NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Soichi Noguchi embark on a historic mission on November 14, 2020 aboard the Crew Dragon. NASA’s Crew-1 mission marks the first certified crew rotation flight to the International Space Station. During their 6-month stay on orbit, these crew members will don their science caps and complete experiments in microgravity.
1. Space Gardening
The Crew-1 astronauts will become space farmers with the responsibility of tending to the rad(ish) garden located in a facility known as the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH). Researchers are investigating radishes in the Plant Habitat-02 experiment as a candidate crop for spaceflight applications to supplement food sources for astronauts. Radishes have the benefits of high nutritional content and quick growth rates, making these veggies an intriguing option for future space farmers on longer missions to the Moon or Mars.
2. Micro Miners
Microbes can seemingly do it all, including digging up the dirt (so to speak). The BioAsteroid investigation looks at the ability of bacteria to break down rock. Future space explorers could use this process for extracting elements from planetary surfaces and refining regolith, the type of soil found on the moon, into usable compounds. To sum it up, these microbial miners rock.
3. Cooler Exploration Spacesuits
The iconic spacesuits used to walk on the moon and perform spacewalks on orbit are getting an upgrade. The next generation spacesuit, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), will be even cooler than before, both in looks and in terms of ability to regulate astronaut body temperature. The Spacesuit Evaporation Rejection Flight Experiment (SERFE) experiment is a technology demonstration being performed on station to look at the efficiency of multiple components in the xEMU responsible for thermal regulation, evaporation processes, and preventing corrosion of the spacesuits.
4. Chips in Space
Crew-1 can expect to get a delivery of many types of chips during their mission. We aren’t referring to the chips you would find in your pantry. Rather, Tissue Chips in Space is an initiative sponsored by the National Institutes of Health to study 3D organ-like constructs on a small, compact devices in microgravity. Organ on a chip technology allows for the study of disease processes and potential therapeutics in a rapid manner. During Expedition 64, investigations utilizing organ on a chip technology will include studies on muscle loss, lung function, and the blood brain barrier – all on devices the size of a USB flashdrive.
5. The Rhythm of Life
Circadian rhythm, otherwise known as our “internal clock,” dictates our sleep-wake cycles and influences cognition. Fruit flies are hitching a ride to the space station as the subjects of the Genes in Space-7 experiment, created by a team of high school students. These flies, more formally known as the Drosophila melanogaster, are a model organism, meaning that they are common subjects of scientific study. Understanding changes in the genetic material that influences circadian rhythm in microgravity can shed light on processes relevant to an astronaut’s brain function.