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Top Space Station Research Awards of the Year – Discoveries in Microgravity
July 16, 2013

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Celebrating achievements in International Space Station (ISS) top discoveries in microgravity was the purpose of the first plenary panel at the second annual ISS Research and Development Conference.

Three individuals accepted honors in recognition for their work in this category on July 16, taking part in the panel to highlight their research:

Thomas Lang, Ph.D., professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California San Francisco, recipient of a team award in recognition of outstanding results on Preventing Bone Loss in Long-Duration Spaceflight – named a Top Discovery on the International Space Station in 2012. Lang accepted this award on behalf of those who worked on bone loss in long-duration spaceflight: measurements and countermeasures. This includes Joyce Keyak, Ph.D., for assessment of hip bone strength and fracture risk with QCT data from astronauts; Scott Smith, Ph.D., and colleagues, for the first identified successful countermeasure “prescription” results; and Adrian LeBlanc, Ph.D., for the Bisphosphonates study results on the second successful countermeasure prescription.

Vedha Nayagam, Ph.D., National Center for Space Exploration Research/Case Western Reserve University, in recognition of outstanding results on Cool Flames in Space – named a Top Discovery on the International Space Station in 2012.

Millie Hughes-Fulford, Ph.D., San Francisco Veterans Administration Hospital and University of California San Francisco, in recognition of outstanding results on T cell Activation in Space – named a Top Discovery on the International Space Station in 2012.

“These selected awardees bring exciting results from their space station investigations that are contributing to our knowledge of the laws of physics in space leading to new spaceflight design possibilities and of our bodies response to spaceflight helping with countermeasures to let us further explore space,” said Allyson Thorn, assistant International Space Station Program scientist.

The plenary panel, moderated by Marshall Porterfield, Ph.D., director of NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division, showcases the key contributions and scientific advancements in the fields of Life Science, Physical Science and Human Research.

Lang’s research deals with how the human skeleton adapts to microgravity and how the bones respond to exercise and drug treatments in that setting, as well as upon return to Earth. “With this research, we can better understand how bone changes throughout life, in growth and aging, and how to prevent outcomes such as age-related bone fractures,” said Lang. “This award nicely recognizes the community of NASA and academic researchers in carrying out research to define the extent and characteristics of bone loss in spaceflight and in developing exercise- and drug-based approaches to attack the problem. I am privileged to accept this award on behalf of the researchers who have contributed their hard work and expertise to this critical medical issue.”

The contribution to the area of droplet combustion research that Nayagam discovered during his work on the Flame Extinguishing Experiment (FLEX and FLEX 2) has direct applications to technologies on the ground. “There are practical implications,” said Nayagam, “particularly with new technologies in internal combustion engines. I think this will make a major impact. It was exciting to discover something new, at the same time as something that’s also quite useful on Earth.”

The cool flames results from FLEX revealed a two-stage burning event where a heptane droplet that appeared to extinguish actually continued to vaporize without a visible flame. This knowledge from the microgravity study could contribute to reduced pollution and better mileage in engine design, due to improved prediction of flame behavior during combustion. “In a scientific career it is not that often that one comes across new discoveries, and this is a really interesting discovery particularly in this mature field,” said Nayagam. “People have been working in the area of microgravity droplets for almost 50 years, and this is the first time we’ve seen anything like this.”

Hughes-Fulford’s award for her work in the Leukin study on station helps reveal the inner workings of the body’s immune system. “The ultimate goal of what we’re doing when looking at the bioinformatics is to use that discovery for immune diseases here on Earth,” said Hughes-Fulford. “This work is not just for astronauts going to Mars, though of course we will benefit them too.”

By understanding what activates T cells—the white blood cells that tell the immune system how to function—researchers can engineer better medical treatments that address immunosuppression at the cellular level. “That is the end goal," said Hughes-Fulford, "to find new control points that we have not been able to see in the immune system on Earth because we, for the first time, are able to use an international laboratory in orbit to study immunosuppression under a new condition—the absence of gravity.”

Additional award categories for these space station achievements represented during the other conference plenary panels include top benefits and applications in Earth science, materials and education; top utilization of space station for medical advancements; and top technology applications enabling exploration. The overall theme of the conference for 2013 is Discoveries, Applications and Opportunities. The conference is organized by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) in cooperation with NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

Jessica Nimon
International Space Station Program Science Office
NASA's Johnson Space Center

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Thomas Lang, Ph.D., professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, University of California San Francisco.
Thomas Lang, Ph.D., professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, University of California San Francisco.
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Ialanta Aksamit
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Vedha Nayagam, Ph.D., National Center for Space Exploration Research/Case Western Reserve University.
Vedha Nayagam, Ph.D., National Center for Space Exploration Research/Case Western Reserve University.
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NCSER/Christine Gorecki
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Millie Hughes-Fulford, Ph.D., San Francisco Veterans Administration Hospital and University of California San Francisco
Millie Hughes-Fulford, Ph.D., San Francisco Veterans Administration Hospital and University of California San Francisco.
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Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco
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The second annual ISS Research and Development Conference highlights Discoveries, Applications and Opportunities from International Space Station research and technology.
The second annual ISS Research and Development Conference highlights Discoveries, Applications and Opportunities from International Space Station research and technology.
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NASA
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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: Kristine Rainey