WASHINGTON – SpaceX’s 26th commercial resupply mission, targeted to launch to the International Space Station on Nov. 18, will feature several new experiments and technology to advance the health of astronauts, NASA announced in a media preview Wednesday.
“The ISS is an amazing multi-disciplinary lab offering unique access to long-duration microgravity and the low-Earth orbit. Each CRS mission brings a wealth of new research to the station,” said Kirt Costello, NASA’s chief scientist for the International Space Station Program Research Office.
The mission will launch on the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket from the launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, said Josh Finch, a NASA communications official.
CIPHER Vestibular Health
CIPHER’s vestibular health study will test the newly launched Falcon Goggles, a tool for examining how an astronaut’s balance adapts in space, said study leader Timothy Macaulay.
The goggles will use unobtrusive cameras to track eye movements to understand how spaceflight impacts the astronauts’ eye health and balance over time.
Experiments will test eye and head movement while the astronauts actively move in set patterns and while another crew member passively moves an astronaut.
“We know that there are significant vestibular and sensorimotor adaptations during spaceflight, especially around gravity transitions, like when first going to space and when landing back on Earth,” Macaulay said.
This process can cause astronauts to experience motion sickness and deficits in both perceptual and motor functions, which are normal adaptations. Still, they may happen quickly and become more severe during longer missions.
“(The changes) can impact astronauts’ abilities to perform critical mission tasks during future deep-space exploration,” Macaulay said.
The team is developing countermeasures to help astronauts in flight and post-flight, specifically for long-term space missions, by adapting existing vestibular treatments to help patients balance on the ground.
NASA’s space crop production team’s Veg-05 study will grow three tomato harvests for the spring of next year, testing new growing technologies, said Gioia Massa, the study’s principal investigator.
“Plants are a nutritious, palatable food source we can grow for the crew during spaceflight. This has the potential to promote health, provide bioavailable nutrients, enhance the dietary experience and reduce things like menu fatigue,” Massa said.
The study will examine the psychological impacts of having plants on board and growing and caring for them. The astronauts will also be surveyed for their moods after consuming fresh produce.
“The crew members, after they eat the fruit, will be asked to rate the flavor, the texture, the juiciness of the produce grown under the different light treatments,” Massa said.
Crew members will grow Red Robin tomato seeds in NASA’s Veggie plant growth unit using plant pillows, which have coarse clay to trap the water and air into the root zone of the plants.
Massa said that the plants would be fed with slow-release, polymer-coated fertilizer and exposed to LED lights with different levels of blue and red to learn about the impact of lighting on plant growth in space.
Looking forward, the teams are developing larger crop production hardware for future plant experiments for the Moon.
“Tomatoes are going to be a great crop for the Moon. They’re very nutritious and delicious, and we think the astronauts will be really excited to grow them there,” Massa said.
The Moon Microscope technology is a portable test kit for in-flight medical diagnosis, said Mayra Nelman-Gonzalez, an immunologist in NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s Immunology and Virology Laboratory.
The kit includes a portable, handheld microscope that connects wirelessly to any smart device with Wi-Fi and materials to pull and image blood samples.
“Although we don’t have a profound clinical problem on the space station, crew members do experience changes in their immune systems,” Newman-Gonzalez said. “So when we go for deep space missions, the stressors increase, and our ability to care for the crew is reduced, and that combination increases certain clinical risks.”
Moon Microscope technology can also be used in hard-to-reach areas on Earth as well, Nelman-Gonzalez said. A layman can perform the blood smear and stain from the field, and send the image to doctors for analysis.
“Any sample that can be placed on a slide, we can image… as long as there are small particles, not necessarily a giant rock,” Nelman-Gonzalez said.
The BioNutrients-2 experiment will test new preservation methods for microbes and organisms in space conditions, explained John A. Hogan, chief of the bioengineering branch at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
“Biomanufacturing may end up being an important component of future long-duration missions that involve human habitats on the Moon, and especially Mars because they allow us to make the products there rather than bring them there,” Hogan said.
For long-term space missions to other planets, food and medical supplies need a stable shelf life of at least five years to be considered reliable.
“Studies have shown that the shelf life of certain vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals is too short for these long missions,” Hogan said.
Over six months, crew members will be testing a new, lightweight bag system to store and grow microbes in microgravity on the space station. These results will support the development of a future three-year experiment to engineer a nutrient-dense yeast strain.
The team is exploring ways to produce fermented milk products like yogurt and kefir on board a spaceflight using shelf-stable powdered milk, which could provide probiotics, nutrients, and medicinal products to crew members.
“Our team is also working to find efficient ways to use local resources like carbon dioxide to make the media needed to enable large-scale biomanufacturing,” Hogan said.
NASA will be launching two new rollout solar arrays on the space station called iROSAs, aimed at increasing the space station’s onboard power capacity, said Matt Mickle, Boeing’s developmental projects senior manager.
The first two iROSAs were launched last year and have been performing “extremely well,” Mickle said, each providing about 10 kilowatts of power generation capacity.
Crew members will install the new solar arrays over two spacewalks, planned for Nov. 28 and Dec. 1.
“With a successful installation, that means we’ll be about halfway through our upgrade of the legacy solar system that’s been in orbit for over 20 years,” Mickle said.
This article was originally published on CNSMaryland.org and is republished with permission.