New research will be heading to the International Space Station to help NASA understand how the conditions of spaceflight affect living organisms. This work is helping the agency develop the resources and measures necessary to ensure astronauts remain healthy as we venture beyond low-Earth orbit and head out to study an asteroid and eventually Mars.
Sixteen proposals were selected as part of two NASA coordinated research announcements, the Human Research Program's (HRP) "Human Exploration Research Opportunities--International Life Sciences Research Announcement" and Space Biology's "Research Opportunities for Flight Experiments in Space Biology (ILSRA)." To enable and enhance worldwide cooperation in space life sciences, the NASA solicitations were part of a larger international coordination that included research solicitations issued by space agencies in Europe, Japan and Canada.
"We selected these investigations expecting them to provide new knowledge that will lay a foundation other researchers and engineers can build upon," said Marshall Porterfield, director of the Space Life and Physical Sciences division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "These studies will not only help us create countermeasures to the problems inherent in microgravity, but we also expect them to translate into new biological tools and applications on Earth."
The selected studies represent how the Space Biology and Human Research Programs work together to span the range of basic and applied research in laboratory and spaceflight settings. Scot Wolverton, a biologist at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, will conduct research into how plants sense and respond to microgravity while growing in space. Gioia Massa, a project scientist at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will investigate salad-crop productivity, including the nutritional value of plants grown aboard the space station to supplement the astronauts' diet. Grace Douglas, an advanced food technology project scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, will investigate the impact of diet immune response and nutrition during spaceflight.
NASA selected proposals from 15 institutions in 12 states. Independent science and technology experts from around the world in academia, industry and government reviewed the proposals. Over 27.5% of the proposals reviewed were selected for funding. If fully implemented, the grants would total approximately $19 million with durations of one to three years. Space Biology and HRP will jointly sponsor four team proposals: one will evaluate the effects of changes in nutrition on the crew's intestinal microbes; another will explore the potential of edible-vegetable production aboard the space station; another will explore how viruses reactivate when exposed to microgravity; and another will count and categorize pathogenic microbes present on the crew and around the inside of the space station.
The selected HRP proposals will investigate questions about astronaut health and performance on future deep space exploration missions. Topics include intracranial pressure in astronauts, team task switching in astronaut crews and habitable volume and space utilization. Seven out of the 10 Space Biology proposals consist of investigator teams collaborating domestically and internationally across 23 institutions. Seven principal investigators are new to Space Biology. Alexander Robling, an associate professor of anatomy and cell biology at Indiana University, will conduct a long duration study to understand new mechanisms for bone loss during spaceflight and to identify new therapeutic targets to prevent osteoporosis in space and on Earth. Other topics include how long duration spaceflight affects rodent physiology, bone loss, metabolism, circadian rhythm (sleep), microbiome, and immunology, muscle strength, plant sensing of gravity and signaling, and microbial adaptation and evolution to long duration spaceflight cultures.
All of the selected projects will enter a flight-definition phase in which NASA will work with the investigators to enable the research to be conducted aboard the space station and in ground-based analog environments. Here is the complete list of the selected proposals, principal investigators and organizations:
The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has had continuous human occupation since November 2000. In that time, it has received more than 200 visitors and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's journey to Mars and other deep space destinations.
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