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Weekly Recap From the ISS Expedition Lead Scientist

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Posted January 4, 2016

Completion of critical ocular health testing, notable developments with the OASIS liquid crystal study and an intriguing find inside the Veggie planter punctuated the holiday week aboard the International Space Station.

Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko completed comprehensive testing for their Ocular Health suite of exams, which comprise vision testing, blood pressure, tonometry (determining the fluid pressure inside the eye), and ocular and cardiac ultrasound. Kelly and Kornienko also completed their fundoscopy (retinal imagery) and Optical Coherence Tomography exams, non-invasive imaging using light waves to take high-resolution pictures of the retina that are used to diagnose or monitor eye conditions.

An Earth observation taken from the International Space Station during a day pass. Also in view is the Cygnus cargo spacecraft, which arrived on Dec. 9, carrying science and other supplies.

An Earth observation taken from the International Space Station during a day pass. Also in view is the Cygnus cargo spacecraft, which arrived on Dec. 9, carrying science and other supplies.

These tests are essential for the crew, as spaceflight has an impact on their bodies, and some experience impaired vision. The Ocular Health tests gather data on crew members’ visual health during and after long-duration space station missions. Ongoing tests are crucial to understand how living in microgravity can affect the visual, vascular and central nervous systems, and to inform future research.

Findings in this area provide insight into structural changes that can occur in the eyes and nervous system, which could be relevant for not only for space travel, but for patients suffering from a range of ocular diseases on Earth, such as glaucoma. On Earth, the data provide information that could be used to help those suffering from brain diseases, such as hydrocephalus and high blood pressure in the brain. The investigation also measures how long it takes for crew members to return to normal after they return to Earth.

Additional scientific study progressed by way of the Observation and Analysis of Smectic Islands In Space (OASIS) study, which examines the unique behavior of liquid crystals in microgravity.

Zinnia flowers growing in planting “pillows” inside the International Space Station's Veggie facility are showing traces of mold, which will be collected and studied back on Earth. The experiment team will also attempt to correct the mold by increasing the fan speed and trimming and drying the leaves. Veggie is part of the VEG-01 investigation to grow plants in a growth chamber while comparing their progress to ground-based counterparts.

Zinnia flowers growing in planting “pillows” inside the International Space Station’s Veggie facility are showing traces of mold, which will be collected and studied back on Earth. The experiment team will also attempt to correct the mold by increasing the fan speed and trimming and drying the leaves. Veggie is part of the VEG-01 investigation to grow plants in a growth chamber while comparing their progress to ground-based counterparts.

Findings in this area provide insight into structural changes that can occur in the eyes and nervous system, which could be relevant for not only for space travel, but for patients suffering from a range of ocular diseases on Earth, such as glaucoma. On Earth, the data provide information that could be used to help those suffering from brain diseases, such as hydrocephalus and high blood pressure in the brain. The investigation also measures how long it takes for crew members to return to normal after they return to Earth.

Additional scientific study progressed by way of the Observation and Analysis of Smectic Islands In Space (OASIS) study, which examines the unique behavior of liquid crystals in microgravity.

The research team continued with smectic island (a merging of crystal layers) testing on SN003, Chiral Smectic C liquid crystal MX12805. Coarsening experiments, where small particles shrink by losing atoms to larger particles, which then grow, were performed on a thicker bubble at higher temperatures, starting from above 57 degrees Celsius to above 67 degrees Celsius. At around 65 degrees Celsius and above, team was able to observe indications of phase transitions.

View of Radi-N Space Bubble Detectors in their deployed location of the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Pressurized Module (JPM).

View of Radi-N Space Bubble Detectors in their deployed location of the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Pressurized Module (JPM).

 

On Earth, liquid crystals are used for display screens in televisions and other electronics, but they also occur in soaps and in cell membranes. OASIS studies of the behavior of these structures, and how microgravity affects their unique ability to act like both a liquid and a solid crystal. Future space helmets may use certain types of these crystals in small display screens. Understanding how they behave in microgravity will guide design for these displays to help them perform better in space. Greater understanding of the physics behind these structures in space could lead to improved liquid crystal display devices, including devices with improved color contrast and response times, on Earth.

Finally, Kelly discovered what appeared to be mold growing on plants in the Veggie facility. The experiment (Veg-01) team has been monitoring signs of high humidity within the Veggie compartment, and had planned to turn up the interior fan to dry out the environment. The larger plant leaves had become wet due to the formation of droplets – known as guttation – and as a result, created conditions for mold growth. Kelly trimmed the affected plant areas and double bagged and inserted them into a Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) for return to the ground. He also cleaned the plant and hardware surfaces with sanitizing wipes and raised the fan speed to high. The Veg-01 team is looking forward to analyzing the mold-affected plant tissue after it is returned on a cargo mission in 2016. Data from this investigation could benefit agricultural practices on Earth by designing systems that use valuable resources, such as water, more efficiently.

Veggie supports a variety of plant species that can be cultivated for educational outreach, fresh food and even recreation for crew members on long-duration missions. The Veg-01 investigation is used to assess on-orbit function and performance of the Veggie facility, focusing on the growth and development of seedlings in the spaceflight environment and the composition of microbial flora on the plants and the facility.

Further progress made on human research investigations this week included Cognition, Fine Motor Skills, Habitability, Journals, MARROW and Space Headaches. Other investigations that made notable progress included RaDI-N, Dose Tracker, and Vessel ID.

Source: NASA

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