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July 7, 2015


NASA Book Shows How Space Station Research Offers "Benefits for Humanity"

A new book from NASA is showing how research aboard the International Space Station helps improve lives on Earth while advancing NASA's ambitious human exploration goals.

NASA will release “Benefits for Humanity” online and in print at the fourth annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference, which is being held Tuesday through Thursday in Boston. The book highlights benefits in a number of key areas including human health, disaster relief and education programs to inspire future scientists, engineers and space explorers.

NASA's "Benefits for Humanity” book highlights International Space Station research off the Earth for the Earth that improves lives.

Credits: NASA

"Some 250 miles overhead, astronauts are conducting critical research not possible on Earth, which makes tremendous advances in our lives while helping to expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations. "Since 2012, this research has been carried to orbit by our U.S. commercial cargo providers Orbital ATK and SpaceX. Both companies will return to flight soon, having learned from recent challenges to perform even stronger. In the next few years, SpaceX and Boeing will send our crews to orbit from the United States, increasing the size of space station crews to seven, doubling the amount of crew time to conduct research for all of humanity." 

The space station, which has been continuously occupied since November 2000, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. It is an unprecedented success in global cooperation to build and operate a research platform in space. In a partnership between five member space agencies representing 15 countries, it advances a unified goal to utilize the orbiting laboratory for the betterment of humanity. The partner agencies include NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

"People do not realize how much their lives today have been made better by the space station," said Julie Robinson, NASA International Space Station chief scientist. "You would be surprised to know that station research has resulted in devices that can help control asthma and sensor systems that significantly improve our ability to monitor the Earth and respond to natural hazards and catastrophes, among many other discoveries." 

Scientists use the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), also known as Kibo, to research effective drugs that may improve the lives of patients suffering around the globe.

"The International Space Station and Kibo remind me of a computer," said Kazuyuki Tasaki, deputy director of the JAXA JEM Utilization Center. "After being invented, the computer disseminated diverse public knowledge applicable in many fields, such as computing, simulation, word processing, games and the Internet. The space station and Kibo also offer huge potential for benefitting humankind."

Since 2010, the Vessel-ID System, installed on ESA’s Columbus module, has improved the ship tracking ability of coast guards around the world and even aided rescue services for a lone shipwreck survivor stranded in the North Sea. 

"The International Space Station with its European Columbus laboratory is steadily producing lots of important research results which are relevant for many areas of life on Earth," said Martin Zell, head of ESA’s Space Station Utilisation and Support. "Experimental demonstration of new technologies, as well as the interaction between astronauts and younger generations on Earth for educational activities are invaluable benefits from the permanent human space laboratory in low-Earth orbit."

CSA’s robotic heavy-lifters aboard the space shuttle and station, Canadarm, Canadarm2 and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (Dextre), inspired medical technology that is changing the lives of patients on Earth.

"Technologies developed for the assembly and maintenance of the station are helping to save lives here on Earth," said Nicole Buckley, CSA chief scientist, Life Sciences and ISS utilization. "The Canadian robotics system that helped build and now operates on the International Space Station has led to tools that give doctors new ways to detect cancer, operate on sick children, and perform neurosurgery on patients once considered to be inoperable."

In addition to the updated benefits book, NASA released its third iteration of the International Space Station Reference Guide, which explains what the space station does and how it works. This release focuses on the station’s capabilities to perform pioneering science in its microgravity environment. To date, 83 countries have taken part in more than 1,700 experiments and educational efforts on this world-class laboratory in space.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), who is hosting the conference in cooperation with the American Astronautical Society and NASA, is releasing a new research-focused, interactive website that provides tools, information and resources to give researchers a competitive edge sending new investigations to the space station. Visit the website at:


For more information about the International Space Station and research aboard the orbiting laboratory, visit:


Live-streaming of the International Space Station Research and Development Conference is available at:



Trent J. Perrotto
Headquarters, Washington

Dan Huot
Johnson Space Center, Houston

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

Benefits to You

July 1, 2015

ISS Benefits For Humanity: Hope Crystallizes

In one of many direct Earth applications of International Space Station research, the newest Benefits for Humanity video in the Benefits series highlights how high-quality crystals grown in microgravity lead to new therapeutics for disease. Learn how the investigation of protein crystals in space is helping to treat Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), an incurable genetic disorder affecting the muscles with onset usually in early childhood and primarily in young males.

In microgravity, crystals grow more slowly, but the molecules have time to more perfectly align on the surface of the crystal which returns much better research data.

Credits: NASA

Research into a disease like DMD involves the study of the structure of associated proteins by crystallization, which helps researchers better understand protein function. This comprises making millions of copies of that protein and arranging them in three-dimensional rows. Crystals grown on Earth are impacted by gravity, which may affect the way the molecules align on the surface of the crystal. Researchers have discovered that growing crystals aboard the space station allows for slower growth and higher quality crystals.

Since 2003, scientists with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have conducted protein crystal growth investigations on the space station, including proteins associated with DMD. Having a better understanding of the protein’s shape enabled researchers to design a drug that fits specifically into a location on the protein associated with DMD. The research team estimates that the drug may be able to slow the progression of DMD by half.

“Studying this protein led to a huge discovery,” said Dr. Yoshihiro Urade, Ph.D., professor at the University of Tsukuba in Tsukuba, Japan. “What we’re talking about is potentially doubling the lifespan of many DMD patients, and it’s all because of research opportunities afforded to us by the International Space Station.”

With many other protein crystal growth studies occurring or planned aboard the space station, many thousands of other proteins’ structures could be determined. This is yet another way the orbiting laboratory is enabling research Off the Earth, For the Earth

Laura Niles
International Space Station Program Science Office and Public Affairs Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Space Station

June 12, 2015

Returned Space Station Crew Members Helped Advance NASA's Journey to Mars, Benefits to Humanity

Though they had conducted hundreds of science and technology experiments aboard the International Space Station during their 199 days in orbit, the three crew members returning to Earth Thursday had at least one important experiment waiting for them on the ground. Inside a medical tent, researchers put the explorers through a battery of tests, measuring their balance and ability to navigate tasks, like stepping over obstacles. Astronauts landing on Mars after a similarly long duration in space won't have the benefit of a medical team waiting for them. Understanding how the human body re-adapts to gravity is key to planning for future human missions deeper into the solar system.

A final image of Earth taken by Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA aboard the International Space Station hours before returning home on Thursday, June 11, 2015.

Credits: NASA

Experiments like the Field Test are just one of the ways space station crews are helping advance NASA's journey to Mars while making discoveries that can benefit all of humanity. New science and technology investigations were daily activities for NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency), and Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) aboard the orbiting laboratory during Expeditions 42 and 43.

The hundreds of experiments taking place aboard the space station represent a wide range of scientific disciplines, including biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human research, physical sciences, technology, and educational activities.

Research highlights from the returned crew members' time aboard the space station include the first 3-d printed tool in space. The capability could be key in helping astronauts become more independent on missions far from Earth. 

The human body experiences numerous changes in microgravity. Mitigating challenges like loss of bone and muscle mass are some of the reasons astronauts exercise two hours a day while in space. A recent experiment conducted by the space station crew is looking to solve the puzzle of why more than half of astronauts experience changes in their vision. The Fluid Shifts experiment tests one theory by using special pants to help pull fluids from an astronaut's upper body to their legs – similar to the effect gravity has on our bodies here on Earth.

A similar experiment called Drain Brain, conducted by the crew, uses a neck collar to relieve pressure from inside an astronaut's head, which could help relieve headaches caused by lack of gravity.

Other experiments conducted by the crew, like Coarsening in Solid Mixtures-4, have a direct benefit to humanity – in this case, helping improve the design of manufactured materials.

Those on social media who followed posts by Virts (@AstroTerry) and Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) may have seen online conversation "buzzing" about the new espresso machine that arrived on the space station in April. While providing a creature comfort to the crew on orbit, the Capillary Beverage study is testing real science, helping researchers better understand how fluids move in space.

Many of their social media posts helped capture the imagination of people around the world with spectacular views of Earth, including this time lapse of a blizzard over the east coast of the United States in January. The space station's vantage point 250 miles above the planet provides researchers a unique opportunity to study our changing Earth right now.

In March, Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov welcomed three new crew members to the orbital outpost: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos. Kelly and Kornienko will spend one year aboard the space station to further test the effects of long-duration microgravity on the human body.

