The end of the calendar year also brought the end to another successful season of vegetable growth on the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough completed the third and final harvest of red lettuce to close out the Veg-03 investigation. Understanding how plants respond to microgravity is an important step for future long-duration space missions, which will require crew members to grow their own food. Crew members on the station have previously grown lettuce and flowers in the Veggie facility. This new series of the study expands on previous validation tests. After collecting the lettuce, Kimbrough cleaned and powered down the Veggie facility.
Veggie provides lighting and necessary nutrients for plants in the form of a low-cost growth chamber and planting pillows, which deliver nutrients to the root system. The Veggie pillow concept is a low-maintenance, modular system that requires no additional energy beyond a special light to help the plants grow. It supports a variety of plant species that can be cultivated for fresh food, and even for education experiments.
Crew members have commented that they enjoy space gardening, and investigators believe growing plants could provide a psychological benefit to crew members on long-duration missions, just as gardening is often an enjoyable hobby for people on Earth. Data from this investigation could benefit agricultural practices on Earth by designing systems that use valuable resources such as water more efficiently.
A ground team commanded the Additive Manufacturing Facility (Manufacturing Device) on the space station to print two items: a sample build for future materials studies and a design that was part of a student contest. Installed on the station in 2015, the Manufacturing Device is a 3-D printer that uses additive manufacturing to build a part layer by layer using an engineered plastic polymer as raw material.
The Manufacturing Device is another step toward a permanent manufacturing capability on the space station. It will enable the production of components and tools on demand in orbit, which will allow further research into manufacturing for long-term missions. The station crew can use it to print a variety of items to perform maintenance, build tools and repair sections in case of an emergency, leading to a reduction in cost, mass, labor and production time. Further research will also help develop this advanced technology for use on Earth.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson retrieved the passive air samplers for the Aerosol Sampling experiment, stowing them for return to Earth. Aerosols are small particles suspended in the air. In Earth’s atmosphere, aerosols include soot, dust, pollen and a wide range of other natural and human-made materials. Smoke does not rise and dust does not settle in microgravity the way they do on Earth, causing aerosols to behave differently and posing hazards for crew members breathing the air. Aerosol Sampler collects airborne particles in the station’s air and returns them to Earth so scientists can study the particles with powerful microscopes. For this experiment, particles collected from cabin air are analyzed using a variety of microscopic techniques. Studying these particulates can allow scientists to improve the design of monitors for long-duration missions and help create better fire detectors that can discriminate between dust or background particles and smoke in order to reduce false alarms.
Progress was made on other investigations and facilities this week, including Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, Meteor, Education Payload Operations-Pesquet, ISS Ham, Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE), Skinsuit, Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF), JAXA Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD), and Combustion Integrated Rack.