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Science Highlight: IAC Panel Highlights New Era of Utilization for International Space Station Research
Dr. Yoshiro Urade shares his presentation with the IAC Plenary 7 audience. Dr. Yoshiro Urade shares his presentation, A Success Story of Cosmic Drugging on ISS: Drug Therapy for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, with the IAC Plenary 7 audience. (IAC2010 video screen capture)
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During its first decade, the International Space Station not only underwent construction, but managed to simultaneously host the research of diverse scientists from around the world. The resulting body of knowledge persists as research continues on the space station, providing the topic for the 2010 International Astronautical Congress, or IAC, Plenary 7 session: ISS Research -- A Decade of Progress and a Decade of Promise. With over 2,500 attendees, this annual gathering of the space community includes experts in space development, activities and research. Space station Program Scientist Julie Robinson, NASA's Johnson Space Center, moderated the discussion topic, leading a dialogue between a group of international scientists as they shared their activities and results of research on the space station.

Mike Raftery, Deputy Program Manager, space station Space Exploration Systems, The Boeing Company, noted that the space station in-and-of-itself is an experiment, promoting engineering feats in addition to scientific research. "We have a set of solar cells that are part of the MISSE experiment that will allow us to see which one of these designs has a better lifetime and can produce power over the long run, which is very important for our spacecraft."

Dr. Alexander Choukér, Clinic of Anesthesiology, University of Munich, discussed the important tests of human health and performance that are possible on the space station, highlighting the criticality of such studies for future space exploration. "We are not prepared to stay in space so far...we should think about how we can best prepare and how we can best mimic a really extreme long-duration manned exploration mission. I think this might be a very interesting aspect for future use of the International Space Station to extend missions, for example to one year or longer, to come a little bit closer to the conditions similar to an exploration flight. To better prepare the crew, to better understand the physiological changes, and also to find the right tools to diagnose changes, as well as to find countermeasures. So I think ISS will be very very useful and the platform for further long duration manned missions."

Canadian Space Agency, or CSA, Director, Life and Physical Sciences, Space Exploration, Dr. Nicole Buckley spoke to the importance of microgravity research in small organisms. "When we think of life as we know it, it has all evolved with the field of gravity. Most scientists will tell you, when they want to know what something does, you take it away and see what happens. The space station has given us the opportunity to take away a fundamental of life as we know it and see what happens."

Space station research not only adds to collective scientific knowledge, but stands to directly improve human circumstances. Dr. Yoshiro Urade, Department of Molecular Behavior Biology Osaka Bioscience Institute, Japan, shared a brief presentation, titled A Success Story of Cosmic Drugging on ISS: Drug Therapy for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Using protein crystal growth with experiments on the space station. Dr. Urade hopes to find answers for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a crippling disease leading to early death. Better quality protein crystals, grown in space, gave insight into molecular structure, leading to a new treatment currently in testing via ground research. Dr. Urade showed dramatic video of the effect of this treatment, which helped prevent disease progression in beagles as models for the disease in humans. Dr. Urade explains that the resulting data, combined with ground research, demonstrates promising results. "This data clearly shows we have a chance to slow the progress of the DMD in humans."

Dusty plasma crystals also benefit from research on the space station, according to Professor Vladimir Fortov, Academician Division of Energetics, Machinery, Mechanics and Control Systems, RAS, Russia. "Under Earth conditions, the gravity squeezes the plasma crystal and it becomes 2-D, not 3-D. Space station experiments or space experiments allows us to see the real property of the crystals...only the space station allows us to do that."

The panel also cited the need for ongoing support to continue space station research. Dr. Urade notes that there is pressure regarding funding, prompting the need to highlight human benefits. He pointed to his study as an example of how basic science contributes to public health. "[DMD gene therapy] is only one example, but if so many scientists have the affinity to try space experiments, then other examples will be coming and we will learn about how to use the microgravity conditions."

Continued participation on an international level is optimal to space station utilization, noted Professor Fortov. "Our challenge is to propose new experiments, to propose new ideas for space station…in all fields." Dr. Choukér echoed this outlook. "The space station will always be the golden standard, because there you have all the stressors that are imposed on the human body that are not evolutionary."

The entire one-hour plenary discussion can be viewed online at YouTube.

Also see recently published perspectives on research strategy from the international scientific community at: The Era of International Space Station Utilization.
by Jessica Nimon
NASA's Johnson Space Center
International Space Station Program Science Office