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ISS News: Week of October 14th

Credit NASA

It has been more than 20 years since the International Space Station (ISS) was launched into the earth’s orbit. However, the ISS is up there with a purpose: hundreds of science experiments are conducted every year with the purpose of providing us with valuable insights about physics, space travel, and life on earth. This article will provide an overview of the scientific experiments carried out within the ISS in the Week of September 30, 2019. Of the hundreds of experiments being conducted, three are of particular interest for the health and wellbeing of future astronauts.

Protein Crystal Growth

Extensive research during the past two decades has shown that microgravity has a stimulating effect on the growth of protein crystals. In the context of this research, the ISS crew performed experiments for Advanced Nano Step: a 35-day growth experiment which aims to improve the quality of the crystals, investigate the effect of molecular impurities, and increase the growth success rate. In recent years, such research has paid off: success rates have improved by 20 to 60 percent and are bound to increase even further as research within the field of protein crystal growth continues. Protein crystal growth is important in the field of medicine and will help scientists here on earth produce better, more reliable healthcare.

The effect of microgravity on the human body

Future plans for space exploration require extensive knowledge about the effect of microgravity on the human body. Currently, two experiments are being carried out within the ISS that focus on exactly that. Functional Immune is the research project which aims to determine the change of the crew’s immune system during space travel and provide us with necessary information about the likelihood of crew health problems on extended space excursions. Second, the Probiotics project is investigating the probability of improving the crew’s immune function by means of Probiotics. These are bacteria that are active within the intestinal area of the human body and can possibly reduce health problems and boost immune functions. In this way, these two projects may provide valuable insights in reducing the risk of crew members getting sick or experiencing health problems during long-duration space travel.

The GRIP experiment

Extensive research is being done on how the human’s nervous system reacts to the different environmental forces exhibited in the earth’s orbit. When manipulating objects in space, the astronaut’s

senses are stimulated in a different way compared to how they would be stimulated on earth. Researchers in the ISS are now trying to determine how the nervous system handles these changes in a research project called GRIP. The results of this research may provide us with useful insights which can be used for applications, both in space and on earth. For example, data from the GRIP experiments may show the effect that moving between gravitational environments has on an astronaut’s motor control and may therefore provide researchers with design solutions for haptic interfaces. In addition, the data may also provide valuable insights about human-object interaction which could be used when designing applications that require physical control such as virtual reality games.

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