Three experiences that could change your life.
When Northrop Grumman’s 17th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station launches in mid-February, it will conduct three investigations of particular interest to NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division. “It’s not often that we get the opportunity to launch experiments with such potential to facilitate future space travel and benefit those of us on Earth,” noted Division Director Craig Kundrot. “We are all very excited about the possible results.”
In the photo, the growth and extinction of a flame in microgravity conditions. Flow velocity, oxygen percentage, and pressure are measured to determine growth and extinction characteristics in this environment.
Improve the security of a spaceship (and your home)
As sailors learned centuries ago, fire is a ship’s worst enemy. But a fire aboard a spacecraft would be different, since the flames would be subjected to microgravity conditions. And this difference can occur unexpectedly.
How? ‘Or’ What? It is the purpose of the Solid Fuel Ignition and Extinguishing (SoFIE) establishment. Although there is some evidence that fires can be more dangerous in microgravity conditions, much remains to be studied.
Contained within the space station’s existing Combustion Integrated Rack, SoFIE will allow researchers to observe the ignition and flammability of solid spacecraft materials. Investigators will use this data to evaluate NASA’s 1-G Material Flammability Selection Protocols for materials for use in spacecraft or planetary habitats. SoFIE will also allow researchers to test flame suppression techniques in microgravity.
This same data from SoFIE experiments can also be applied to advance fire safety on Earth. For example, to help determine the fire resistance of a new material for use in the home, office or even on a new ship.
Winning the Microbial Battle
Yes, even in space you’ll find fungi – those tiny, self-reproducing mold cells that can form a thin, slimy coating, called a biofilm, on different surfaces. What can be done to prevent their spread inside space habitats?
Enter this survey with the long name: Characterization of biofilm formation, growth and gene expression on different materials and environmental conditions in microgravity. First, this investigation will characterize the mass, thickness, morphology and associated gene expression of this spatial biofilm.
Next, the researchers will look at the biomechanical and RNA mechanisms involved in the formation of biofilm in space. Finally, they will review the role of current material surfaces on biofilm formation, as well as introduce a new material to test surface resistance to sticky substance.
Sharmila Bhattacharya, a scientist with the Space Biology Program, notes the importance of these experiments: “If we can better control the spread of space biofilms, it will help protect the health of the crew during long-duration space missions. It will also protect any planets we visit from these microbial life forms. Back on Earth, getting new information on how to better fight mold would also be welcome for millions of people.
Bon Appetit – Part 2
In 2014, the first plants were introduced to the Space Station via Veggie – a plant growth chamber that uses LED lights and fans to circulate the station’s air. This system is small and uses water and nutrient delivery systems, so scaling up in a space environment is a challenge due to mass, containment, maintenance, and sanitation issues.
Now, a new phase of experimentation is about to take place: eXposed Root In-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) the survey will use hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to grow plants without soil. Integrated with existing Veggie hardware and using video, photography and crew observations, the XROOTS survey will assess nutrient delivery and recovery techniques such as aeroponics from a plant’s germination to maturity.
The system features multiple independent growth chambers to evaluate alternative methods and setups. And, once the optimal growing conditions are found, this information will be useful to producers on Earth who could improve the cultivation of plants in environments such as greenhouses, which, in turn, could contribute to better food security. Bon appetit indeed – with a new twist.
NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division is at the forefront of scientific discovery and enables exploration using space environments to conduct investigations not possible on Earth. Studying biological and physical phenomena under extreme conditions allows researchers to advance the fundamental scientific knowledge needed to go further and stay longer in space, while benefiting life on Earth.