collected a wealth of information. The mission helps the crew predict issues like which astronauts are more likely to have cardiovascular occasions after they return residence due to arterial modifications from radiation and different features of spaceflight.