Space Station Research Looks at Skin Cells, Plant Genetics and Exercise

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei Harvests Plants

Astronaut Mark Vande Hei harvests plants and collects samples to analyze later for a space agriculture study. Credit: NASA

Friday’s research schedule aboard the International Space Station included exploring how microgravity affects skin cells and cotton genetics. The Expedition 66 crew is also learning how to exercise more effectively in weightlessness.

Living in space has been shown to accelerate the rate of skin aging and a new study delivered aboard the Cygnus space freighter seeks to understand why and protect astronaut’s health. NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn started the experiment on Tuesday and has been servicing skin tissue samples that will grow inside the Life Science Glovebox. The samples will be stowed later in a science freezer and analyzed back on Earth to evaluate the cellular and molecular changes that take place in microgravity.

Weightlessness also affects how plants grow and Flight Engineers Kayla Barron of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA (European Space Agency) spent Friday morning exploring genetic expression in cotton cultures. The duo worked on cotton cell samples being grown in the Plant Habitat to learn more about the process of plant regeneration possibly improving crop production on Earth.

Exercise is very important in space as the microgravity environment can lead to muscle and bone loss. Two exercise studies on the orbiting lab are investigating different ways to maximize the effectiveness of working out in microgravity. Maurer began his day pedaling on an exercise cycle wearing the EasyMotion body suit that stimulates muscles. The specialized suit may improve and lessen the duration of exercise sessions in space. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov attached sensors to himself and worked out on the Zvezda service module’s treadmill for a Russian exercise study. That investigation looks at how an exercising crew member expends energy and other physiological factors to help keep crews fit and healthy on a long duration spaceflight.

NASA Flight Engineer Raja Chari worked throughout Friday troubleshooting components on the COLBERT treadmill located in the Tranquility module. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei performed orbital plumbing duties and took photos for the ongoing SQuARE archaeological project.

At the end of the day, all six flight engineers joined Commander Anton Shkaplerov and practiced an emergency drill. The seven-member crew located station safety gear, translated along escape paths, and coordinated communications with mission controllers for unlikely events such as an ammonia leak, depressurization, or a fire.

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