Dozens of science experiments will soon make their red carpet debuts on the International Space Station. They will arrive courtesy of a Dragon cargo spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The starring players include investigations into 3D printing organ tissue, breaking up rocks and building bones.
Meet some of the experiments blasting off that could lead to the development of new technologies as well as improve life on Earth.
Grab yourself an (organ) tissue
Scientists and medical professionals have long dreamed of the day 3D printers can be used to create useable human organs. But pesky gravity seems to always get in the way.
Enter microgravity. The new BioFabrication Facility (BFF) will provide a platform to attempt the creation of this organ tissue on the space station, a potential first step towards creating entire human organs in space.
Put down your pickaxe and pick up some microbes
Extracting minerals from rocks doesn’t always require brute force. Microbes can be deployed for the same purpose in a process called bio-mining. While common on Earth, the method still needs to be explored in space to see if it can eventually help explorers on the Moon and Mars. The BioRock investigation will examine the interactions between microbes and rocks and see if microgravity could limit the use of bio-mining by restricting bacterial growth.
Keep rolling along
Goodyear Tire will investigate if microgravity can help improve the silica design process, silica rubber formation and tire manufacturing. This investigation could lead to improvements like better tire performance and increased fuel efficiency, putting a bit of cash back in your pocket.
When space gets on our nerves
Meet microglia: a type of immune defense cell found in the central nervous system. Better understanding nerve cells and their behavior in microgravity is crucial to protecting astronaut health.
The Space Tango-Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells experiment will convert induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from patients with Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis into different types of brain cells. Researchers will examine two things:
- How microglial cells grow and move
- Changes in gene expression in microgravity
Studying this process in microgravity could reveal mechanisms not previously understood and could lead to improved prevention and treatments for the diseases.
Moss, the tiny plants you see covering rocks and trees in the woods, change how they behave once the gravity in their environment changes. Space Moss compares the mosses grown aboard the space station with your typical run-of-the-mill Earth-bound moss.
This investigation will let researchers see how moss behavior in space could allow it to serve as a source of food and oxygen on future Moon or Mars bases.
A smooth connection
Docking with the space station requires physical points for connections, and International Docking Adapters (IDAs) are providing a more sophisticated way of doing so.
IDA 3 will be attached to the Harmony mode, home to two existing IDAs. This adapter can accommodate commercial crew vehicle dockings, such as the first spacecraft to launch from U.S. soil since the space shuttle.
Building a better bone
The Cell Science-02 investigation will improve our understanding of tissue regeneration and allow us to develop better countermeasures to fight loss of bone density by astronauts.
By examining the effects of microgravity on healing agents, this investigation may be able to assist people on Earth being treated for serious wounds or osteoporosis.
Want to learn about more investigations heading to the space station (or even ones currently under way)? Make sure to follow @ISS_Research on Twitter and Space Station Research and Technology News on Facebook.
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