Mission to Jupiter’s Icy Moon Confirmed

NASA — Europa Clipper Mission patch.

August 20, 2019

Image above: A 2016 artist’s concept of the Europa Clipper spacecraft. The design is changing as the spacecraft is developed. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

An icy ocean world in our solar system that could tell us more about the potential for life on other worlds is coming into focus with confirmation of the Europa Clipper mission’s next phase. The decision allows the mission to progress to completion of final design, followed by the construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and science payload.

«We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,» said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. «We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.»

The mission will conduct an in-depth exploration of Jupiter’s moon Europa and investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology. To develop this mission in the most cost-effective fashion, NASA is targeting to have the Europa Clipper spacecraft complete and ready for launch as early as 2023. The agency baseline commitment, however, supports a launch readiness date by 2025.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leads the development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for the Science Mission Directorate. Europa Clipper is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Related links:

Europa Clipper: https://europa.nasa.gov/

Astrobiology: https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Alana Johnson/JPL/Gretchen McCartney.

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Space Station Science Highlights: Week of August 12, 2019

ISS — Expedition 60 Mission patch.

Aug. 20, 2019

Scientific studies continued aboard the International Space Station last week, including experiments on acoustics, crystal growth, the effects of microgravity on stem cells, and more. Crew members also prepared for an upcoming extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk, to install an International Docking Adapter or IDA. Use of these standardized docking facilities allows the space station to accommodate multiple spacecraft, from new commercial craft to other yet-to-be designed international vehicles. The space station is a test bed for learning what keeps humans healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrating technologies for future exploration, including Artemis, NASA’s program to return humans to the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars.

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch takes images of Earth from the cupola as the space station flies 259 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South America. Image Credit: NASA.

Here are details on some of the science conducted on the orbiting laboratory during the week of August 12:

Space may be silent but the space station is not

The crew completed questionnaires and measured ambient background noise for the Acoustic Diagnostics investigation, which tests the hearing of crew members before, during, and after flight to assess possible adverse effects of noise and microgravity. Researchers compare the relationship between the detection of sounds naturally generated from within the inner ear and hearing loss from exposure to noisy environments.

Toward a longer shelf life for antibodies

Image above: Monoclonal antibodies like this one bind selectively to targets, meaning they can fight a wide range of diseases while leaving healthy tissues and cells intact. CASIS PCG 19 compares antibody formulation stability in microgravity and on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Vials for the CASIS PCG 19 investigation incubated at different temperatures for two weeks. The crew transferred these vials to the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) to preserve them. This investigation examines the stability of monoclonal antibody formulations in microgravity. These formulations degrade over time but discarding them leads to increased cost and limits locations on Earth where patients can benefit from them. Storing formulations in microgravity may reveal processes that lead to degradation and, ultimately, to methods for slowing it down.

Understanding stem cells in space

Animation above: European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano conducts operations for the Micro-15 investigation, which examines the influence of microgravity on stem cell differentiation, gene expression and cell proliferation. Animation Credit: NASA.

Stem cells are capable of becoming any type of cell in the body, a process known as cell differentiation. Prior flight experiments and ground-based simulations have demonstrated that microgravity influences this differentiation as well as gene expression and cell proliferation in stem cells. The Micro-15 investigation examines the mechanisms behind these observations using three-dimensional (3D) cultures of mammalian stem cells. The crew prepared the culture sets and initiated incubation. Sets of twelve samples will incubate for various lengths of time before retrieval and fixing.

Keeping tabs on astronaut health

Bio-Monitor tests a wearable garment capable of monitoring an astronaut’s heart rate, respiration rate, skin temperature and other parameters for up to 48 hours in a non-invasive and unobtrusive way. The space station is equipped with health and life sciences research tools, but the capability for continuous and simultaneous recording of several physiological parameters is lacking. The Bio-Monitor could help address these gaps. Last week, a crew member wore the garment and headband connected to the data unit for a 72-hour session.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

— Lighting Effects studies the effects on crew member circadian rhythms, sleep, and cognitive performance when solid-state light-emitting diodes (LEDs) replace fluorescent light bulbs on the space station:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=2013

— The ISS Experience creates short virtual reality videos from footage taken during the yearlong investigation covering different aspects of crew life, execution of science and the international partnerships involved on the space station:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7877

— Food Acceptability examines changes in the appeal of food aboard the space station during long-duration missions. “Menu fatigue” from repeatedly consuming a limited choice of foods may contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members, potentially affecting astronaut health, especially as mission length increases:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7562

— Standard Measures captures a consistent and simple set of measures from crew members throughout the ISS Program to characterize adaptive responses to and risks of living in space:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7711

— Goodyear Tire evaluates creation of silica fillers using traditional techniques in microgravity, which may yield results not possible on Earth:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7716

— Rodent Research-17 (RR-17) uses young and old mice to evaluate the physiological, cellular and molecular effects of microgravity and spaceflight:
https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7992

Space to Ground: Robotic Refueling: 08/16/2019

Related links:

Expedition 60: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition60/index.html

International Docking Adapter or IDA: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/meet-the-international-docking-adapter

Artemis: https://www.nasa.gov/artemis

Acoustic Diagnostics: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7898

CASIS PCG 19: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7914

Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=56

Micro-15: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=7653

Bio-Monitor: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=7392

Spot the Station: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/Vic Cooley, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 60.

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