(Highlights: Week of August 8, 2016) – International Space Station crew members continued an important study into the human heart, and also held the championship round of a space-based robotics competition for middle school students.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins completed the third microscopy session for the Effects of Microgravity on Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocytes (Heart Cells) investigation, recording videos of beating heart cells in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Spaceflight can cause a variety of health issues with astronauts, which may become problematic the longer crew members stay in microgravity. The Heart Cells study looks at how human heart muscle tissue contracts, grows and changes genetically in microgravity and how those changes vary between subjects. Understanding how heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, change in space can improve efforts to study disease, screen drugs and conduct cell replacement therapy for future space missions.
Extended stays aboard the station are becoming more common, and future crews will stay in space for even longer periods as they travel on deep-space missions or a journey to Mars. Living without gravity’s influence for long periods can cause negative health effects such as muscle atrophy, including potential atrophy of heart muscle. This investigation cultures heart cells on the station for a month to determine how those muscle cells change on a cellular and molecular level in space, improving understanding of microgravity’s negative effects. Understanding changes to heart muscle cells benefits cardiovascular research on Earth, where heart disease is a leading cause of death in many countries.
Ground scientists captured some amazing images of the Perseid meteor showerusing an investigation on the space station to catch video and photos of space rocks falling toward Earth.
The Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) investigation makes space-based observations of the chemical composition of meteors. The investigation captures high-resolution video and photographs of the atmosphere and uses a software program to search for bright spots, which can later be analyzed on the ground. Measurements made by a spectrograph help determine a meteor’s chemical makeup.
Meteors are relatively rare, and are difficult to monitor from the ground because of the interference created by Earth’s atmosphere, which is why the annual Perseid meteor shower was a great opportunity to capture data. Investigating the elemental composition of meteors is important to our understanding of how planets developed. Continuous measurement of meteors and their interaction with Earth’s atmosphere could help spot previously undetected or unnoticed meteors as they descended toward the ground. The investigation is installed in the station’s Window Observational Research Facility (WORF).
NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka collaborated with a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge to complete the final round of competition for the middle school division of the SPHERES Zero Robotics competition. Student teams are challenged to design research for the station by writing programs for tasks the SPHERES satellites can accomplish that would be relevant to future space missions. The bowling-ball-sized satellites can be programmed to move about the space station cabin.
SPHERES stands for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites. A major outreach tool as well as scientific investigation, SPHERES Zero Robotics provides a unique and valuable opportunity for students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — careers. In all, 12 U.S. teams sent computer code to the station to be tested with the SPHERES satellites, and a team representing the state of Florida won the competition. A group of Russian teachers also participated as they will start a version of the competition in Russian middle schools next year.
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Takuya Onishi completed his flight day 30 session of the Circadian Rhythmsinvestigation. Circadian rhythm is the phenomenon of one’s “body clock” indicating when it is time to sleep or wake. Astronauts in orbit around Earth are subjected to more than a dozen sunrises every day. Researchers believe a non-24-hour cycle of light and dark affects crewmembers’ circadian rhythm. This ESA (European Space Agency) investigation looks at the role of circadian rhythms and how they change during long-duration spaceflight. The investigation addresses the effects of reduced physical activity, microgravity and an artificially controlled environment.
Changes in body composition and body temperature, which also occur in microgravity, can affect crew members’ circadian rhythms as well. Understanding how these phenomena affect the biological clock will improve performance and health for future crew members and provide a unique comparison for sleep disorders, autonomic nervous system disorders and shift work-related disorders on Earth.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense