Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Research and Technology Experiments Headed to the International Space Station on STS-135/ULF7

The space shuttle Atlantis launched to the International Space Station on July 8, carrying with it a mix of research ranging from microscopic cell research to macroscopic technology development equipment deliveries. In addition, both plants and animals will be the subject of microgravity tests.

For a joint project of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, hardware for the Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM, will be delivered and installed on the station's Express Logistics Carrier 4 for future demonstrations that will test the tools, technologies and techniques needed to robotically refuel satellites in space -- even satellites not designed to be serviced. The tests, using Canadarm2, its Dexterous Manipulator System and a variety of specialized tools, will be the first on-orbit tests of techniques to refuel spacecraft not built with on-orbit servicing in mind. The hardware will be installed during the flight's only spacewalk.

Another facility being delivered to the station is Ultrasound-2, a cardiovascular ultrasound system that will replace and upgrade a 10-year-old ultrasound unit that stopped operating earlier this year. The device will be used for general crew health assessment, and in NASA investigations such as Integrated Cardiovascular, which looks at the weakening of heart muscles associated with long-duration spaceflight, and the Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study, or Sprint, which looks at high-intensity, low-volume exercise training to minimize loss of muscle, bone and cardiovascular performance in astronauts. A European Space Agency experiment called Vascular Echography, or Vessel Imaging, will use the device to evaluate changes in central and peripheral blood vessel wall properties -- thickness and compliance -- and cross sectional areas of station astronauts during and after long-term exposure to microgravity.

Commercial Biomedical Test Module -- 3, or CBTM-3, experiments will use a validated mouse model to examine the effectiveness of experimental drug therapies against bone loss that results from prolonged life in low gravity. One investigation will look at whether the use of a sclerostin antibody can induce bone formation and thereby prevent skeletal deterioration, while another will examine whether changes in the blood supply to the bones and bone forming tissues may contribute to bone loss in low gravity.

Plant experiments will look at terrestrial food supply issues, and provide educational opportunities for students on Earth. The NASA-sponsored Biological Research in Canisters Symbiotic Nodulation in a Reduced Gravity Environment, or BRIC-SyNRGE, will look at how microgravity affects the infectiousness of bacteria in plants. The symbiotic relationships of plants and bacteria affect a large portion of human and livestock food production on Earth. The Canadian Space Agency-sponsored Tomatosphere-III will carry 400,000 tomato seeds to the station and back to Earth, where students in 10,000 classrooms throughout Canada will measure germination rates, growth patterns and vigor of the seeds as they grow.

A Department of Defense experiment will study the effects of tissue regeneration and wound healing in space. Space Tissue Loss-Regeneration-Keratinocytes experiments will look at how cellular degeneration and decreased immune response associated with traumatic wounds and unused limbs, with potential application in the treatment of both military and civilian injuries and immune response on Earth.

Two distinct types of smart phones also will fly to the station, where they will be tested for potential use as navigation aids and as mobile assistants for astronauts.

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