image of the hardware for research

On-Station Investigations: Decades of Results

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Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of July 25 that included evaluating fiber-optic cable production in space, demonstrating the conversion of inedible plant material in edible protein and the testing of a protein synthesis technology that does not involve living cells for use in microgravity.

Here are details on some of the microgravity research currently being carried out at the orbiting lab:

A transparent advantage

Space Fibers-3, sponsored by the International Space Station National Laboratory, continues work evaluating methods for producing fiber-optic cable in space. The experiments use a mixture called ZBLAN, which produces glass that is a hundred times more transparent than silica-based glass, making it exceptional for fiber optics. Previous studies showed improved properties in fiber extracted in microgravity compared to that made on land. Fabrication of specialty fibers in space provides high cost performance for sending materials to and returning the product from orbit and increases the commercial use of the space station. Producing a higher-performance product that offers lower transmission losses could improve potential applications on Earth, including state-of-the-art imaging, remote sensing, and optical communications. During the week, crew members installed hardware for the investigation.

Hardware for Space Fibers-3 research, which evaluates methods for producing fiber optic cable in space. These fibers are of a higher quality than those manufactured on the ground and could improve applications on Earth, including imaging, remote sensing, and next-generation optical communications.
Image Credit: NASA

From waste to taste

Protein Manufacturing demonstrates a technology for converting inedible plant materials and other debris into high-protein, edible fungal biomats in microgravity. The biomats are incubated in the station’s Temperature Controlled Space Bioproducts Automated Laboratory (SABL). A system to produce fresh food in space is an important goal for future missions, as it would reduce the amount of prepackaged food that must be carried with them, reducing launch mass and storage needs. This technology is relatively simple, requires power only for temperature control, and requires little water. The resulting biomats are fast growing, nutritious and easy to harvest. This method also has potential applications on Earth, as it uses a fraction of the land, water, and energy required by traditional agriculture. In fact, through a company called Nature’s Fynd, this research has already made it easier to deliver nutritious food to people on Earth. Crew members set up the Plate Habitat (PHAB) containing the fungal bioreactors during the week.

image of an astronaut with a research sample

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins holds up a Plate Habitat before placing it in the space station’s SABL incubator for Protein Manufacturing, which demonstrates bioreactor technology for growing protein-rich foods in space.
Image Credit: NASA

Protein production and detection

Genes in Space-9 evaluates a protein synthesis technology, called BioBits®, that does not involve living cells, for use in microgravity. BioBits® are freeze-dried so they remain space stable and simply rehydrate when needed. This research also evaluates two biosensors that target a specific ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequence and chemical molecule, producing a fluorescent signal when targets are detected. The results could support the development of tools for medical diagnostics, on-demand production of drugs and vaccines, and environmental monitoring on future space missions. The findings may also support the development of low-cost and widely accessible diagnostic devices and medical therapies for use in remote or extreme environments on Earth and could be used as tools for hands-on learning in the classroom. Genes in Space, sponsored by the International Space Station National Laboratory, is one of a variety of programs that offer students the opportunity to send research and technology to the space station. Crew members performed runs of the Genes in Space-9 experiment during the week.

image of a research monitor

monitor fluorescence of Genes in Space floats in the dome of the space station. Genes in Space-9 evaluates low-cost cell-free technology and two biological sensors with potential application in medical diagnostics and therapeutics.
Image Credit: NASA

Other investigations involving the crew:

  • PGTide studies the effectiveness of stain removal ingredients and whether these detergent formulations undergo changes in physical appearance, stability, or performance in microgravity. The results could support the development of systems for washing crew clothing on future missions to the Moon and Mars.
  • The investigation immunosenescence uses tissue chips to study how microgravity affects immune function during flight and whether immune cells recover after flight. The results could support the development of treatments to protect astronauts during future long-duration spaceflight, and lead to the development of more effective treatments for the aging immune system on Earth.
  • Fiber Optic Production-2 it builds on previous work done to develop the technology for manufacturing commercial optical fibers in microgravity. These fibers are difficult to manufacture on Earth due to gravity-induced crystallization and other factors, and this research could help guide fiber optic fabrication aboard the space station for commercial use.
  • Butterfly IQ Ultrasound demonstrates a portable ultrasound device for use in space. This technology could provide critical medical capabilities to crews on long-endurance missions where immediate ground support is not an option. The device also has potential applications for healthcare in remote and isolated settings on Earth.
  • NutrISS, an investigation of the European Space Agency (ESA, for its acronym in English), assesses body composition and energy balance using wearable sensors. The results could lead to improved physical health and quality of life for astronauts, and better clinical management of malnourished, obese or immobilized patients on Earth.
  • MISSE-16 tests fabric with embedded sensors, 3D-printed polymers, dried microbes, paraffin wax thermal protection, thin solar cells, and other materials in the harsh environment of space. The samples could help improve equipment and systems for future space exploration.
image of cells from a research sample

This image shows a wound healing assay tissue chip for Immunosenescence, research that uses tissue chips to study how microgravity affects immune function, potentially affecting wound healing during spaceflight. The black area is equivalent to a wound and the green area contains cells that must migrate to the wound.
Image Credit: Grigol Tediashvili/UCSF

A robust microgravity laboratory with a multitude of specialized research facilities and tools, the space station has supported many scientific breakthroughs from research spanning a wide variety of scientific disciplines. The International Space Station Benefits to Humanity 2022 publication details the expanding universe of results from more than 20 years of experiments conducted on the station. Access the publication and related materials online in English.

For more news in Spanish, follow @NASA and sign up for the weekly newsletter here. For more news in English about the investigations aboard the station, follow @ISS_Research and Space Station Research and Technology News. Follow ISS National Lab for information on its sponsored research. And, for a chance to see the International Space Station pass over your city, check out Spot the Station.

By John Love
Johnson Center, Houston, Texas

Translation into Spanish: National University of Mar del Plata Mar del Plata, Argentina

Read this story in Spanish here.


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