Space Station Science News

(Highlights: Week of May 4, 2015) – Stirring up interest on the International Space Station last week was more than just the myriad of science investigations, but a new item to make orbiting Earth feel a bit more like home.

The installation of the ASI (Italian Space Agency) ISSpresso machine helped bring one of the comforts of home to the space station. The new custom-made espresso equipment, not much larger than a typical Earth-based machine, allows crew members to make hot beverages and can pressurize the liquid to brew espresso, improving food options in orbit. The technology developed to provide espresso in a microgravity environment could lead to improved brewing techniques and methods on Earth.

The ISSspresso machine is intended for use with NASA’s standard drink bag, but a newly designed open cup delivered to station also can be used. The Capillary Effects of Drinking in the Microgravity Environment (Capillary Beverage) investigation studies the process of specially designed cups that use fluid dynamics to mimic the effect of gravity. Traditionally, astronauts would use sealed bags to contain liquid and straws. With a little care to ensure liquid doesn’t spill out, astronauts can use water surface tension and cup geometry to carefully sip liquid out of the Space Cup — an open cup similar to one that would be used to serve a traditional espresso on Earth. Besides replicating the method crew members use to drink liquids on Earth, the results of this investigation could help design advanced and more reliable fluid systems for spacecraft with passive fluid control systems.

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti continued the Space Aging investigation last week. The JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) study uses the small roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans to investigate the effects of spaceflight on the aging of an organism in flight. C. elegans is widely used as a model for larger organisms. This particular investigation records the movements of worms in microgravity and in simulated gravity to compare the health and longevity with control specimens kept on Earth. Cristoforetti retrieved samples from two separate observation units exposing the worms to microgravity and 1-G, stowing them for the return flight.

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.

Using the DEXTRE robot arm connected to Canadarm-2, robotics controllers on the ground completed transferring the Robotic Refueling Mission Phase 2 (RRM-Phase 2) and its hardware off the airlock slide table attached to the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM). This continuing investigation demonstrates how robots in space could perform tasks including refurbishing older satellites currently in orbit that were not designed to be serviced. The joint effort between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency uses the station as a test bed for robotic satellite-servicing capabilities and could extend the lives of hundreds of satellites in orbit.

A capability to fix and relocate “ailing” satellites could help NASA manage the growing amount of orbital debris that threatens all spacecraft. Refueling and repairing satellites in space would extend the lifetimes, allowing owners to avoid launching costly replacements. Engineers could adapt some robotic technology to fuel spacecraft robotically while still on the ground.

Human research investigations continued on the orbiting laboratory, including Biochemical Profile, Cognition, Fine Motor Skills, Microbiome, Salivary Markers, Skin-B, and Twins Study.