Space Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist

(Highlights: Week of July 3, 2017) - The week on the International Space Station began with the safe return of the SpaceX-11 Dragon spacecraft to Earth on July 3, and concluded with an investigation into new methods to keep astronauts safe on long space voyages.

Crew members changed the filter on the Long Duration Sorbent Testbed (LDST) which scientists are using to create a more efficient life support system for long-duration, crewed space missions. A silica gel is currently used on the space station to remove humidity or water from the air, which allows life support hardware to more efficiently filter out carbon dioxide. The CO2 is processed with filtered hydrogen from the oxygen generator, converting the two waste products into water, a precious commodity in space.

After a year, that silica gel loses up to 75 percent of its capacity to absorb water, making it necessary to replace it. This investigation is studying 12 potential replacements for the gel to determine which would be most effective for use on long-duration missions. Data from the study will help determine the best material to use to build better filters, which would reduce the number of replacements sent on deep-space missions, leaving more cargo space available for other payloads. Ground crews will conduct a similar experiment in a laboratory on Earth using the same materials for comparison.

A fresh hard drive was installed to record new images taken for the Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) investigation. Scientists use a spectrograph to analyze high-resolution video and photos of space rocks falling through Earth's atmosphere to determine the chemical composition of these meteors.

Meteors are relatively rare, and are difficult to monitor from the ground because of the interference created by Earth’s atmosphere. Investigating the elemental composition of meteors is important to our understanding of how planets developed. Continuous measurement of meteors and their interaction with Earth's atmosphere could help spot previously undetected or unnoticed meteors as they descended toward the ground. The investigation is installed in the station's Window Observational Research Facility (WORF).

The station crew began thawing out cell cultures to begin a new investigation in microgravity. In space, these cultures will already spontaneously grow in three dimensions. Magnetic 3D Cell Culture for Biological Research in Microgravity (Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing) uses magnetized cells and tools to make it easier to handle microscopic cultures and observe how they grow and function while testing new technology to improve the ability to reproduce experiments and confirm results.

If this technology proves successful, it may be possible to observe cell cultures on the ground using magnetic tools to levitate them and see them from all angles. Capturing this information in space and on Earth could potentially accelerate drug development and reduce costs.