The returned crew members also greeted four cargo spacecraft, including two SpaceX Dragon vehicles which launched multiple experiments to orbit and returned science samples to Earth. NASA's work with the U.S. commercial space industry is opening low-Earth orbit to new opportunities for economic growth and private research like never before. NASA plans to use a new generation of spacecraft, privately developed and operated by Boeing and SpaceX, to launch astronauts to the space station once again from the United States. During his space station stay, Virts conducted three spacewalks to help reconfigure the space station in preparation for these U.S. commercial crew flights (Watch GoPro video of the most recent spacewalk).

Research on the returned crew members will continue over the next few weeks, as they acclimate to life back in gravity, providing key data for future crews training for life aboard the space station, off the Earth for the Earth.

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Trent Perrotto

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Journey to Mars, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Space Station

June 5, 2015

NASA, Commercial Industry Creating Historic Economic Opportunities

NASA officials and U.S. commercial space partners ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Thursday, June 4, 2015. NASA is working with commercial industry to enable new research aboard the International Space Station that benefits humanity and stimulate other economic opportunities from spaceflight.

Credits: NYSE

 in the history of spaceflight has potential for economic growth been so widespread or space so accessible to American industry, researchers, innovators and explorers.

Today, American companies are sending hundreds of experiments to orbit that improve products and benefit our lives on Earth. Students are monitoring satellites of their own design while scientists are studying Earth right now, in real-time, from orbit. NASA astronauts are advancing the knowledge we need to send humans on our Journey to Mars. It's a reality made possible by the International Space Station and the U.S. commercial space industry, opening the high frontier of space.

Some 250 miles overhead, space station astronauts are hard at work on experiments not possible on Earth, carried to space by NASA's commercial and international partners. The lack of gravity inside the space station and extreme environment of space outside our orbiting outpost create new possibilities for research in areas ranging from medical treatments, advanced materials manufacturing, robotics and even efficient water recycling and plant growth. The space station's altitude and inclination also provide a unique vantage point for commercial companies to experiment with Earth-monitoring and -viewing equipment.

The space station is a national asset that actively improves lives on our home planet. In fact, a portion of the space station has been designated a U.S. National Laboratory dedicated to wide-ranging scientific research.

Businesses, researchers and educators interested in learning about the space station's facilities and how to fly experiments to orbit can work with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the national lab under a cooperative agreement with NASA and helps maximize its use. The nonprofit CASIS selects research and funds projects, and connects investors and scientists, making access to the station faster and easier while fostering America's new space economy.

To date, CASIS has provided millions in funding for dozens of experiments successfully flown to the space station and returned to researchers on Earth. Companies like Merck, Novartis and Proctor & Gamble have made research advances aboard the laboratory. Current and upcoming CASIS-sponsored research could transform understanding of physical and life sciences, clean energy, materials manufacturing and our changing planet.

A significant portion of the commercial research taking place aboard the station is made possible by NanoRacks hardware. The company has invested privately raised capital toprovide laboratory facilities for small payloads, including cubesats deployed from the space station, that make research faster and more affordable. Future plans include an external module for experiments that will be attached to the outside of the orbiting complex.

Under its cooperative agreement with NASA, CASIS will co-host this year’s ISS Research and Development Conference with the American Astronautical Society in Boston July 7-9. Attendees will learn more about the space station’s research potential. NASA is also collaborating in the upcoming Space Commerce Conference and Exposition (SpaceCom) in Houston Nov. 17-19, which will explore opportunities for business innovation in space across the medical, energy, transportation, communications and advanced manufacturing industries.

Emerging commercial opportunities in low-Earth orbit are made possible by the growing U.S. commercial spaceflight industry, which will play a leading role this century in opening space for public and private innovation. Two U.S. commercial partners, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, are routinely providing cargo transportation services aboard new spacecraft and rockets. The increased cadence of launches has significantly increased the amount of research being conducted.

NASA also plans to use a new generation of spacecraft, privately developed and operated by Boeing and SpaceX, to carry as many as four astronauts per mission, increasing the space station crew complement to seven and doubling the amount of scientific research that can be performed. Preparations are already taking place to reconfigure the space station in preparation for commercial crew. 

NASA's work with commercial industry for low-Earth orbit transportation benefits the American public in two important ways. First, it allows NASA to expand human exploration efforts to destinations deeper in the solar system, including to an asteroid and Mars. Commercial companies are providing many of the key innovations needed for these missions now and in the future.

The second benefit is economic, with NASA stimulating the growth of a robust U.S. commercial space industry. NASA's Commercial Crew Program alone has more than 150 subcontractors across 37 states helping create modern space systems for low-Earth orbit transportation. This means high-paying careers in the critical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields that will ensure the United States maintains its leadership in 21st century spaceflight. New markets are emerging with these new capabilities in spaceflight, creating the potential for private research, space tourism and other endeavors beyond the public purposes of NASA's space exploration.

Perhaps most importantly, NASA's work with the private sector to enable research and new transportation systems is creating a modern space age, where opportunities just beyond our atmosphere are open to everyone, limited only by our imaginations.

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Trent Perrotto

Tags:  Benefits to You, Commercial Crew, Commercial Resupply, Commercial Space, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Benefits to You

May 23, 2015

Watching Worms Will Help Humans Age More Gracefully

Caenorhabditis elegans -- a millimeter-long roundworm with a genetic makeup scientists understand -- is central to a pair of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency investigations into muscle and bone loss of astronauts on the International Space Station.

Credits: NASA

Caenorhabditis elegans culture chambers for the Space Aging experiment aboard the International Space Station.

Credits: JAXA

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly working with the Space Aging investigation and the Cell Biology Experiment Facility rack in the Japanese Experiment Module of the International Space Station.

Credits: NASA

The plot of many a science fiction TV series or movie revolves around the premise that people traveling long distances in space age more slowly than their counterparts on Earth. Now, tiny worms who spent time aboard the International Space Station could help humans understand more about the effects of aging in space for real.

Many studies document changes that happen to the human body in microgravity, including a decrease in heart function and loss of bone and muscle. The mechanisms behind these changes still are not well-understood and also may play a role in the rate at which organisms – including astronauts – age in space. A recent study called Space Aging, with samples returning aboard the sixth SpaceX resupply mission, will compare the health and longevity of roundworms aboard the station with others remaining on Earth. The roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is about 1 millimeter (some 0.04 inches) long with a life span of only two months, making it an ideal model organism for such a study.

“Aging rate and lifespan could be influenced by microgravity,” says principal investigator Yoko Honda, Ph.D., with the Tokyo Metropolitan Geriatric Hospital and Institute of Gerontology. “If that is correct, we may be able to identify novel genes that play a role in longevity.” Identification of such genes could contribute to development of new drugs to treat age-related illnesses such as neurodegenerative disease in humans.

The worms were cultivated to all reach young adult stage at the same time. The ones sent to space were cultured inside boxes in the station’s Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF), located inside the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM)—also known as Kibo, meaning hope in Japanese. The CBEF has one compartment under microgravity conditions and another compartment where a centrifuge provides artificial gravity. This allowed researchers to compare the aging rate of worms in microgravity, simulated gravity, and Earth’s gravity.

Each box has four cameras, controlled from the ground in Tsukuba, Japan, that filmed the worms for three minutes each day. The researchers developed special software to analyze the activity level of each worm as a marker of its aging rate, given that older organisms typically move more slowly. Any roundworm that did not move for three minutes would be assumed to have died.

Video images were transmitted to the ground daily for review, according to Sachiko Yano, Ph.D., life science mission scientist with the JEM Utilization Center at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). At the end of the expedition, the worms were frozen and stowed for return to the ground for gene analysis.

Understanding how microgravity affects our aging process is critical to long-duration space missions such as those to Mars and other planets—not only to protect astronauts, but also any organisms used in life support hardware such as plants or bacteria in bioregenerative systems. Any such organisms adversely affected by microgravity-caused changes to aging processes would have limited usefulness for lengthy space travel.

Even for those of us who never leave the Earth, this work on C. elegans could help realize those sci-fi dreams of living long and prospering.

The common roundworm shares a surprising amount of genetic material with humans - enough, in fact, to make them the good substitutes for astronauts in low-gravity medical studies.

Credits: NASA

Melissa Gaskill
International Space Station Program Science Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Space Station Research

May 22, 2015

SpinSat and Things That Slither Splashdown With End of Sixth SpaceX Mission

View of SpaceX Dragon CRS during undocking. Photo was taken during Expedition 41.

Credits: NASA

Caenorhabditis elegans -- a millimeter-long roundworm with a genetic makeup scientists understand -- is central to a pair of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency investigations into muscle and bone loss of astronauts on the International Space Station.

Credits: NASA

The Special Purpose Inexpensive Satellite (SpinSat) gets readied for deployment from the International Space Station.

