Oct 11, 2010

ISS: One Big Science Lab

Part 4 in a series on the ISS.

Daily living must be uneasy traveling 17,500 mph and living in micro-gravity. ISS Commander Doug Wheelock, in an interview on the NASA Channel, said the bodily changes are most notable in the first thirty days. The brain is unaccustomed to the effects of the change in inner ear fluids, resulting in incorrect perceptions. Flight Engineer Shannon Walker added "A general sense of stuffiness occurs as various body fluids and organs are shifting." Doug said it took him about 30 days to get acclimated. One major effect of living long-term in space is weight and muscle loss and since the heart is a muscle, it has to be monitored closely. There are counter measures such as resistant exercises to lessen this effect. The ISS is doing a lot of research on muscular-skeletal changes, to help us understand the effects of microgravity on the muscular system and provide exercise for it.
The astronauts are required to exercise and test, record, and regulate everything. Each astronaut in space wears a large watch-like thing on the wrist. This records physiological data that gets reported back to medical teams on earth. The basic biomedical research on the ISS is designed, in part, to research on how the immune system and bones weaken in space. (If they can get these little problems worked out, life in outer space will be much better for you and me by the time we get out there.) There are sleep/wake experiments and light exposure studies, cardiovascular health studies, and spinal elongation studies to monitor changes in height. Crew members tend to increase in stature by up to 3%. NASA is particularly interested in the seated height since their seats on the shuttles are fitted for their bodies, keeping them safe, secure and all snuggly during launch and re-entry. The ISS Crew is required to take a graded cycle test every 30 days where they breathe into a mouthpiece to calculate and monitor oxygen levels VO2max and heart health. The environment of long term micro-gravity has been found to accelerate the stiffening of blood vessels that parallels the aging process on earth. There are many studies on aging that can benefit from these studies.
The MSRR lab studies the Materials Science where they can isolate the chemical and thermal properties of materials sans gravity.
And my faves? The Kids & Microgravity experiments. Kids in grades 5-8 designed experiments to be performed simultaneously in the classroom on earth and on the ISS. The experiments competed and the winning entries are now on the ISS. The ISS crew members monitor these -- one of which is about water absorption. They are measuring water absorption in various materials and comparing the difference in absorption on earth as opposed to absorption in outer space.
ISS crew members, along with students and teachers on Earth, explore differences in physical phenomena on Earth and in microgravity. On the NASA Channel, an 8th grader recently asked Doug how they can conduct experiments that involve liquid in a microgravity environment. "You have to be very, very careful," Doug responded, "One study is looking at the transport of materials through a liquid bridge. We try to have a period of quiescence where we try not to fire the thrusters on the ISS, we use only the momentum wheels so it's a very smooth ride and we try to keep our hands from touching or pushing off the experiments. But liquid, when it's in space, tends to coalesce together like a big ball. So when it's together, it tends to want to stay together." The ISS has a Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) that serves to contain experiments that involve liquid or hazardous particles that otherwise might float around. The crew accesses the experiments through portals with sealed, rubber gloves.
I've involved my own local school children by letting them submit questions for me to ask Doug when he calls. It's gonna be fun, the kids were pretty excited, too. Great questions like "When you get into space and the booster falls off, how do you get back to earth?" by Taylor Lauren Adams and fun ones like Jacob Estrada's "What is the most exciting moment being in space?"

NASA Expedition 25

Doug's Bio
Beautiful Pictures from space on Doug's Twitter
My first ISS post.
My second ISS post: Change of Command
My third ISS post. To Infinity & Beyond: A Young Boy's Dream?
My fourth ISS post. ISS: Home Away From Home
My fifth ISS post. One Big Science Lab
My 2nd fifth ISS post. No Vacancy
My sixth ISS post. In Which Doug has a Screw Loose, I mean a Loose Screw
My seventh ISS post. Personal note from Doug about working with the Russians
My eighth ISS post. Doug talks about the emergency on the ISS
My ninth ISS post. Everyday Life on the ISS
My tenth ISS post. Heading Home

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