All Press Releases for August 05, 2015

Enabling Exploration to Distant Planets and Beyond

It's summer and vacation time, so now is as good a time as any to think about exploring faraway places and how you'll get there. Like you, at NASA we're thinking about travel; it just happens to be of an interplanetary and intergalactic nature.



Tune in this month to learn how the demonstrations aboard the space station are adding to our collective understanding to improve life on Earth and, one day, support humans on the planets beyond.

    HOUSTON, TX, August 05, 2015 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Welcome to the first installment of the International Space Station monthly overview. It's summer and perhaps vacation time for some of you, so now is as good a time as any to think about exploring faraway places and how you'll get there. Like you, we're thinking about travel; it just happens to be of an interplanetary and intergalactic nature. This month, we'll highlight how space station research and technology demonstrations not only advance scientific knowledge and benefit people on Earth, but also enable future human space exploration missions to an asteroid, Mars and beyond.

Currently, the One-Year Mission of NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko is allowing researchers to glean valuable human health research about the effects of microgravity on the body. These investigations are expected to yield beneficial knowledge on the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration spaceflight.

Technology demonstrations aboard the station beget new systems and concepts for Earth and space exploration. For example, the amine swingbed, which uses organic compounds with modified ammonia atoms, will control carbon dioxide and humidity in the Orion spacecraft that will take humans into deep space. This type of recovery system also can operate on Earth to help remove carbon dioxide and humidity in tight spaces, like in mine tunnels or submarines. Successful demonstrations of 3-D printing on the space station allow for the potential to manufacture parts quickly and cheaply in space. Instead of waiting for a cargo delivery, astronauts in the future could replace filters or faulty equipment simply by printing new parts. Research in microgravity may also yield insight into improving 3-D printing technology on Earth that could help advance industry printing methods.

Advanced communications systems like the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) investigation tests the use of laser optics to transfer information to the ground. The switch from radio frequency to a laser beam--compared by an OPALS project engineer as similar to an upgrade from dial-up to DSL--stands to increase the amount of data future missions can send using the same power resources, optimizing research return and communications capabilities on missions beyond low Earth orbit. Commercial applications also may spring from OPALS, as it improves communications from space. This could lead to higher definition video feeds from satellites or future planetary rovers.

A plethora of robotics systems developed aboard the space station are adding to NASA's exploration capabilities. The European Space Agency-Haptics-1 experiment seeks to validate technology for future missions during which an astronaut in orbit would control a robot as it explores its target, such as an asteroid or Mars. These remote operation techniques may lead to medical applications on Earth where patients and doctors connect via phone and videoconference to address a health issue. Another use could be operating robots in hazardous environments, such as handling radioactive material or working in a nuclear power plant after a leak.

A demonstration that simulates how rocket fuels move around inside their tanks, called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES)-Slosh, may enable technology for the next generation of spacecraft. The SPHERES-Slosh investigation. also may help advance understanding of how liquid behaves on Earth, whether in simple applications such as avoiding a spill from a coffee cup or more complex applications like an oil-carrying vessel traveling through the ocean or how to create novel building damping devices in earthquake-prone areas.

Human behavioral health and performance also is a critical element to consider for deep-space missions where crew members reside in confined spaces for long periods of time. One study evaluates the effects of delayed communications that interplanetary crews may have to handle in the event of medical and other emergencies. This type of research also may help refine procedures for Earth-based teams that operate in extreme or remote environments with limited contact with a home base and its experts. Additionally, NASA funded three proposals to help answer questions about neurological conditions related to behavioral health and performance on deep space exploration missions.

Finally, plant growth facilities on the station like Veggie help produce safe, fresh and nutritious crops for astronauts while giving the crew opportunities for relaxation and recreation. Using these facilities, researchers can glean knowledge about plant growth and development in microgravity. This information may improve growth, biomass production and farming practices on Earth.

Tune in throughout the month to learn how the myriad research and technology demonstrations aboard the space station are adding to our collective understanding to improve life on Earth and, one day, support humans on the planets beyond.

Laura Niles
International Space Station Program Science Office
NASA's Johnson Space Center

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Laura Niles
NASA Johnson Space Center
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