Credits: NASA

The International Space Station had worms. Roundworms to be exact, but those and several other samples, hardware and data are now returning aboard the completed sixth SpaceX contracted resupply mission. The Dragon spacecraft originally delivered research equipment for physical science, biology, biotechnology, human research and a myriad of technology demonstrations to the station on April 14.

A variety of biological and biotechnology studies are returning on the Dragon. The Space Aging study examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, or Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). This roundworm is widely used as a model for larger organisms. By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age. This can be applied to changes observed in astronauts, as well, especially to help create countermeasures prior to long-duration missions.

"Spaceflight-induced health changes, such as decreases in muscle and bone mass, are a major challenge facing our astronauts," said Julie Robinson, NASA's Chief Scientist for the International Space Station Program Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We investigate solutions on the station not only to keep astronauts healthy as the agency considers longer space exploration missions, but also to help those on Earth who have limited activity as a result of aging or illness."

A second study that specifically observes the muscle fibers of roundworms in response to microgravity, called Alterations of C. elegans muscle fibers by microgravity (Nematode Muscle), is returning on the Dragon, as well. Some astronauts experience weakened muscles, reduced bone density and changes in metabolism, so researchers are using the roundworms as models to try to clarify how and why these changes take place in microgravity. Results from this study could help scientists understand the molecular mechanisms responsible for muscle atrophy and other spaceflight-induced changes.

Samples will return from another biological study, the Osteocytes and Mechanomechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation. Researchers with Osteo-4 will observe the effects of microgravity on the function of osteocytes, which are the most common cells in bone. Osteocytes sense mechanical forces, like weight-lifting, as they are applied to the skeleton. They transform these forces into biological responses, signaling other cells to make or remove bone. 

Understanding the effects of microgravity on osteocytes will be critical as astronauts plan for future missions that require longer exposure to microgravity, such as to deep space or Mars. The results derived from this study could also have implications for patients on Earth in the treatment of bone disorders related to disuse or immobilization, as well as metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis.

“If we can figure out bone loss in the extreme conditions of space, we could figure out how to make more bone or counteract bone loss in astronauts,” said National Institutes of Health grantee Paola Divieti Pajevic, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator of the Osteo-4 study and associate professor at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine at Boston University. “This has applications to millions of people on Earth who are affected by osteoporosis and related fractures.”

Finally, equipment and data from the Special Purpose Inexpensive Satellite (SpinSat) investigation will return. The SpinSat study tested how a spherical satellite measuring 22 inches in diameter moves and positions itself in space using new thruster technology. SpinSat launched into orbit from the space station through the Cyclops small satellite deployer, also known as the Space Station Integrated Kinetic Launcher for Orbital Payload Systems (SSIKLOPS). Learn more about Cyclops in this video.

Researchers can use high-resolution atmospheric data captured by SpinSat to determine the density of the thermosphere, one of the uppermost layers of the atmosphere. With better knowledge of the thermosphere, engineers and scientists can refine satellite and telecommunications technology.   

The conclusion of this sixth SpaceX mission to the space station is helping NASA and its international partners to “round out” their research with roundworms, bone cells and spinning satellites. 

NASA TV commentator Kyle Herring talks with Daniel Newswander, NASA’s Cyclops Project Manager, about the inaugural use of the Cyclops small satellite launcher, which successfully deployed SpinSat, a Naval Research Laboratory satellite, from the International Space Station on Nov. 28, 2014.

Credits: NASA

Laura Niles
International Space Station Program Science Office and Public Affairs Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Space Station Research

April 24, 2015

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist

The three colorful bioreactors where mouse bone cells grow within a 3D material for the Osteo-4 investigation aboard the International Space Station.

Credits: Divieti Pajevic Laboratory

The Canadarm 2 reaches out to grapple the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and prepare it to be pulled into its port on the International Space Station on April 17. The sixth SpaceX service mission carried new science investigations and supplies for the crew and will remain with the station for five weeks.

Credits: NASA/Terry Virts

(Highlights: Week of Apr. 13, 2015) - The crew of the International Space Station spent part of last week unloading the Dragon capsule when it arrived as part of the sixth SpaceX resupply mission while continuing science investigations that could lead to improved treatments for millions of the aging and infirm population of Earth.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly conducted a dry run of the Nematode Muscles investigation before transferring samples of Caenorhabditis elegans to a culture bag and beginning the growth cycle of the small roundworm. C. elegans is widely used as a model for larger organisms. The JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) investigation looks into the muscle fibers and cytoskeleton of the roundworm to clarify how those physiological systems alter in response to microgravity. Space station crew members will grow these worms in microgravity, as well as another batch in one-g using a centrifuge. This will simulate the force of gravity while the C. elegans remain physically in orbit, allowing a direct comparison of the affects of different gravity levels on organisms in space.

Another JAXA investigation using C. elegans during this expedition is Space Aging, studying the effects of space flight on the aging of the roundworm, recording the movements of worms in microgravity and in simulated gravity to compare the health and longevity with control specimens kept on Earth. Kelly is also working on this investigation, preparing the samples in observation units and exposing them to microgravity and 1 g before stowing them to return to the ground.

The worms will be compared to similar batches grown in a laboratory in Japan. Understanding the molecular changes that take place in microgravity could help researchers develop treatments or therapies to counteract the physical changes associated with aging and extended bed rest, such as muscle atrophy or osteoporosis, and could help develop treatments or exercises for astronauts on long voyages.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti prepared for operations supporting the Osteocytes and mechano-transduction (Osteo-4) investigation, transferring two sets of bioreactors containing samples to the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for the International Space Station (MELFI), where they will stay until being returned to Earth. Osteocytes are common cells in bones that can sense mechanical forces and can deposit calcium to strengthen bones if additional stresses are added or weaken it if stresses are removed, such as in microgravity. Osteo-4 allows scientists to learn more about this process and analyze changes in the physical appearance and genetic expression of mouse bone cells in microgravity.

Microgravity and the sensation of weightlessness may contribute to bone density loss, as osteocytes are not subjected to the force of gravity. People living with osteoporosis -- a disease causing reduced bone density -- are more likely to suffer broken bones. A better understanding of the mechanisms behind bone loss in astronauts during space flight could also provide insights for bone disorders on Earth.

Human research investigations continued on the orbiting laboratory, including Biological Rhythms, Circadian Rhythms, Cognition, Fine Motor Skills, Force Shoes, Habitability, Nanoparticles and Osteoporosis, Neuromapping, Reaction Self Test, Journals.

The Canadarm 2 reaches out to grapple the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft and prepare it to be pulled into its port on the International Space Station on April 17. The sixth SpaceX service mission carried new science investigations and supplies for the crew and will remain with the station for five weeks.

Credits: NASA

Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist
Expedition 43/44

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Benefits to You

April 23, 2015

The View From Up There, Down Here

The completed flight assembly of the High Definition Earth Viewing unit before it was launched to the International Space Station in 2014.

Credits: NASA

A view of Earth from one of the High Definition Earth Viewing cameras mounted on the hull of the International Space Station.

Credits: NASA

The iconic "blue marble" view of Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon on December 7, 1972.

Credits: NASA

When many people saw the first stunning photos of the fragile blue marble of Earth from space, it changed their outlook of humanity. It was a singular moment in time when people around the world were watching and looking toward the future as NASA began to turn small steps into giant leaps.

As we continue our recent Earth Day celebration, an investigation on the International Space Station that provides unprecedented panoramic views of our home will celebrate its first year in space.

The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) investigation sent four commercially available cameras housed in a single unit to the station last year on the third SpaceX resupply mission. one year ago, April 30, 2014, a robotic arm extracted the unit from the SpaceX trunk, attaching it to the exterior of the orbiting laboratory, and activated the cameras -- transmitting the mesmerizing views of Earth.

The view switches between the four fixed cameras and streams live online along with a real-time map to track the location of the station for anyone to watch their home planet and enjoy the same view experienced by space station crew members. Since the cameras began broadcasting a live stream a year ago, the number of views is approaching 50 million -- attesting to the popularity of the project.

The primary purpose of the project is not, however, just to share amazing images of Earth.

"The investigation has become multi-purpose for us," said Susan Runco, principal investigator for HDEV at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "We are testing the resiliency of long-term exposure of the cameras to space, but in making this live streaming video available for anyone to watch anytime, I think we remind people of just how beautiful our home is and that there are humans on this orbiting platform right now, living and working off the Earth, for the Earth."

There are moments during the stream when viewers are treated to complete darkness as the station passes in Earth's shadow or during a temporary loss of signal from the station. Solar rays and the continuous switching to different ground communications relay stations during the station's orbit can occasionally cause a brief interruption of the video signal. The rest of the time, the cameras transmit a clear image of the planet below.

