Pioneering Space Botany and Biology: Shaping Health on Earth and Beyond

Northrop Grumman’s Cymbal-Shaped Solar Array Contrasts a Bahamas Backdrop

In the foreground, the golden cymbal-shaped solar array of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft is partially illuminated by the Sun and shadowed by other exterior station hardware. Below it, the teal waters of the Bahamas create a contrasting backdrop. The International Space Station was orbiting 259 miles above as this image was taken. Credit: NASA

Space botany, human research, and bioprinting were the dominant science topics aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, December 7. The Expedition 70 septet also focused on lab hardware and cargo operations throughout the day.

Space Agriculture

Growing plants in space is critical as astronauts prepare for longer missions farther away from Earth. Space agriculture may help feed crews and provide a cleaner breathing environment aboard spacecraft and space habitats. Crews will have to be self-sustainable relying less on cargo missions packed with food, fuel, and supplies from Earth.

Expedition 70 Flight Engineers Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O'Hara

Expedition 70 Flight Engineers (from left) Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara, both from NASA, pose for a portrait inside the Destiny laboratory module following the successful docking of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

NASA astronauts Loral O’Hara and Andreas Mogensen from ESA (European Space Agency) took turns servicing the Advanced Plant Habitat replacing environmental control components on the research device. NASA Flight Engineer Jasmin Moghbeli assisted the duo in reconfiguring the botany facility that has grown a variety of vegetables in the Kibo laboratory module.

Vision Studies

O’Hara and Moghbeli then joined Flight Engineer Satoshi Furukawa from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) for eye checks that are part of the CIPHER suite of 14 human research experiments. O’Hara first measured the electrical response of Furukawa’s retinas to light using specialized sensors. Next, O’Hara used standard medical imaging hardware to view the optic nerves and retinas inside Moghbeli’s eyes. Investigators are exploring how weightlessness affects vision and the condition of the eye.

Snow Drifts in Karakoram Mountain Range From ISS

Snow drifts through the Karakoram mountain range as low-hanging clouds blend into the snow-capped summits of mountains as the International Space Station soared 259 miles above Pakistan. Credit: NASA

Bioprinting in Space

Mogensen wrapped up his day in the Columbus laboratory module printing cardiac tissue samples using the BioFabrication Facility (BFF). Moghbeli helped the ESA station commander insert tissue cassettes inside the 3D bioprinter and photograph the research activities. The BFF is demonstrating the potential of manufacturing human organs in space from existing patient cells.

Space Biology

Cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Konstantin Borisov joined each other Thursday morning checking and photographing eggs being incubated for a Roscosmos biology investigation. Kononenko then studied ways to improve communication between international crews and mission controllers from around the world. Borisov wore a cap packed with sensors and researched futuristic spacecraft and robotic piloting techniques. Flight Engineer Nikolai Chub continued unpacking the Progress 86 cargo craft and then tested power supply components inside the Zarya module.

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