(Highlights: Week of Jan. 23, 2017) – Even though the arrival of the SpaceX 10 resupply spacecraft is still a few weeks away, crew members on the International Space Station began preparing for the many new science payloads that will be brought to them in orbit.
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson configured the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) for the Effect of Macromolecular Transport on Microgravity Protein Crystallization (LMM Biophysics 1) study. The state-of-the-art light imaging microscope facility provides researchers with powerful diagnostic hardware and software on the station enabling microscopic research of phenomena in microgravity. The LMM also allows ground teams to remotely acquire and download digital images and videos across many levels of magnification.
Proteins are important biological molecules that can be crystallized to provide better views of their structure, which helps scientists understand how they work. Using the structural information, researchers can determine how proteins function and which ones are involved in disease processes. The structure is often used to design new drugs that specifically interact with the protein. Proteins crystallized in microgravity are often higher quality than those grown on Earth. The LMM Biophysics 1 investigation studies why this is the case, examining the movement of single protein molecules in microgravity.
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough updated the Multi-User Droplet Apparatus (MDCA) in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) on the space station, installing a new radiometer. The MDCA is used to perform combustion tests using small droplets of various fuels to see how they burn in microgravity. The radiometer measures the intensity of radiant energy.
These updates and changes were for the Cool Flames Investigation. Some types of fuels initially burn very hot, then appear to go out — but they continue burning at a much lower temperature, with no visible flames. These phenomena are called cool flames. Understanding cool flame combustion helps scientists develop new engines and fuels that are more efficient and less harmful to the environment. The Cool Flames Investigation provides new insight into this phenomenon, as well as new data on fire safety in space.
Whitson assisted Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Andrey Borisenko and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet conduct ultrasounds and measurements for the study Fluid Shifts Before, During, and After Prolonged Space Flight and Their Association with Intracranial Pressure and Visual Impairment (Fluid Shifts). This included sessions for all three men in the Chibis pants – a specially designed pair of pants that provide negative pressure to the lower part of the body to help pull fluids back down toward the feet.
One of the main risks for humans during long-duration space missions is change in vision. More than half of American astronauts experience vision changes and other physical alterations to parts of their eyes during and after long-duration spaceflight. It is hypothesized that the fluid shift toward the head that occurs during spaceflight leads to increased pressure in the brain, which may push on the back of the eye, causing it to change shape. Fluid Shifts measures how much fluid shifts from the lower body to the upper body, in or out of cells and blood vessels, and determines the impact these shifts have on fluid pressure in the head, changes in vision and eye structures.
Scientists want to develop preventive measures against these and other physiological changes during spaceflight. Results from the Fluid Shifts investigation also may improve understanding of how blood pressure in the brain specifically affects eye shape and vision, which could benefit people confined to long-term bed rest, or suffering from disease states that increase swelling and pressure in the brain.
Crew members conducted other human research investigations this week, including Biochemical Profile, Repository, Marrow, Fine Motor Skills, Habitability, Space Headaches, Lighting Effects, Multi-Omics and Dose Tracker.