The cameras are enclosed in a special housing to protect them from the bitter cold of space, but they are still exposed to the harsh radiation of their environment. Scientists will analyze the effect of space on the video quality during the time HDEV is operational.

"We believe this will help engineers decide which cameras are the best types to use on future missions into deep space," Runco said. "Cameras sent up for other investigations on station have returned showing a degradation of the signal. We want to see how long these new cameras can last before the image is no longer useful."

Educational outreach has been an important component of the project through the entire life cycle, not only using the images in the classroom, but also in creating the project itself.

"Through our High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program, student teams in the Houston area helped design and build some of the camera structural and support components," said Runco. "More students from the University of Bonn in Germany and the University of Houston in Clear Lake, Texas, help operate HDEV and participate in monitoring the effects space has on the cameras."

While the signals from the camera are not recorded on the space station, the video is periodically recorded on the ground to compare images to previous video and analyze how well the systems hold up in the space environment for possible future use.

"Using off-the-shelf products is often more cost-effective than designing new ones for space applications," Runco said. "Ground tests have shown these cameras could survive the simulated space environment, but actual exposure to low Earth orbit will prove how durable they can be for extended missions. We will know more when the cameras are returned to Earth for analysis in 2017."

From the first photos of the fragile blue marble to a live video stream online, such striking views from space may make many people envious that they can't see the view from space with their own eyes, but also thankful to live on such a beautiful planet.

Bill Hubscher
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Space Station Research

April 22, 2015

Benefits for Humanity: Protecting Earth’s Natural Resources

Credits: NASA

Reflecting upon our natural resources for Earth Day, this installment of the International Space Station Benefits for Humanity video series highlights a collaboration between environmental stewards, researchers and NASA to protect local water sources. Learn how a small town in northern Ohio located on Lake Erie turned to space station technology when they encountered a threat to their drinking water.

The Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) on the space station is an imaging sensor that can help detect water quality parameters such as water clarity, phytoplankton concentrations, light absorption and the distribution of cyanobacteria in the water. HICO was first designed and built by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for the Office of Naval Research to assess water quality in the coastal ocean. Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the data from HICO and developed a smartphone application to help determine hazardous concentrations of contaminants in water.

“Having the HICO on the International Space Station has been the ideal test bed for our research,” said Darryl Keith, Ph.D. with the EPA.

Using HICO, water quality managers in Ohio were able to obtain near real-time data to proactively fight harmful cyanobacterial blooms in drinking water sources. Cyanobacteria toxins can cause skin rashes, headaches, nausea, liver or nervous system damage or even death. Instead of waiting for a report of a bloom, Ohio officials used the EPA app, which is still in development, to act fast to protect water quality in their town.

“This technology will reduce cost and provide near real-time information, but the big goal here is protecting humans,” said Blake Schaeffer, Ph.D. with the EPA. “If we can reduce exposures both to humans and animals, then we’ve achieved our goal.”

Though HICO successfully completed its mission in 2015, the EPA continues to build on the knowledge gained through HICO and their smartphone application to improve water quality monitoring. With the space station’s regular addition of new instruments to provide a continuous platform for Earth observation, researchers will continue to build proactive environmental protection applications that benefit all life on Earth. 

A Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) image of western Lake Erie, Aug. 15, 2014, taken from the orbital perspective of the International Space Station.

Credits: HICO Team/Naval Research Laboratory

Laura Niles
International Space Station Program Science Office and Public Affairs Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology, Water,

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Benefits to You

April 22, 2015

Space Station Safari's Ultimate Wildlife Research Vantage Point

A flying fox is tagged with a larger device in the Kasanka National Park in Zambia in Southern Africa. The ICARUS project hopes to create smaller, more inconspicuous devices to track these creatures from space.

Credits: ICARUS

Geese on Kogluev Island on the Arctic Sea in Russia are tagged with lightweight devices to assist in tracking their migratory patterns.

Credits: ICARUS

What do bats, birds, sea turtles and even primates have to do with the International Space Station? Scientists want to use the orbiting laboratory’s spectacular view to track creatures on our planet and learn more about their behavior.

A new investigation planned for the space station is leveraging observations from on high to help track animals, the results of which could improve the safety and health of animals and people around the world. The ICARUS Initiative (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) is establishing a remote sensing platform of satellites with the space station as a central hub, providing scientists with a tool to track the migratory patterns of small animals on a global scale.

ICARUS is a globally collaborative effort, receiving support from ESA (European Space Agency) and Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) and involving scientists studying animals from across the zoological spectrum.

Billions of animals travel great distances every year. Some even migrate between continents. As a scientist, it can be difficult to track individual animals in a flock or group during these migrations.

"For example, bird migrations are a mind-blowing phenomenon," said Meg Crofoot, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of California in Davis and an executive board member of ICARUS. "Despite more than 100 years of systematic research, we don't know the routes many of these species take, where they stop along the way or even how often they survive the arduous journey. Understanding the individual decisions made by these animals can provide insight on the behavior and evolution of animals in the wild and perhaps even assuring their continued existence."

Current technology allows only for larger animals to be tagged and tracked. With advances in smaller devices performing the same function, individual animals in flocks or groups can be tagged with microchips or small black boxes and tracked from space using global positioning satellites providing information to customized satellites. When the ICARUS hardware is delivered and installed in the Russian segment of the space station in 2016, it will act as a data hub, collecting all this information and providing a central location where it is transmitted to the ground and allowing researchers to recover the data no matter where the animals or scientists may travel.

"Results from this investigation could provide answers to so many questions," Crofoot said. "Not just for nature conservationists, but also for those studying the impacts animals have on the human population."

Many flying animals are responsible for seed dispersal around the world. Tracking them could help scientists determine how certain plants are established in different geographic regions. These same creatures can carry diseases easily passed to humans. Understanding migration patterns may answer environmental science questions affecting human health including the spread of infectious disease. Further analysis could determine the effect climate change may have on migration routes and patterns.

Air travelers may be safer because ICARUS information will help in tracking and predicting the flight paths of birds and prevent airline collisions with them. Identifying stop-over or wintering sites for endangered species also could promote survival of these animals.

Most data from the tracking network will be posted to an online data repository called Movebank. It will have visualization and analysis tools for conservationists and scientists including remote sensing data of weather patterns. Crofoot said the idea was to make the information widely available for collaborators in government, academia and industry to help build policy to protect our environment.

"Part of what makes this study so important is the collaborative nature of the project," said Crofoot. "The ability to go from watching only a handful of species to dozens on a global scale is exciting. It has been tremendously rewarding to team with a group of highly diverse scientists working toward the same goal."

Using the space station and its coverage of practically the entire world, scientists hope ICARUS will provide information on life, death, behavior and the vital functions of animals on our planet.

Bill Hubscher
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Jan. 30, 2015

Benefits For Humanity: Train Like an Astronaut

In a previous installment of the International Space Station Benefits for Humanity video series, NASA took to the high seas to show how technology aboard the station is providing safer travel for ships around the globe. Now, NASA takes to the classroom to show how active space station crew members energize students to train like an astronaut to get their minds and hearts pumping.

The Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut project is an international educational challenge that encourages students to adopt healthy behaviors. Children learn the basics of healthy eating and exercise, conducting dexterity, resistance training and cardiovascular activities similar to those of astronauts aboard the station.

“What makes this project unique is that we’re using the human challenges of spaceflight to inspire, as well as motivate, our children to make healthy choices throughout their lives,” said Charles Lloyd, NASA's Human Research Program Engagement and Communications Project manager.

NASA visited Heights Elementary School in Sharon, Massachusetts, to highlight the exemplary efforts of one physical education instructor, Tim Vigorito, to empower students to train like an astronaut. Prompting kids to be active is no small task, and Vigorito found just the thing to engage them in making healthy decisions. “It was something that inspired me as a kid and continues to inspire me today: the space program,” said Vigorito.

Through the efforts of Vigorito and educators like him, the Train Like an Astronaut project has inspired more than 33,000 students across 28 countries to lead healthier lives. The project continues to grow each year, especially with its adaptable activities that can be used in conjunction with other programs like NFL Play 60. With childhood obesity rates soaring, programs like this one help protect children’s health while challenging their minds to learn and train like future space explorers.  

Laura Niles
International Space Station Program Science Office and Public Affairs Office
NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kristine Rainey

Tags:  International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Benefits to You

Jan. 24, 2015

Canadian Space Technology to Help Sick Children

This original story was written and posted by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on Jan. 22, 2015. The surgical assist, KidsArm, is a benefit to humanity based on International Space Station technology developed by CSA.

