Burning in microgravity to 'life' outside space station: 4 experiments UAE astronaut, his Crew-6 mates will conduct

As per Nasa, the team will conduct 'new and exciting scientific research' to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and benefit life on Earth

by

Sahim Salim

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Published: Mon 27 Feb 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 12:33 PM

In a few hours from now, UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi will blast off from Earth and embark on a 25-hour journey to the International Space Station (ISS) along with his Crew-6 mates. Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, along with UAE astronaut Al Neyadi and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev will be aboard the ISS for a six-month mission.

According to Nasa, Crew-6 will conduct “new and exciting scientific research” to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and benefit life on Earth. They will conduct more than 200 science experiments and technology demonstrations.


Nasa details some of the investigations the crew will work on during their mission:

A flame from acrylic burning in microgravity for the first test of SoFIE-GEL on January 13, 2023. Credit: Nasa
A flame from acrylic burning in microgravity for the first test of SoFIE-GEL on January 13, 2023. Credit: Nasa

1. Burning in microgravity

The crew will use the Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinction (SoFIE) hardware insert for the station’s Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR). A previous investigation, SoFIE-GEL, looked at how fuel temperature affects material flammability, Nasa said on its website.


“Now, SoFIE-MIST examines thermally-assisted burning in microgravity, changing parameters including air flow, oxygen concentration, pressure, and external radiation level. Results could help scientists assess the flammability of materials used in future space missions, a critical factor in spacecraft and facility design,” Nasa said. “The investigation also could contribute to crew safety by helping to determine the best equipment and procedures to detect and suppress a fire in space and to clean up afterwards.”

In the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at Johnson Space Centre, a Nasa astronaut tests collection methods for ISS External Microorganisms. Credit: Nasa
In the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at Johnson Space Centre, a Nasa astronaut tests collection methods for ISS External Microorganisms. Credit: Nasa

2. Life in the great beyond

ISS External Microorganisms collects samples from outside the space station during spacewalks. The aim is to examine whether the spacecraft releases microorganisms, how many, and how far they may travel.

“This research could help determine whether changes are needed to crewed spacecraft, including spacesuits, to limit the spread of contamination from Earth on future exploration missions. Making any such changes while plans for those missions are still in the conceptual design phase should minimise cost and effort. Extremophiles, or microorganisms that can survive harsh environments like space, have potential uses on Earth as well,” Nasa said.

European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and Nasa astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor conduct a blood sample draw for Functional Immune. Credit: Nasa
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and Nasa astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor conduct a blood sample draw for Functional Immune. Credit: Nasa

3. Immune monitoring

Immunity Assay, an investigation from the European Space Agency, uses a functional immune test to monitor how spaceflight stressors affect cellular immune functions.

“Until now, this test could only be accomplished on Earth and was conducted pre- and post-flight. A newly developed assay tube makes it possible to execute the test inflight, which could provide a clearer assessment of the immune changes that happen in flight and help inform development of countermeasures. The body’s ability to defend against infections shows clear changes in response to simulated microgravity or confinement on Earth that appear to be associated with stress.”

The new test could be used to monitor stress-related immune performance during space missions and in settings on Earth.

Preflight image of a BioCell. Credit: Joseph Wu, Dilip Thomas, and Xu Cao, Stanford Cardiovascular Institute.
Preflight image of a BioCell. Credit: Joseph Wu, Dilip Thomas, and Xu Cao, Stanford Cardiovascular Institute.

4. Tissue chip investigations

Tissue chips are small devices that mimic functions of human organs. Using them for studies in microgravity allows scientists to model changes that may take months or years to happen on Earth, Nasa said.



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