Space Station Science Highlights: Week of Oct 8, 2018

ISS – Expedition 57 Mission patch.

Oct. 15, 2018

Last week’s departure of Expedition 56 astronauts marked the start of Expedition 57 and a new commander of the International Space Station, Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency. Current crew members also include NASA astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying Nick Hague of NASA and Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:40 a.m. CDT on Thursday. Shortly after launch, an anomaly with the booster resulted in an abort of the ascent to orbit and a ballistic landing of the spacecraft in Kazakhstan. Hague and Ovchinin were recovered from the capsule and are in good condition. Crew aboard the station were informed and continue to operate the station and conduct important scientific research.

Image above: NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscomos launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:40 a.m. CDT on Thursday. Shortly after launch, an anomaly with the booster resulted in an abort of the ascent to orbit and a ballistic landing of the spacecraft in Kazakhstan. Both are in good condition. Image Credit: NASA.

Research last week included investigations related to human health and performance, and growing better protein crystals.

Advancing DNA and RNA sequencing in space continues

Crew members conducted operations with the Biomolecule Sequencer for the BEST investigation. This study seeks to advance use of DNA and RNA sequencing in space, using sequencing to identify microbial organisms living on the space station and to help determine how humans, plants and microbes adapt to life there.

Image above: The Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) biomolecule sequencer floats in the International Space Station above a view of Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Samples collected for ongoing look at effects of spaceflight

For the Biochemical Profile investigation, a crew member collected blood and urine samples at 120 days into spaceflight. The investigation tests blood and urine samples before, during, and after spaceflight to analyze biomarkers, or specific proteins and chemicals in the samples used as indicators of health. Scientists can use a database of post-flight analysis of samples and test results to study the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

A cooler way to create crystals

The crew prepared JAXA LT PCG samples and placed them in the Stirling-Cycle Refrigerator (FROST) to begin the process of producing high-quality protein crystals in microgravity at low temperatures. This new technique contributes to the development of new drugs by revealing disease-related protein structure, and to the production of new catalysts for the environmental and energy industries.

Animation above: The JAXA LT PCG investigation grows high quality protein crystals in microgravity to determine protein structures in detail. Last week, crew members prepared the samples and placed them in the FROST facility aboard the station. Animation Credit: NASA.

And a closer look at crystal formation

Also last week, crew members reconfigured the Fluids Integrated Rack (FIR) Light Microscopy Module (LMM) Biophysics facility for the LMM Biophysics 4 investigation. Proteins are important biological molecules that, when crystallized, provide better views of their structure that help scientists understand how they work. Proteins crystallized in microgravity are often higher in quality than those grown on Earth, and LMM Biophysics 4 examines the movement of single protein molecules in microgravity in order to determine why this is so.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Other work was done on these investigations:

– Food Acceptability examines changes in how food appeals to crew members during their time aboard the station. Acceptability of food – whether crew members like and actually eat something – may directly affect crew caloric intake and associated nutritional benefits:

– Sextant Navigation tests a hand-held sextant instrument that could provide emergency navigation for future manned spacecraft:

– BCAT-CS studies dynamic forces between sediment particles that cluster together:

– The Life Sciences Glovebox (LSG) is a sealed work area that accommodates life science and technology investigations in a workbench-type environment. Due to its larger size, two crew members can work in the LSG simultaneously:

– Meteor is a visible spectroscopy instrument used to observe meteors in Earth orbit:

– ACME E-FIELD Flames studies the stability and sooting behavior of flames in microgravity to support development of less polluting and more efficient combustion technology for use on Earth:

Related articles:

Crew in Good Condition After Booster Failure:

Soyuz MS-10 – Emergency landing after a failure:

Related links:

Expedition 57:


Biochemical Profile:


LMM Biophysics 4:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Vic Cooley, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 57/58.

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A Mesmerizing Model of Monster Black Holes

Just about every galaxy the size of our Milky Way (or bigger) has a supermassive black hole at its center. These objects are ginormous — hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of the Sun! Now, we know galaxies merge from time to time, so it follows that some of their black holes should combine too. But we haven’t seen a collision like that yet, and we don’t know exactly what it would look like. 


A new simulation created on the Blue Waters supercomputer — which can do 13 quadrillion calculations per second, 3 million times faster than the average laptop — is helping scientists understand what kind of light would be produced by the gas around these systems as they spiral toward a merger.

The new simulation shows most of the light produced around these two black holes is UV or X-ray light. We can’t see those wavelengths with our own eyes, but many telescopes can. Models like this could tell the scientists what to look for. 

You may have spotted the blank circular region between the two black holes. No, that’s not a third black hole. It’s a spot that wasn’t modeled in this version of the simulation. Future models will include the glowing gas passing between the black holes in that region, but the researchers need more processing power. The current version already required 46 days!


The supermassive black holes have some pretty nifty effects on the light created by the gas in the system. If you view the simulation from the side, you can see that their gravity bends light like a lens. When the black holes are lined up, you even get a double lens!

But what would the view be like from between two black holes? In the 360-degree video above, the system’s gas has been removed and the Gaia star catalog has been added to the background. If you watch the video in the YouTube app on your phone, you can moved the screen around to explore this extreme vista. Learn more about the new simulation here

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Muscle Movers There are over 600 skeletal muscles in your…

Muscle Movers

There are over 600 skeletal muscles in your body; those are the ones that get your bones moving. They spring into action every time motor nerves send signals to them via special junctions called neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). We don’t yet know exactly how NMJs develop but past research suggests signalling molecules called Wnts are involved. Researchers genetically tweaked mice to prevent the release of Wnts from their motor nerves during development. The mutant mice showed muscle weakness and looking at their NMJs using fluorescent microscopy (pictured) revealed that the ends of their nerves (green) were swollen (top middle) when compared to normal mice NMJs (top left). Next they added back different Wnts (top right and bottom row) to see which could rescue these defects. Wnt 7A and 7B were the winners (bottom left and middle). More digging will reveal just what they are up to during NMJ development.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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