Not much rivals the dexterity of a good surgeon's hands. But humans being humans, fatigue or even tremors after a long day at the hospital can make things challenging, especially when operating on small children.

That is why Toronto's SickKids Centre for Image-Guided Innovation & Therapeutic Intervention (CIGITI) turned to the Canadian space technology behind Canadarm, Canadarm2 and Dextre and partnered with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) to develop KidsArm.

Credits: Canadian Space Agency

The third prototype of KidsArm, the first image-guided robotic surgical arm in the world specifically designed for pediatric surgery, is currently being tested at SickKids Hospital, and researchers are hoping that the technology might soon lend a helping hand to surgeons around the country. While more testing is needed, the robot is also promising for fetal, cardiac, neurological and urological surgeries.

Using a pair of hand controllers in conjunction with high-precision, real-time imaging technology, surgeons can pinpoint the area of concern to make it easier to reconnect delicate vessels, for example. KidsArm is also equipped with miniaturized dexterous tools that can cut, coagulate, apply suction, or use a laser. It is capable of working 10 times faster and with more accuracy than a surgeon's hands when performing intricate procedures.

Advanced technologies such as imaged-based tissue tracking and robotic assistance select and track sutures so that surgeons can compensate for the tissue motion that sometimes makes these surgeries difficult. A stereo camera generates a 3D point cloud, a set of data points that guide the tool tip and apply a series of sutures. KidsArm pushes the envelope using advanced imaging to identify suture locations. This allows the surgeon to automate the suturing of small vessels and other microsurgical tasks.

The precision required by KidsArm has to be at least 10 times better than what Dextre is able to achieve. To face this technical challenge, the MDA team adopted the virtual decomposition control (VDC) approach developed by Canadian Space Agency (CSA) engineer Wen-Hong Zhu. Thanks to this technology, KidsArm is capable of performing intricate procedures such as the suturing of blood vessels and tissues 10 times faster and with more accuracy than a surgeon's hands. The VDC is a Canadian game-changing technology for precision control of future medical manipulators and space manipulators.

In terms of robotics, the team used a combination of industrial robots, control electronics, cameras and haptics (force-feedback controllers). The control software evolved directly from the Dextre and Canadarm programs at MDA, and the vision was adapted from their satellite navigation work for the CSA.

One day, this technology may help by making medical procedures on children less invasive and less painful, allowing them to return home faster... so that kids can be kids.

Canadian Space Agency

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Jennifer Harbaugh

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Nov. 18, 2013

Benefits for Humanity: The Sound of Life

Ultrasound and remote medicine methods that are in use aboard the International Space Station have been adapted for use on Earth to save lives around the world. This example, along with a few of the many benefits provided by research performed on the space station, is highlighted in NASA’s new feature “Benefits for Humanity.” The space station provides a microgravity environment for researchers to conduct biology and biotechnology, human health, Earth and space science, physical science and technology experiments, among many others, in a way that was not possible just 15 years ago.

Remote telemedicine in the large state of Minas Gerais in Brazil is saving lives of those in very isolated rural communities. Ultrasound technology adapted from the space station is helping with prenatal care and diagnostic capacity where patients and doctors are separated by a great distance. Just as on Earth as in space, trained medical personnel are not always immediately available. NASA’s Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity (ADUM) investigation trained astronauts and cosmonauts to use an ultrasound unit and transmit images in real time back to Earth. These images could then be sent to physicians to make medical decisions without actually being with the crew member. This technology can provide more detail during examination of a patient in a remote area and help in administering first aid, where quick decisions are necessary.

In the small, extremely isolated town of Manga in Minas Gerais, many people rely on this ultrasound technology to help solve medical problems due to lack of access to other types of care. Joaquim de Diniz, a Manga physician, related the story of a female patient who had a mere 20 to 30 minutes to live due to severe respiratory failure. Using the remote ultrasound equipment, he and his team of medical professionals were able to determine the problem and treat a large amount of fluid around the patient’s heart and lungs. The patient quickly recovered. “It was like a miracle,” said de Diniz. “She was dying in front of us, without people knowing what was happening. This ultrasound was instrumental in saving the life of that patient.”

With its completion in 2011and at its 15-year anniversary in 2013, the space station’s full research capabilities have only just begun. The International Space Station is improving and changing lives on Earth with each experiment in orbit, all through a collaboration of international partnerships to provide benefits for humanity.

Lives are being saved around the world using ultrasound and remote medicine methods.

Credits: NASA

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Mark Garcia

Tags:  International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Aug. 3, 2013

Japanese Space Freighter Heading to Station

The H-II Transfer Vehicle launches atop an H-IIB launch vehicle from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 3:48 p.m. EDT Saturday (4:48 a.m. Sunday, Japan time).

The H-II Transfer Vehicle-4 separates from the H-IIB launch vehicle second stage.

Credits: NASA TV

The fourth Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV-4, launched aboard an H-IIB launch vehicle from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 3:48 p.m. EDT  Saturday (4:48 a.m. Sunday, Japan time) to begin a weeklong journey to the International Space Station. Also known as Kounotori, or “white stork,” because it is emblematic of an important delivery, HTV-4 is carrying more than 3.5 tons of supplies, food  and experiment hardware for the station’s Expedition 36 crew.  At the time of launch, the station was flying 260 statute miles over southwest Russia near the border of Kazakhstan.

› Video of HTV-4 launch

On Friday, Aug. 9, the HTV-4 will approach the station from below and inch its way slowly toward a holding position about 40 feet from the complex.  While Flight Engineer Luca Parmitano monitors the systems of the Japanese space freighter, Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Chris Cassidy of NASA will use Canadarm2, the station's Canadian Space Agency-provided robotic arm, to reach out and capture the vehicle at 7:29 a.m. With HTV-4 securely grappled, the robotics team at Houston’s Mission Control Center will command the arm to install the vehicle to its docking port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node beginning around 9:30 a.m.

HTV-4 is a 33-foot-long, 13-foot-diameter (10 meter by 4 meter) unmanned cargo transfer spacecraft with both pressurized and unpressurized sections to deliver supplies destined for inside and outside the station.

Among the items within Kounotori’s pressurized logistics carrier are test samples for research experiments inside the Kibo laboratory, a new freezer capable of preserving materials at temperatures below -90 F, four small CubeSat satellites to be deployed from Kibo’s airlock as well as food, water and other supplies for the station’s crew.  The pressurized section also is delivering new hardware for the Robotic Refueling Mission to demonstrate robotic satellite-servicing tools, technologies and techniques.

› Read about Robotic Refueling Mission hardware aboard HTV-4

The HTV-4’s unpressurized section is delivering two orbital replacement units (ORUs)  – a spare Main Bus Switching Unit (MBSU) and a spare Utility Transfer Assembly (UTA) –  to keep the space station’s electrical system operating smoothly.  The UTA maintains electrical continuity through the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, passing electrical power generated by the complex’s huge solar arrays to station elements and payloads, while the MBSU provides switching capabilities for the various power channels and sources. ORUs are modular station components designed to be replaced periodically.

Also inside HTV’s unpressurized cargo hold is the Space Test Program – Houston 4 (STP-H4) payload, which is a suite of seven experiments for investigating space communications, Earth monitoring and materials science.  Its predecessor, STP-H3, which was delivered to the station during the final flight of space shuttle Endeavour in May 2011, will be placed inside Kounotori’s unpressurized section for disposal when the cargo craft departs in September and descends to a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Jerry Wright

Tags:  Expedition 36, International Space Station, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Scientific Balloons

May 31, 2013

ISS-CREAM to Tackle Century-Old Space Mystery

Researchers prepare a long-duration balloon from a location near McMurdo Station, Antarctica for its flight around the South Pole carrying the CREAM instrument high in the atmosphere to measure cosmic rays.

Credits: NASA

View of the CREAM instrument prior to launch aboard a long-duration balloon. The instrument, which measures cosmic rays, will launch to the International Space Station in 2014 to gather higher energy data from its mounted location on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.

Credits: NASA

Research that started aboard balloons a century ago will soon culminate in a three-year stint aboard the International Space Station as scientists work on solving a fundamental astrophysics mystery: what gives cosmic rays such incredible energies, and how does that affect the composition of the universe?

"The answer is one the world's been waiting on for 100 years," said Vernon Jones, program scientist for particle astrophysics at NASA.

Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) will be the first cosmic ray instrument designed to detect at such higher energy ranges, and over such an extended duration in space. Scientists hope to discover whether cosmic rays are accelerated by a single cause, which is believed to be supernovae. The new research also could determine why there are fewer cosmic rays detected at very high energies than are theorized to exist.

