Maybe the best seat in the house for the Great American Eclipse was aboard the International Space Station when orbiting 250 miles above the Earth they saw glimpses of the Sun/Moon spectacle three times during daylight of their 90-minute orbit.
And while their reaction was certainly not hindered by any clouds, the attention to the ISS was welcome as not many of us pay much attention to what’s happening on what NASA workers just call “Station.”
There is plenty going on aboard the multi-national space station that benefits mankind below. Take for instance the Monday, Aug. 14th launch of SpaceX’s Dragon resupply ship that had fresh fruit, clothing, computers, medical experiments and mice on board. About every three months a supply ship is needed for the six people making up an “Expedition.”
Expedition 52 is underway with the addition of three new astronauts arriving in early August aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, making a full crew of six. The Expedition crews are staggered in six-month stays on the Station and the next three space fliers will leave Sept. 3 for return to Earth aboard Soyuz MS-04 after their approximate half-year in space. Then there will be just three astronauts aboard Station until the three members of Expedition 53 are blasted off the Russian spaceport in Kazahstan on Sept. 13.
The International Space Station is at the forefront of improving human life on Earth. The $100 billion Station is the size of a six-bedroom house with 15 segments including five laboratories and an array of eight, 239-foot long solar panels—the whole complex covering the size of a football field.
Orbiting around the world at 17,500 mph and making 17 revolutions each day, nearly everyone enjoys catching a glimpse of The Station in the twilight hours of morning or evening. It has been continuously occupied since November 1999 with more than 250 international astronauts calling it home. But can we put a face to the six people aboard? Probably not. Allow me to introduce you:
The commander is Fyodor Yurchikhin, a Russian veteran of five missions who just performed his ninth extravehicular activity (EVA) outside Station in mid-August. He will return to Earth Sept. 3 with former commander Peggy Whitson, who’s latest 10-month stint in space makes her the most experienced American space flier at 660-plus days in space over four missions. American Jack Fischer will also return to Earth after five months on his first mission.
The 52nd Expedition crew to the ISS will leave behind new commander Sergey Ryazanskiy of Russia on his second flight. He leads the Expedition 53 crew of American Randy Bresnik on his second flight and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli on his third space journey.
They will be joined by the other three Expedition 53 members on Sept. 13 when launched aboard the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They are NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei, and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
While Yurchikhin and Ryazanskiy performed a six-hour EVA on Aug. 17th, the other four Expedition 52 crew members were busy emptying SpaceX Dragon of the 5,000 pounds of supplies that arrived the day before. Among the new stuff is an experiment that might help find treatment and maybe a cure of Parkinson’s Disease.
The important medical research is a collaboration between The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). There is a type of protein called LRRK2 that mutations in the coding gene are thought to cause Parkinson’s disease in some people. Researchers have hypothesized that developing drugs to inhibit LRRK2, or block its activity, could help prevent Parkinson’s or slow its progression.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects people’s movement abilities, and can result in symptoms such as tremors, slowed movements and muscle stiffness. There are currently no treatments to stop or reverse the progression of the disease, according to The Michael J. Fox Foundation.
But before scientists can develop a drug to inhibit LRRK2, they need to know the precise structure of this protein. One way to get a detailed view of its structure is by growing crystals of LRRK2 in lab dishes. However, on Earth gravity can interfere with the growth of these crystals, and keep them small. The quality of earth-based crystals is not good enough for necessary research. This is where the ISS research comes in: Researchers hope that the microgravity of outer space will allow crystals to grow bigger with fewer defects. The scientists can then get a sharper view of the crystal structure.
Scientists will grow the LRRK2 crystals for about a month in space. Then, the crystals will be sent back to Earth, where they will be analyzed with high-energy X-rays. And hopefully the data will help find treatments and eventually a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
Take some time and inform yourself about all the things in our daily lives that have their roots in our proud American space program. It’s all there at spinoffs.nasa.gov. The impact of the International Space Station on our high-tech society is truly amazing.