Experiments on board include examining how water bears tolerate space, whether microgravity affects symbiotic relationships, analyzing kidney stone formation, and more
The 22nd SpaceX cargo replenishment mission with scientific research and technology demonstrations will start at the earliest on June 3 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station ISS. Experiments on board include examining how water bears tolerate space, whether microgravity affects symbiotic relationships, analyzing the formation of kidney stones, and more.
Highlights of the payloads on this replenishment mission include:
Water bears take up space
Tardigrades, known as water bears because of their appearance under a microscope and their common aquatic habitat, are tiny creatures that tolerate more extreme environments than most life forms. This makes them a model organism for research into biological survival under extreme conditions on earth and in space. In addition, the researchers sequenced the genome of the tardigrade Hypsibius exemplaris and developed methods to measure how different environmental conditions affect the tardigrade’s gene expression. Cell Science-04 characterizes the molecular biology of short term and intergenerational survival of water bears and identifies the genes involved in adaptation and survival in high stress environments.
The results could advance the understanding of human stressors in space and support the development of countermeasures. “Space travel can be a really challenging environment for organisms, including humans, that have evolved to adapt to the conditions on earth,” says lead researcher Thomas Boothby. “One of the things we really want to do is understand how tardigrades survive and reproduce in these environments, and whether we can learn about their tricks and adapt them to protect the astronauts.”
Symbiotic squid and microbes in weightlessness
UMAMI studies the effects of space travel on the molecular and chemical interactions between beneficial microbes and their animal hosts. Microbes play an important role in the normal development of animal tissues and in the maintenance of human health. “Animals, including humans, depend on our microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system,” says Jamie Foster, UMAMI study director. “We don’t fully understand how space travel is changing these beneficial interactions. The UMAMI experiment uses a glow-in-the-dark bobtail squid to address these important animal health issues. “
The bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, is an animal model used to study symbiotic relationships between two species. This investigation will help determine if space travel is changing the mutually beneficial relationship, which could aid the development of protective and mitigation measures to maintain the health of astronauts on long-term space missions. The work could also lead to a better understanding of the complex interactions between animals and beneficial microbes, including new and novel ways in which microbes communicate with animal tissues. This knowledge could help find ways to protect and improve these relationships in order to achieve better health and wellbeing on earth as well.
Ultrasound on site
Butterfly IQ Ultrasound demonstrates the use of a portable ultrasound device in conjunction with a mobile computing device in weightlessness. The investigation collects feedback from the crew for ease of use and quality of the ultrasound images, including image acquisition, display and storage.
“This type of commercial off-the-shelf technology could provide vital medical capabilities for future exploration missions beyond low-earth orbit where immediate ground support is not available,” says Kadambari Suri, integration manager for the Butterfly iQ Technology demonstration, also examining the effectiveness of just-in-time Instructions for the autonomous use of the device by the crew are included. ”The technology also has potential applications for medical care in remote and isolated environments on Earth.
Developing Better Robot Drivers
Pilote, a study by ESA (European Space Agency) and the Center National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), tests the effectiveness of remote control of robotic arms and spacecraft using virtual reality and haptic interfaces or simulated touches and movements. Ergonomics tests for controlling robotic arms and spacecraft must be performed in microgravity as designs from earth-based tests would use ergonomic principles that do not match the conditions of a spacecraft in orbit. Pilote compares existing and new technologies, including those recently developed for teleoperation and others used to control the Canadarm2 and Soyuz spacecraft. The study also compares the performance of astronauts on the ground and during longer space missions. The results could help optimize the ergonomics of workplaces on the space station and future spacecraft for missions to the moon and Mars.
Protecting the kidneys in space and on earth
Some crew members are more likely to develop kidney stones during flight, which can affect their health and the success of the mission. The Kidney Cells-02 study uses a 3D kidney cell model (or tissue chip) to study the effects of microgravity on the formation of microcrystals that can lead to kidney stones. It is part of the Tissue Chips in Space Initiative, a partnership between the ISS US National Laboratory and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health, to analyze the effects of microgravity on human health and translate them into improvements to implement on earth. This investigation could reveal critical pathways in the development and progression of kidney disease, potentially leading to therapies for the treatment and prevention of kidney stones for astronauts and for 1 in 10 people on earth who develop them.
“With this study, we hope to identify biomarkers or ‘signatures’ of cellular changes that occur during the formation of kidney stones,” says study leader Ed Kelly. “This can lead to novel therapeutic interventions. The reason for carrying out this study on the space station is that the microcrystals behave as they do in our own kidneys, ie they get stuck in the kidney chip tubes and do not sink to the ground, as is the case in laboratories on Earth. “
Manufacture of harder cotton
Cotton plants that overexpress a certain gene show an increased resistance to stress factors such as drought and, under certain stress conditions, provide 20% more cotton fibers than plants without this property. This stress resistance has been experimentally linked to an improved root system that can tap into a greater volume of soil for water and nutrients. Targeting Improved Cotton Through On-orbit Cultivation (TICTOC) examines how the structure of the root system affects plant resistance, water use efficiency and carbon sequestration during the critical phase of seedling formation. Root growth patterns depend on gravity, and TICTOC could help define which environmental factors and genes control root development in the absence of gravity.
Cotton is used in a wide variety of consumer products, from clothing to bedsheets and coffee filters, but the effects of its manufacture include significant water consumption and heavy use of agrochemicals. “We hope to uncover features of root system formation that breeders and scientists can use to improve properties such as drought resistance or nutrient uptake, both of which are key factors in the environmental impact of modern agriculture,” says lead researcher Simon Gilroy. An improved understanding of the cotton root systems and the associated gene expression could enable the development of more robust cotton plants and reduce the use of water and pesticides.
New solar panels will be deployed to increase the available energy for research and other activities on board. The ISS Roll-out Solar Array (iROSA) consists of compact panels that are based on the technology previously demonstrated on the station and roll up like a long carpet. Expedition 65 crew is scheduled to begin preparations this summer to add the first pair of six new arrays to the station’s existing rigid panels.
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