"Cosmic rays are energetic particles from outer space," said Eun-Suk Seo, principal investigator for the CREAM study. "They provide a direct sample of matter from outside the solar system. Measurements have shown that these particles can have energies as high as 100,000 trillion electron volts. This is an enormous energy, far beyond and above any energy that can be generated with manmade accelerators, even the Large Hadron Collider at CERN."

Researchers also plan to study the decline in cosmic ray detection, called the spectral "knee" that occurs at about a thousand trillion electron-volts (eV), which is about 2 billion times more powerful than the emissions in a medical nuclear imaging scan. Whatever causes cosmic rays, or filters them as they move through the galaxy, takes a bite out of the population from 1,000 trillion electron-volts upwards. Further, the spectrum for cosmic rays extends much farther beyond what supernovas are believed to be able to produce.

To tackle these questions, NASA plans to place CREAM aboard the space station, becoming ISS-CREAM. The instrument has flown six times for a total of 161 days on long-duration balloons circling the South Pole, where Earth's magnetic field lines are essentially vertical.

ISS-CREAM is being developed as an international collaboration, including teams from the United States, Republic of Korea, Mexico and France, led by Professor Eun-Suk Seo of the University of Maryland in College Park, Md.

The idea of energetic particles coming from space was unknown in 1911 when Victor Hess, the 1936 Nobel laureate in physics credited for the discovery of cosmic rays, took to the air to tackle the mystery of why materials became more electrified with altitude, an effect called ionization. The expectation was that the ionization would weaken as one got farther from Earth. Hess developed sensitive instruments and took them as high as 3.3 miles (5.3 kilometers) and he established that ionization increased up to fourfold with altitude, day or night.

The phenomenon soon gained a popular but confusing name, cosmic rays, from a mistaken theory that they were X-rays or gamma rays, which are electromagnetic radiation, like light. Instead, cosmic rays are high-speed, high-energy particles of matter.

As particles, cosmic rays cannot be focused like light in a telescope. Instead, researchers detect cosmic rays by the light and electrical charges produced when the particles slam into matter. The scientists then use detective work to identify the original particle by direct measurement of its electric charge and its energy determination from the avalanche of debris particles creating their own overlapping trails.

CREAM does this trace work using an ionization calorimeter designed to make cosmic rays shed their energies. Layers of carbon, tungsten and other materials present well-known nuclear "cross sections" within the stack. Electrical and optical detectors measure the intensity of events as cosmic particles, from hydrogen to iron, crash through the instrument.

Even though CREAM balloon flights reached high altitudes, enough atmosphere remained above to interfere with measurements. The plan to mount the instrument to the exterior of the space station will place it above the obscuring effects of the atmosphere, at an altitude of 250 miles (400 kilometers).

"This experiment has the advantage of very large collecting power," Seo said of the balloon-borne flights. "Ground-based experiments can have larger collecting power, but they are limited in that they cannot tell what initiated cosmic ray showers at the top of the atmosphere. By flying our instruments in space we get much longer exposures, and we measure the particles before they interact with the upper atmosphere, thereby directly measuring primary cosmic rays."

Researchers are rearranging CREAM's existing hardware so it can attach to the Exposed Facility platform extending from Kibo, the space station's Japanese Experiment Module, after its planned launch in 2014. The space station operates as a platform for instruments like CREAM that otherwise might not fly, due to the expense of dedicated satellites. "We're using a capability that the world has built," Jones said. "The space station makes it affordable."

"Every day on space station will reduce our statistical uncertainties and extend our measurements to higher energies than previously possible," Seo explained. "Another big advantage is not having atmospheric background. Among the particles that we look at, there are secondary particles that are produced by the interaction of cosmic rays with the interstellar medium during their propagation. These particles are used to probe the history of propagation of cosmic rays. Unfortunately, these particles can also be produced from the interaction with atmospheric nuclei. So this atmospheric background is a limiting factor."

Protons are the most common cosmic rays. Fewer and fewer particles are detected as one looks at higher energies. Jones said the cosmic ray flux should obey a simple power law distribution, but instead the spectral "knee" indicating rather abrupt steepening is observed.

A better understanding of cosmic rays will help scientists finish the work started when Hess unexpectedly turned an earthly question into a stellar riddle. Answering that riddle will help us understand a hidden, fundamental facet of how our galaxy, and perhaps the universe, is built and works.


Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: NASA Administrator

Tags:  Balloons, Benefits to You, International Space Station, Journey to Mars, Space Station Research and Technology,

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May 15, 2013

New Capability Expands Science Communication on Space Station

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy conducts a session of the Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) investigation aboard the International Space Station.

Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn uses a Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE)-2 vessel to perform several interior corner flow tests. CFE is a suite of fluid physics experiments that investigate capillary flows and flows of fluids in containers with complex geometries.

Credits: NASA

Communications from space are not as easy as just picking up a cell phone to reach out and touch someone. An Earth-to-ground chat comes at a premium; so, it's no surprise that two simultaneous chats would be something to celebrate. Payload developers and NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center team at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are celebrating this advance, thanks to a communications hardware upgrade.

April 12 marked the first time in the history of the International Space Station that two researchers talked to two crew members for two different science investigations - the result of a new capability that allows for additional space-to-ground (S/G) voice channels. The new voice channels, called S/G3 and S/G4, use Ku-band for both two-way voice and data transmission, as well as video and high-speed data to Earth.

"Enabling scientists to interact directly with the crew allows for real-time modifications in science experiments," said NASA's International Space Station Program Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. "[The new S/G voice channels] provide the principal investigator with the ability to observe his or her science real-time as the astronaut works, make observations as the science occurs, and then direct changes based on those observations."

NASA also has the S/G1 and S/G2 channels, which use S-band. S-band transmits two-way voice, commands and data between ground stations and the space station.

"Having four space-to-ground [channels] has enabled multiple researchers to interface directly with multiple crew members at the same time, thus improving the efficiencies of science," said Tim Horvath, lead payload operations director at Marshall.

The two science investigations performed in orbit for this milestone were the Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) study and the Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE). The researcher for the BASS investigation was interacting with the space station crew from Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The researcher for the CFE study was at Portland State University in Oregon.

BASS examines the burning and extinction characteristics of a wide variety of fuel samples in microgravity. The investigation will guide strategies for extinguishing accidental fires in space. Results of the study also contribute to the combustion computational models used in the design of fire detection and suppression systems in microgravity and on Earth.

CFE is a suite of fluid physics experiments that investigate capillary flows and flows of fluids in containers with complex geometries. Results will improve current computer models used by designers of low-gravity fluid systems and may improve fluid transfer systems on future spacecraft. Knowledge gained from capillary flow experiments also is being applied to lab-on-a-chip technology used to analyze blood samples specifically to detect HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.

With about 200 investigations to be conducted across the international partnership during Expedition 35 and 36, this new communications upgrade paves the way for the ability of the crew and scientists to perform more hours of research every day.

Watch the Space Station Live: Station Communications Upgrade to learn more.


Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: NASA Administrator

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Journey to Mars, Space Station Research and Technology,

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March 27, 2013

MABE: Low-Gravity Answers on the Bubble

View of Boiling through the Microheater Array during a previous study. In the upper right is superimposed an image of boiling from the side. The Microheater Array Boiling Experiment may have similar results. (NASA)

The Microheater Array Boiling Experiment was conducted in the Boiling Experiment Facility (BXF). Here, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli, installs the BXF into the Microgravity Science Glovebox aboard the International Space Station

Credits: NASA

Let's say you're boiling water to make pasta. As you watch, vapor in the form of bubbles rises up through the liquid. You wonder, "What's happening with all those bubbles? What role does gravity play in boiling?" Scientists have asked the same questions, particularly when it comes to boiling in a microgravity environment.

The Microheater Array Boiling Experiment (MABE) was an investigation into how boiling behavior changes under different gravity levels. By studying boiling in space, scientists were almost able to eliminate gravity in order to understand its role along with the other heat transfer processes.

Bubble formation is a good method to cool a hot surface, because it takes a lot of energy to convert liquid to vapor. Because bubbles are lighter than the surrounding liquid, when they grow to a certain size gravity causes them to detach from the surface, allowing fresh liquid to slip under them and make new bubbles.
However, there is a maximum amount of heat that can be removed, which is called the critical heat flux. At this point, the heater is covered with so much vapor that it starts to prevent the liquid from getting to the hot surface. Whether it is a computer chip or a nuclear reactor, this condition can destroy the heater if left unchecked because it causes the temperature of the heated surface to rise dramatically. Determination of the critical heat flux in microgravity is essential for designing reliable cooling systems for spacecraft.

