All Press Releases for January 26, 2017

2016 Space Station Research Highlights

Here's a look back at some of the science highlights that are helping us continue our journey further into space and benefiting us back on Earth.

    HOUSTON, TX, January 26, 2017 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Research aboard your orbiting laboratory began the year with fire and flowers, followed by the return of the Year in Space crew, the installation of the first expandable habitat aboard the International Space Station, the first sequencing of DNA in space, and included an array of milestones and investigations across many science disciplines. Here's a look back at some of the science highlights that are helping us continue our journey further into space and benefiting us back on Earth.

BASS-M - Igniting Innovation

In January, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra ran the Burning and Suppression of Solids - Milliken, or BASS-M, experiment. The BASS-M investigation tests flame-retardant cotton fabrics to determine how well they resist burning in microgravity. Results benefit research on flame-retardant textiles that can be used on Earth and in space.

Science in Bloom

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly tended the first flowering plant crop in the Veggie plant growth facility as part of the Veg-01 investigation. Understanding how flowering plants grow in microgravity is crucial to moving on to crops like tomatoes, which will add to the ability to grow pick-able salads in space. Though the zinnia plants initially hit unexpected watering issues, Kelly and ground controllers worked to save the plants, resulting in many blooms that not only contributed to research, but also added color to the often sterile environment of the space station.

Return of Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko From Year in Space

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly of NASA and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned from their year-long mission aboard the space station on March 1. Kelly and Kornienko were members of Expeditions 43, 44, 45, and 46, and collected valuable data on the effect of long-duration weightlessness on the human body that will be used to formulate a human mission to Mars.

Field Tests

Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly were among the first participants in the Field Test investigation, which studies how astronauts recover after prolonged spaceflight. These tests are conducted before the crew launches to space, then three separate times within 24 hours of landing, and several more times post flight.

15-Year Anniversary of POIC Support at MSFC

As of March 9, 2016, teams who work in the Payload Operations Integration Center - the science command post for the International Space Station - have spent 15 years supporting around-the-clock science 365 days a year. The Year in Space mission marked the first time controllers scheduled a crewmember for experiments over a year period, rather than the typical 6-month period most astronauts live and work on the space station. They also worked more closely than ever with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, since he performed the same human research investigations as Scott Kelly.

1,000th Educational Amateur Radio Contact

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra spoke with students in North Dakota during the 1,000th educational Amateur, or ham, radio contact on March 10, 2016. The overall goal of this long-running experiment is to interest young people in mathematics and science, and inspire the next generation of explorers.

First Run of Gene Expression Facility, WetLab-2

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams works with the Wet Lab Gene Expression Analysis System on the orbiting laboratory. The research platform will conduct real-time quantitative gene expression analysis in orbit. The system enables spaceflight genomic studies involving a variety of biospecimen types in the unique microgravity environment of space.

SPHERES Ten-Year Anniversary

The Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, and Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) facility celebrated 10 years of science aboard the space station in May. Here, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet conduct a SPHERES tether demonstration. Used for many different science investigations as well as educational outreach, these bowling-ball-sized satellites can be programmed to move about the space station cabin.

Installation and Expansion of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was expanded on the space station on May 28. NASA is investigating concepts for habitats that can keep astronauts healthy during space exploration. Expandable habitats are one such concept under consideration - requiring less payload volume on the rocket than traditional rigid structures, and expanding after deployment in space to provide additional room for astronauts to live and work.

Installation and Runs of the Packed Bed Reactor Experiment

The Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE) is an investigation looking to fill in the missing information as to how two-phase mixtures flow through porous media in microgravity. It is the largest experiment to have been installed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. NASA astronauts Tim Kopra and Peggy Whitson both installed and ran PBRE during their missions.

Completion of the In-Flight Portion of Four Human Research Program Investigations

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra conducts a self-exam as part of the Ocular Health investigation on the space station. Scientists hope to better understand the vision changes crew members experience during long-duration space missions and create effective counter-measures to ensure the health and safety of astronauts for the journey to Mars. Ocular Health is one of four human research investigations for which the in-flight portions were completed with the return of the 45S crew. Also completed were Cognition, Salivary Markers and Microbiome. It takes a long time to complete the number of subjects required for human research investigations - it's usually years in the making - so this was a significant milestone.

