Later this month SpaceX will send another Cargo Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) laden with supplies and science experiments.
In a video (below) released this week, NASA shed some light on the kind of research heading to space.
The science gear destined for the space station this month includes a handheld bioprinter that uses a patient’s own skin cells to create a tissue-forming patch for covering a wound to accelerate the healing process.
The technology, if proved to be effective, could be used to quickly heal skin injuries in space, though it could also be used by patients on Earth.
Cancer drug delivery
Pharmaceutical company Merck is continuing a protein crystal growth study that could result in a more affordable and convenient way to deliver cancer treatment drugs via injection at a doctor’s office rather than intravenously in a clinical setting.
Astronauts’ infection risk
After discovering how spaceflight can increase the virulence of potentially harmful microbes that could lead to weakened human immune function, this research will evaluate changes in immune status among astronauts by examining astronauts’ blood and saliva samples before, during, and after a mission.
The results could help scientists to better assess the risk that infectious microbes may pose to space crews, and may lead to the creation of effective countermeasures. “Improved understanding of how stress can diminish immune function also could improve care for those with compromised immune systems on Earth,” NASA said.
This research will profile and monitor plant growth in microgravity conditions. The aim is to learn more about how plants sense and adapt to changes in their environment so that scientists can create improved systems for growing plants in space. “Plants could serve as an important part of human life support systems for long-duration spaceflight and habitation of the moon and Mars,” NASA said.
For a number of years, astronauts aboard the ISS have been cultivating, harvesting, and consuming a range of vegetables as part of experiments aimed at understanding and improving plant growth in space.
Proctor & Gamble will test the effectiveness of Tide Infinity, described as “a fully degradable detergent specifically for use in space,” so that astronauts on long-duration missions can feel more comfortable in clean garments and avoid the shame of smelly socks. At the current time, clean clothes are sent up in regular resupply missions, but this won’t be possible on longer voyages.
“From a scientific standpoint, the major challenges for off-planet laundering include the strict requirements for compatibility with the air purification systems, the limited amount of water available per each wash treatment, and the requirement that the laundry wash water be purified back to drinkable water,” said Mark Sivik, a research fellow at P&G.
Sivik added that once Tide Infinity has been proven in space, the technology behind it could be used to advance sustainable, low-resource-use laundry solutions on Earth.
Parts made in space
Crewmembers will test a manufacturing device that processes heat-resistant metal parts in microgravity conditions.
“Researchers expect more uniform microstructures and improved mechanical properties in superalloy parts processed in microgravity versus those processed on Earth,” NASA said. The more advanced materials could improve the performance of turbine engines in industries that include aerospace and power generation.
Students also have the chance to send science experiments to the ISS. NASA-funded experiments on the upcoming Cargo Dragon flight include one from Columbia University that will study antibiotic resistance in microgravity and another from the University of Idaho that will look at how microgravity impacts bacteria-resistant materials.
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