Scientists studied boiling at different gravity levels in earlier ground-based studies using aircraft flying in a parabolic, or roller-coaster, path that put the experiments in free-fall to simulate microgravity. From those experiments, researchers were able to predict how boiling behaves in space. However, the vibrations from the aircraft engines, weather, machinery, people and other factors resulted in a small amount of residual gravity, or g-jitter. This g-jitter caused the bubbles to dance around on the surface just enough to alter the results.

To refine the model with minimal g-jitter, it was necessary to conduct the MABE experiments on the International Space Station. Using data from over two hundred boiling tests aboard the space station, the heat transfer during boiling was determined more accurately than was possible during the parabolic aircraft flight tests.
"We did a lot of experiments on the aircraft, but the aircraft bounces around producing residual gs on the order of one hundredth of Earth's gravity," said Professor Jungho Kim, MABE principal investigator from the University of Maryland, College Park. "We came to some conclusions about how the boiling would behave at these low-gravity levels and came up with some models and correlations, but we weren't really sure if we could extend the results to the very low g-levels encountered by spacecraft. The great benefit of MABE is that it allowed us to obtain really clean low-gravity data and use it to correct the model."

MABE's updated model accurately predicted the experimental microgravity data to within ±20 percent. Published in the August 2012 issue of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Journal of Heat Transfer, the article "Pool Boiling Heat Transfer on the International Space Station: Experimental Results and Model Verification" detailed the results of the investigation.

Experiments revealed that boiling could be divided into two regimes: Buoyancy Dominated Boiling (BDB) and Surface tension Dominated Boiling (SDB). BDB is common on Earth. It is what you see when you boil water for your pasta. Typically, as liquid is heated and vaporizes into a bubble, the bubble grows as it is held onto the surface by surface tension forces. As it becomes larger, the density difference between the vapor bubble and surrounding liquid results in larger buoyancy forces, pushing the bubble off the bottom of the pot so it rises through the water. Liquid rushes in behind the bubble, works its way to the bottom, and the process of heating and boiling repeats.

At lower gravity levels, the boiling behavior is controlled by SDB. A single bubble covers a large portion of the total heater surface. The bubble's size is determined by vaporization of liquid, mergers with smaller vapor bubbles that surround it, condensation of vapor at the top of the bubble and surface tension of the liquid.

"With a refined model, you could allow for more miniature electronics that could be cooled in low-g," said John McQuillen, MABE project scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "Getting the heat out and cooling these electronics is important. There's something called heat density or power density of these electronics, which is one of the limiting factors that keep us from making them smaller and smaller. A better understanding about heat transfer can enable us to make them smaller."

Smaller is certainly better when it comes to hardware planned for space exploration, since reduced mass and size free up valuable cargo and living space. A better understanding of bubbles and heat transfer will help produce better cooling systems and higher-powered electronics that can be used in space, on the moon, on Mars, or even on Earth.

The same heat transfer approach used in space can be applied to developing microelectronics on Earth. Circulating water through channels that are too small can simulate the same behavior seen in microgravity. As a result, bubble and heater sizes are limited. However, MABE's results may help designers overcome these limitations. When it comes to cooling components in computers or machinery, designers could apply MABE's data to produce better, smaller systems.

Mike Giannone
NASA's Glenn Research Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kathy Zona

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Journey to Mars, Space Station Research and Technology,

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March 6, 2013

ACE: Stacking the Deck in Our Favor

European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli operating the Light Microscopy Module microscope aboard the International Space Station on a previous mission.

Credits: NASA

Be it laundry detergent, paint, ketchup or salad dressing, even before it leaves the production line, gravity begins tugging at it, trying to separate the mixture into different parts. As products separate, they can become watery or gooey. To combat product collapse and increase shelf life, manufactures use stabilizers.

The Advanced Colloids Experiment (ACE-M-1) is designed to help researchers understand how to optimize stabilizers to extend product shelf life, while also cutting development, production and transportation costs. ACE-M-1 launched to the International Space Station on the second commercial resupply flight of the SpaceX Dragon on March 1.

The gel structure, like that under investigation in the Advanced Colloids Experiment, is often dominated by fragile strands composed of many particles in a cross-section. (NASA)

Matthew Lynch, Procter & Gamble principal scientist and ACE-M-1 principal investigator (left), along with Chris Lant, ZIN-Technologies optics engineer, ground-testing the ACE-M-1 hardware and software. (NASA)

From left, P&G Principal Scientist Matt Lynch, Harvard Graduate Student Tom Kodger and NASA representatives Chris Lant and Lou Chestney work remotely on P&G experiments, some are which are housed at the International Space Station. (NASA)

"When these products sit on a shelf for a certain amount of time, they start coarsening and separating," said Bill Meyer, ACE-M-1 project scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "You see a top half and a bottom half that are different. Stabilizers keep the product doing what you want it to do. While we have a general understanding about what is happening at the particle level with these stabilizers, there's a lot more that we need to know."

On Earth, several things happen simultaneously. For example, depending on the mixture, particles move around and settle at the same time. As they coarsen or evolve and change, heavier particles can settle to the bottom within only a few minutes -- a process called sedimentation. Such complexity makes it hard to observe the underlying physics. Microgravity allows scientist to create models and develop more universal theories by essentially slowing down the separation process.

"We can do things in space we can't do on Earth," Meyer said. "Gravity masks the effect we're looking for. In space you won't see a top and bottom half since that's caused by gravity and density differences. What you'll see on the International Space Station is little blobs form. And those little blobs will grow over time. In microgravity we can measure this coarsening, or evolution, since gravity's influence is about a million times weaker."

Matthew Lynch, ACE-M-1, principal investigator and principal scientist at Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Cincinnati, describes it as a house-of-cards. Solid particles organize into a network that supports weight and counteracts the tendency separate.

"If you remove too many cards, the structure collapses," Lynch said. "Coarsening is about the rate at which the cards move around. There are some rudimentary theories that allow us to treat such time scales where all the cards are the same. However, we can't anticipate the fall of the house-of-cards when the cards are very different. Further, we do not have a framework to understand the movement altogether. For example, do we pull cards out of the house altogether and place them on top, or do we shuffle them around other cards in the same locale."

P&G, an international producer of scores of consumer products, is using the ACE-M-1 investigation to study product stability on the space station. P&G products like liquid detergent, shampoos, cleaners and medicine are colloidal systems. Anything that has particles of one micron or less in suspension is known as a colloid system. To give an idea of the size of a colloid, a very fine human hair is about 100 microns in diameter.

In colloidal systems, heavier particles settle to the bottom while lighter ones float to the top. Colloidal gels make up the microstructure of many consumer products such as detergents and shampoos. These gels are often polydisperse, which is where little particles are not just one size but a range of sizes. To control these systems, scientists need an understanding of the coarsening of the microstructure.

"We're doing research on the International Space Station because it teaches all about our stabilizing systems and our products," said Lynch. "Stabilizers keep everything together to make sure that when somebody buys a product and uses it, it keeps all the material basically uniform throughout the product."

With the effects of gravity removed, ACE-M-1 will allow scientists to use the Light Microscopy Module (LMM) to observe what happens at the particle level. A remotely controllable, automated microscope, the LMM gives scientists the ability to study specimens in microgravity in real time while the interesting science is happening. The LMM, which operates in the Fluids & Combustion Facility (FCF), resides in the space station's Destiny Laboratory and is managed by NASA's Glenn Research Center.

The FCF is a refrigerator-size rack, about 6 feet tall. The sample module inside the rack is approximately the size of a deck of cards. The ACE-M-1 sample itself is only a couple drops, measuring a couple microliters in volume. The investigation will run several experiments throughout its months aboard the space station.

"We do several things in space," said Ron Sicker, ACE-M-1 project manager, NASA's Glenn Research Center. "Some of the things we do are theoretical. The payoff may be big, but it may be many years in the future before it is realized. The ACE-M-1 investigation we're doing with Procter and Gamble holds open both the possibility for a long-term, theoretical win, as well as a win within just a few years as it finds its way into everyday products."

Better stabilizers could stack the deck in our favor. It could mean many things for manufacturers and consumers, including better quality, reduced costs and greener, more concentrated products that use less plastic in their packaging. It could mean products that resist collapse to remain consistent throughout their life, where the first ounce coming out of the bottle is the same as the last.