Saffire-1 and 2 Investigations Aboard Cygnus Cargo Vehicles

Fire safety is a crucial component of space living. As we partner with industry and international space agencies to develop deep space habitation capabilities, we are leveraging every opportunity to validate important habitation-related systems and operations in low-Earth orbit. The Saffire-1 investigation, initiated aboard Orbital ATK's Cygnus vehicle after it departed the space station, marked the first time a large-scale fire was set in space, and sought to understand flame spread and material flammability limits in long duration microgravity. Saffire-2, initiated in November, was the second in a series of three Saffire experiments to be conducted over the course of three flights of Cygnus vehicles.

Installation of NREP

Flight engineer and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Takuya Onishi works to assemble the NanoRacks External Platform (NREP) on the Platform Cover at JPM1A5 in the Kibo Japanese Experiment Pressurized Module (JPM). The NanoRacks External Platform represents the first external commercial research capability for the testing of scientific investigations, sensors, and electronic components in space.

Heart Cells Investigation

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins views beating heart cells through a microscope on the space station. The Heart Cells investigation uses human skin cells that are induced to become stem cells, which can then differentiate into any type of cell. Researchers forced the stem cells to grow into human heart cells, which Rubins cultured aboard the space station for one month. Rubins described seeing the heart cells beat for the first time as "pretty amazing. First of all, there's a few things that have made me gasp out loud up aboard the station. Seeing the planet was one of them, but I've got to say, getting these cells in focus and watching heart cells actually beat has been another pretty big one." Understanding how heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, change in space can improve efforts to study disease, screen drugs and conduct cell replacement therapy for future space missions.

First Sequencing of DNA in Space

NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins sequenced DNA in space for the first time ever for the Biomolecule Sequencer investigation, using the MinION sequencing device. The ability to sequence the DNA of living organisms in space opens a whole new world of scientific and medical possibilities. Scientists consider it a potential game changer.

Completion of RapidScat Mission

RapidScat, a space-based scatterometer, completed its successful two-year mission, outlasting its original decommission date before suffering a power loss in mid-August. RapidScat helped improve weather forecasting on Earth, provided cross-calibration for all international satellites that monitor ocean winds, and improved estimates of how ocean winds change throughout the day, around the globe. RapidScat data was used all over the world by government laboratories and meteorological agencies, scientists, private companies, students and individuals to track the progression of a storm's strength. Here, RapidScat revealed sustained winds over 30 meters per second/108 kph/67 mph (in red) were still occurring southeast of Tropical Cyclone Pam's center on March 16.

Fluid Shifts Investigation

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin participated in the Fluid Shifts investigation, which seeks to better understand the relationship of fluid shifting to the upper body in microgravity and changes in vision that some astronauts experience on orbit. The investigation utilizes the Russian Chibis suit that is housed in the Russian Service Module aboard the station, making it a great example of international partnership. Learn more about how these vacuum pants could help researchers not only better understand how spaceflight affects vision, but how it findings could also benefits people on Earth who have conditions that increase pressure in the brain or who are put on extended bedrest.

Eli Lilly Hard to Wet Surfaces

The Hard to Wet Surfaces (Eli Lilly-Hard to Wet Surfaces) investigation studies how certain materials used in the pharmaceutical industry dissolve in water while in microgravity. Results from this investigation could help improve the design of tablets that dissolve in the body to deliver drugs, thereby improving drug design for medicines used in space and on Earth. In this view of the Hard to Wet Surfaces Sample Module, you can see an example of a significant gel interface that formed between the tablet and the solution which was not observed to the same extent on Earth.

Veg-03 Crop

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough is seen with Veg-03, the third crop of red romaine lettuce grown in the Veggie Plant Growth Facility. This crop will be the first time crew members attempt a new, repetitive harvest technique called, "Cut and Come Again," where they harvest leaves for several weeks in a row.


The Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (ELF) is an experimental facility designed to levitate/melt/solidify materials by containerless processing techniques using the Electrostatic Levitation method. With this facility, thermophysical properties of high temperature melts can be measured, and solidification from deeply undercooled melts can be achieved. The ELF is located in the JEM Multipurpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR) in Kibo. Here, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet is seen removing a sample cartridge from ELF before cleaning the internal chamber of sample residue.

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The Saffire-1 investigation marked the first time a large-scale fire was set in space, and sought to understand flame spread and material flammability limits in long duration