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Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Feb. 6, 2023

image of the moon as seen from the space station
The waxing gibbous Moon is pictured above Earth’s horizon as the International Space Station orbits some 250 miles above the Gulf of Mexico.
Credits: NASA
image of the crew posing for a photo in the space station
Roscosmos cosmonauts Dmitri Petelin and Anna Kikina and NASA astronaut Nicole Mann pose inside the International Space Station’s Columbus laboratory module.
Credits: Roscosmos

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Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Feb. 6 that included assessing cardiovascular and respiratory changes in spaceflight, testing the brain’s ability to regulate blood flow, and monitoring radiation exposure with optical fibers.

Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place aboard the orbiting lab:

Assessing blood pressure regulation

Spaceflight causes changes to the human body that can affect an astronaut’s capacity to maintain blood pressure. Many astronauts experience lightheadedness or faint when they return to Earth, which may be related to changes in blood flow to the brain. These conditions represent a challenge for future long-duration missions, particularly those that involve activities in different levels of gravity, such as on Mars or the Moon. Crew members conducted two investigations that address blood pressure issues during the week.

CARDIOBREATH, an investigation from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), studies the combined effect of cardiovascular and respiratory changes on blood pressure regulation during spaceflight. Results could support development of ways to deal with these risks. Since spaceflight-induced changes to the body resemble those associated with aging, the investigation also may contribute to better health care and improved quality of life for the elderly on Earth.

Even when the heart cannot maintain an ideal blood pressure, the brain can adjust to self-regulate its blood flow. Cerebral Autoregulation, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) investigation, tests whether this ability improves in microgravity. A better understanding of how blood flow changes in space could lead to improved treatments and possible countermeasures for space-related lightheadedness. On Earth, when the brain cannot compensate for a sudden drop in blood pressure, a person can become lightheaded or have fainting episodes. Results could help address this problem as well.

Real-time radiation monitoring

Lumina, an investigation from ESA (European Space Agency), monitors the radiation dose inside the space station with a dosimeter that uses optical fibers that darken when exposed to radiation. This technology could provide reliable, real-time measurements in complex radiation environments such as those on future space exploration missions. The dosimeter also could show fluctuations in levels of ionizing radiation in real time, providing the ability to anticipate and react appropriately to potentially dangerous radiation flares. Fiber-based dosimeters show promise for use in the medical and nuclear industries on Earth as well. During the week, crew members transferred collected data to the ground via a dedicated app.

Other investigations involving the crew:

image of an astronaut installing experiment hardware
Credits: NASA
  • FLUIDICS, an ESA investigation, evaluates behaviors of liquid in a sphere as a model for what happens in a spacecraft’s fuel tank. Results could support improvements in satellite fuel management and expand satellite lifespan. This investigation also may help provide a better understanding of Earth’s oceans and optimize the use of ocean-based renewable energy.
  • ESA’s GRASP examines the effect of microgravity on coordination of the hand and visual environment to control reaching for and grasping an object. Results could help researchers evaluate how the brain adapts to microgravity and inform the development of better systems and procedures for living in space.
  • Sphere Camera-1, sponsored by the ISS National Lab, evaluates the performance of an ultra-high-resolution camera in microgravity. Results could support design and development of cameras with greater resolution, detail, and sharpness for imaging needs on future exploration missions, including to the Moon and Mars.
  • Particle Vibration, an investigation from ESA, examines the mechanisms of self-organization of particles in fluids. Results could improve our understanding of fluids with dispersed solid particles, which are used in cooling systems for heat exchangers and solar energy collectors in space and in nuclear reactors and electronics on Earth.
  • Plant Habitat-03 assesses whether epigenetic adaptations in one generation of plants grown in space can transfer to the next generation. Results could provide insight into how to grow repeated generations of crops to provide food and other services on future space missions.
  • Veg-05 uses the station’s Veggie facility to grow dwarf tomatoes and examine the effect of light quality and fertilizer on fruit production, microbial food safety, nutritional value, taste acceptability by the crew, and overall behavioral health benefits. Growing plants to provide fresh food and enhance the overall living experience for crew members supports future long-duration missions.

The space station, a robust microgravity laboratory with a multitude of specialized research facilities and tools, has supported many scientific breakthroughs from investigations spanning every major scientific discipline. The ISS Benefits for Humanity 2022 publication details the expanding universe of results realized from more than 20 years of experiments conducted on the station.

For daily updates, follow @ISS_Research, Space Station Research and Technology News or our Facebook. Follow ISS National Lab for information on its sponsored investigations. For opportunities to see the space station pass over your town, check out Spot the Station.

John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist

Expedition 68