Mike Giannone
NASA's Glenn Research Center

Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Kathy Zona

Tags:  Benefits to You, International Space Station, Journey to Mars, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Space Station Research

March 5, 2013

Experiment Canisters Aid in Helping Study Plant Growth in Space

Dr. Howard Levine, chief scientist in NASA's International Space Station Ground Processing and Research Directorate, watches as Michele Koralewicz of QinetiQ North America assembles a Biological Research in Canisters experiment package.

Credits: NASA

A Biological Research in Canisters experiment package with five Petri dish frixation units (PDFUs) installed. The PDFUs each contain a petri dish with the biological sample to be flown in space.

Credits: NASA

Water or nutrients are injected into a Biological Research In Canisters' Petri Dish Fixation Unit to actuate an experiment.

Credits: NASA

By Bob Granath,

NASA Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

 On March 1, a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Dragon capsule lifted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the second Commercial Resupply Services flight (CRS-2) to the International Space Station. Two investigations, Biological Research In Canisters (BRIC)-17-1 and BRIC-17-2 were aboard.The BRIC series canisters consist of a compact storage system for housing experiments first used in studies during the U.S. Microgravity Payload mission aboard space shuttle Columbia's STS-87 mission in November 1997. BRIC flew on three subsequent shuttle flights, including STS-135, the final shuttle mission, in July 2011.

"BRIC lends itself to the 'fast-track' model in which a payload can be ready to fly in six to eight months," said Jose Camacho, BRIC project manager at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "It normally takes a much longer period of time to prepare an experiment for flight."

The BRIC experiments flying on CRS-2 consist of work submitted by principal investigators Anna-Lisa Paul, Ph.D., professor of molecular genetics at the University of Florida and Simon Gilroy, Ph.D., professor of botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Both investigators were selected in response to the NASA Research Announcement, "Research Opportunities in Space Biology."

Paul's study will investigate how "undifferentiated cells," lacking the usual specialized structures traditionally required for response to gravity, react differently in space. An undifferentiated cell is an immature or undeveloped cell that has not yet acquired a special structure and function. The experiment will use cells from Arabidopsis, small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard, to see if they reveal any unique gene development patterns in response to the space environment.

Gilroy's investigation will examine how spaceflight affects gene development in Arabidopsis seeds under low oxygen conditions, or hypoxia. Root zone hypoxia is thought to develop in spaceflight as weightlessness leads to a reduction in the buoyancy-driven convection that usually aids in gas exchange around organisms. This in turn leads to the development of oxygen-limiting conditions with adverse effects on plant vigor and productivity.

The investigations also will contribute to an understanding of how environmental stimuli interact to affect plant development in a weightless environment. In addition, the plant analyses will test the potential for using defined mutations to tailor plants to thrive in space. Ultimately, these experiments will help provide a source of food during long-term spaceflight to destinations such as asteroids or Mars.

The BRIC canisters in which the experiments will travel are seven inches by four inches by four inches and hold five or six Petri dish fixation units. Each principal investigator will process four BRIC Petri dish fixation units.

Once aboard the orbiting laboratory, the experiments, packaged at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, will activate and will begin to grow upon exposure to the ambient temperature aboard the space station. The investigations will run between seven and 10 days.

The seedling and cell growth experiment will be stopped, or "fixed" in time, using a chemical called RNALater administered by a crew member using an actuator tool developed at Kennedy. "Fixing" the specimens stops all biological activity and prevents corruption of the microgravity effects when the experiment is exposed to gravity upon landing. The experiments are then frozen in the space station's Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer (MELFI), and stored until they are ready to be placed back into the Dragon capsule for the return trip to Earth.

The same operations performed on the space station also will be performed in ground control units, stored in an environmental chamber at the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy.

"This will give the principal investigators the ability to study identical subjects and compare what happened in space to what took place in the gravity of Earth," Camacho said.

"The plan is to have the experiments back in the hands of the principal investigators approximately 72 to 96 hours after Dragon splashes down in the Pacific Ocean," said Camacho. "As we look ahead to longer-duration spaceflights, knowing how to grow plants will be crucial for food, as well as air and water purification."


Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: Bob Granath

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth, International Space Station, Journey to Mars, Kennedy Space Center, Space Station Research and Technology,

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Jan. 7, 2013

The Self-Assembling Particles That Come From InSPACE

InSPACE experiment hardware installed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox, or MSG, aboard the International Space Station

Credits: NASA

This is a photo of an InSPACE-2 vial assembly taken by Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata after completion of a test run in July 2009. It is similar to the assembly used in InSPACE-3. The aggregates formed in the pulsed magnetic field are actually large enough to see with the naked eye

Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Suni Williams photographing InSPACE-3 vial assembly after particles redistribution operation on the International Space Station.

Credits: NASA

InSPACE science video image of aggregates (columns forming). The black lines are the formed columns. The green background is from a green LED lamp used to provide lighting for the video camera.

Credits: NASA

Shape-shifting malleable, gelatinous forms are orbiting the Earth at this very moment - assembling and disassembling, growing as they are bombarded by magnetic pulses. These forms will take shape as astronauts run experiments involving smart fluids aboard the International Space Station.

While they may change shape, the forms are not things of science fiction. They are the things of fundamental science.

The purpose of the Investigating the Structures of Paramagnetic Aggregates from Colloidal Emulsions-3, or InSPACE-3, study is to gather fundamental data about Magnetorheological, or MR fluids. These fluids are a type of smart fluid that tends to self-assemble into shapes. When they are exposed to a magnetic field, they can quickly transition into a nearly solid-like state. When the magnetic field is removed, they return to a liquid state.

"Initially the particles in the fluid form long, thin chains," said Eric Furst, InSPACE-3 principal investigator, University of Delaware, Newark, Del. "The magnetic dipoles induced in the particles cause these singular chains to grow parallel to the applied field. Over time the chains parallel to each other interact and bond together. These 'bundles' of chains become more like columns when the magnetic field is toggled on and off. And these columns grow in diameter with time exposed to a pulsed magnetic field."

This self-directed "bundling" was never before observed until it was seen in an earlier space station investigation, InSPACE-2, which ended in 2009. The results of InSPACE-2 were highlighted in a September 2012 article titled "Multi-scale Kinetics of a Field-directed Phase Transition" published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Earlier InSPACE investigations looked at MR fluids composed of spherical, or round, particles," said Bob Green, InSPACE-3 project scientist, NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio. "InSPACE-3 is focused on oval or ellipsoid-shaped particles. The expectation is that these shapes will pack differently and form column-like structures differently than in previous experiments. The particles in InSPACE-3 are made of a polystyrene material embedded with tiny nano-sized iron oxide particles."

Iron oxide is chemically similar to rust. In fact, when the fluid is mixed, it has a brownish rust-type hue. Astronauts, under the direction of the project team, are currently running a series of experiments on this rust-colored mixture and will continue to do so for the next few months.

"We have six vials of which three are primary and three are backups," said Nang Pham, InSPACE-3 project manager at Glenn. "We'll run 12 tests on each of the three vials of different sized ellipsoid-shaped particles for a total of 36 test runs."

A test run could be changing the frequency of the magnetic pulse, altering the magnetic field strength, or using different particle sizes. The first InSPACE-3 test was Oct. 5. Plans are to complete the test runs in early 2013.

For the investigation, astronauts apply a magnetic field of a certain strength, which is pulsed from a low frequency of around 0.66 hertz up to 20 hertz. The pulse is on for a very short time and then is turned off. Scientists are looking for formation of structures that are at a lower energy state. Typically in an MR fluid application, a constant field is applied and the particles form a gel-like structure. They don't pack very well, so the particles have no definite form. They are like a cloud or hot glass that can form into almost any shape.

In a pulsed field, the on-off magnetic field forces the particles to assemble, disassemble, assemble, disassemble and so on. This on-and-off action occurs in millisecond pulses over the approximately two hours of the experiment. In this pulsed field, the particles organize into a more tightly packed structure. Scientists can then measure and plot the column growth over time.

"The idea is to understand the fundamental science around this directed self-assembly in the hopes of better defining new methods of manufacturing materials composed of small colloidal or nanoparticle building blocks," Furst said.

New manufacturing models resulting from InSPACE-2 and -3 studies could be used to improve or develop active mechanical systems such as new brake systems, seat suspensions, stress transducers, robotics, rovers, airplane landing gears and vibration damping systems.

Coupled with the work of InSPACE-2, the InSPACE-3 investigation into fundamental science could advance these systems and improve how we ride, drive and fly. Thanks to these space station investigations, the fluids that come from space may one day further improve your daily commute, whether on the highway or off the road.


Last Updated: July 8, 2015

Editor: NASA Administrator

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth, International Space Station, Journey to Mars, Space Station Research and Technology,

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